The easing of lockdown means some Shetland folk will now be able to travel to see family on the mainland – as well as by inter-island ferries.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on Thursday that Scotland was moving to phase two of the route map out of lockdown has signalled an increase in public transport services – though with constrained capacity due to social distancing requirements.
Transport Scotland confirmed yesterday (Friday) that “travelling to and from islands to visit family is acceptable”, although it said people should still consider whether they can follow other guidelines.
NorthLink had only been allowing essential travel since the start of lockdown – and its guidance remained unchanged for much of yesterday.
By 3pm, however, it announced changes in line with the move to phase two.
The operator stressed there were still “significant restrictions” preventing travel to and from the Scottish islands for recreational purposes.
However, for the first time since lockdown was imposed, it said travel for those visiting family would be allowed.
“We would ask that all travellers consider whether they are adhering to the spirit of the government guidelines,” it said.
As visits to other households are mainly restricted to meetings in gardens, many families may still find it difficult to visit the mainland until further restrictions are lifted.
However, single person households, including single parents with children, will be able to form an “extended household” with another.
Couples who live apart can also meet for overnight visits, provided at least one partner lives alone or with children under 18.
The SIC’s head of transport Michael Craigie has also confirmed there would be changes to the inter-island ferries – although he added the council was still considering the implications, with more details to be announced on Monday.
Mr Craigie said two vessel services would resume from 29th June when the summer timetable begins – but added that services would likely finish earlier in the evenings than for previous summer timetables.
He said travel for essential shopping and family visits would now be permitted, but stressed that folk must still exercise personal responsibility when deciding whether to travel.
“If we feel there are inconsistencies around someone’s reasons for travelling, we will continue to challenge people and will engage with the police if necessary,” he said.
Ferry bookings have been required to have been made in advance through account cards since 6th April – and Mr Craigie said that was still a requirement – although there could be rare exceptions for particularly urgent requirements.
ZetTrans chairman Ryan Thomson has also posted details about the changes on Facebook.
“As per Scottish government advice, it is acceptable to travel on our internal ferries to meet members of your family, in an outdoor space, as long as you can do so while adhering to all other guidance,” he said.
“I would urge people to please continue to be sensible around the trips they are making.”
Details on whether folk will be able to travel to the isles for exercise purposes, such as from Lerwick to Bressay, have yet to be confirmed – but are likely to be made on Monday.
Transport Scotland has said travel to islands for leisure and recreation by ferry is “not encouraged”.
“Travelling to and from islands to visit family is acceptable, but individuals should consider whether they can do so while acting in line with all other guidance,” the authority stated.
Scottish government advice for flights to and from Shetland remains unchanged with only essential travel permitted.
Transport Scotland is supporting a “skeleton schedule” operated by Loganair. Although there is currently no date for when non-essential flights may resume, Transport Scotland will continue to review the situation,
Separate guidance has also been introduced requiring mandatory use of face covering on public transport which includes enclosed areas on ferries.