THERE is a view that the present lockdown restrictions can be eased. On a purely local, Highland level, with Test, Track and Trace in place, there is much to commend that view. There is also a view, widely supported by everyone except the men and women in the Highland street, that the tourist industry should be restarted. I use the term Test, Track and Trace because it closely illustrates what must be done.

I asked VisitScotland how many tourists they expected this summer in the Highlands. They had absolutely no idea. What we can surmise is that to anyone elsewhere in the UK, this looks like a great, safe destination. So although none of us knows how many will come, I think it will be a lot.

It doesn’t really matter because one infected person, unchecked, will result in 1000 being infected 30 days later and, unchecked, every three days after that the number of infections doubles.

We know some people carrying and spreading the virus have no symptoms. We know some people carrying and spreading the virus have very mild symptoms. We know everybody with the virus starts spreading it two days before they get their first symptoms.

If you were on holiday with the wife and kids and you had very mild symptoms, would you report them or think you had a summer cold?

Let us be absolutely clear that the only reason this R number is where it is, is because we have all been kept in our homes to stop the virus spreading. The virus is still out there.

The stated defence, in fact the only defence (except for lockdown) against that happening is Test, Track and Trace.

How do you Test, Track and Trace an itinerant population of, let’s say, 100,000 to 250,000 tourists who move their location pretty much every day?

I think inviting an unrestricted number of visitors to the fragile Highland communities is a huge risk.

It is 100 miles from Kinlochbervie to the only ICU in the Highlands, 120 miles from John o’ Groats, 133 miles from Uig in Skye, a three-and-a-half-hour car journey, and there are not too many ventilators there.

Don’t think I don’t understand the economic consequences. My wife and I run a B&B, taking people from all over the world. This year we will have none. So, of course, I understand. But I also understand we need a solution to suit these unprecedented times.

Most B&Bs are not going to go bust – the owners are living in their own homes. Not so with hotels.

So, we need a different answer, because the chances are the hotels are not going to make up the number of bed nights they need to survive in the next three or four months, and it is no fault of theirs. We can expect most tourists will come in huge campervans or caravans. Those people don’t contribute anything significant to the Highland economy. If that is correct, it may be that a lot of the hotels are going to go bust.

As reported in the press, we have already lost too many hotels, and then there is the knock-on effect on staff. In that case, then both the businesses and their staff need protection.

Liquidators and receivers should be instructed, by government, to close affected businesses down (obviously at the request of the owners) to stop the ebb of money, and either protect them from creditors or, much better, pay the creditors with government-sponsored bank loans, keeping a close record of all that expenditure. Perhaps they could pay the staff? They should mothball the business, waiting for the day a vaccine or a cure is found, so it can re-open safely, and be handed back to the previous owners. The owners would then be given favourable, very long-term loans to pay back the costs met by the liquidators and receivers.

There will be a cost, but a cost the owners can later meet, over many years, at low or virtually zero interest rates. The government should not foot that bill, but it should facilitate it.

I heard someone say on Question Time that the government has only just finally paid off the loan they took out to compensate the slave owners. That was 200 years ago! I can think of better things to do today with a 200-year loan! This is not a political rant, but the Scottish Government doesn’t have the power to raise that kind of money, so the solution needs the Westminster Government to give the money needed to the Scottish Government.

There are hopefully other answers, probably better answers, from what I offer above, which could allow a delay in opening the tourist industry in the Highlands this summer and protect the businesses and their staff, and not put our folk at risk.

Alasdair Mackenzie

North Kessock