TRAVEL to and from Scotland's island communities and the mainland will be allowed from April 26, but islanders will have to remain under Level Three Covid restrictions until mid-May.

The decision will open islands up to tourism, something which would not have been possible if they had been moved into a lower tier than the mainland.

Previously First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had said that the islands could only be moved into Level Two if travel restrictions were imposed preventing visitors from the mainland travelling for holidays, and restricting the free movement of islanders to and from the mainland.

Currently, Orkney, Shetland, and the Western Isles are under Level Three, along with Coll, Colonsay, Erraid, Gometra, Iona, Islay, Jura, Mull, Oronsay, Tiree, and Ulva (in Argyll and Bute council area) and all of the islands in the Highlands, with the exception of Skye, which is at Level Four. 

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Ms Sturgeon said there was "no universal opinion" in favour of one option or the other, but said the Scottish Government has opted "on the balance of opinion" to align the islands with the mainland to enable travel and tourism.

The mainland is due to move down from Level Four to Level Three on April 26.

The whole of Scotland, including all island communities, are then expected to move into Level Two restrictions from May 17.

Updated detail on the levels will be published by the Scottish Government later today.

Ms Sturgeon also confirmed that from Friday, restrictions on travel between local authorities will be lifted earlier than planned to enable people in mainland Scotland to travel anywhere in the country for outdoor socialising, exercise and recreation.

Indoor gatherings remain banned, and Ms Sturgeon added that travel restrictions for wider purposes "such as leisure, shopping, visiting hospitality premises or staying in tourist accommodation" will remain in place until April 26. 

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From Friday, the number of people allowed to meet up outdoors will also increase from a maximum for four adults from two households, to six adults from up to six households, with an unlimited number of children under 12.

Ms Sturgeon said they were focusing on outdoor meetings and family get togethers first because the risk is substantially smaller outdoors and to "boost mental health and wellbeing".

From mid-May, the First Minister said "small groups" of people will be allowed to meet up in one another's homes - something that has not been possible in Glasgow since September last year.

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She also added that the routemap remained on track to reach Level Zero restrictions by the end of June, but stressed that as increasing numbers of young people are vaccinated during the summer the Scottish Government hopes that "a level of normality well beyond zero will become possible", including nightclubs - which have been closed since March 2020 - and bigger group gatherings indoors in people's homes.