Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has played down the prospect of a resumption of international travel on or around 17 May, stressing additional time would likely be needed beyond the date mid-May date set by the UK government "to protect the progress [on Covid] made domestically".
Addressing the nation on Tuesday (20 April), Sturgeon said she understood the pain felt by the country’s aviation and tourism sectors, and stressed her foremost concern was reuniting people with their families, friends and loved ones overseas.
However, the first minister also vowed to "restore normality" to international travel, and pledged to continue working with the UK government and the other devolved nations to "agree a common approach" to the resumption of international travel.
Sturgeon also confirmed Scotland would, like England, add India to its Covid travel "red list" from 4am on Friday (23 April). She also advised anyone wishing to travel to any of Scotland’s island communities to make use of free lateral flow testing before making their journey.
"Please remember, international travel for non-essential purposes is not yet permitted," said Sturgeon. "I know this is really difficult for the aviation and tourism sectors, but most of all, it’s difficult for people who have family overseas.
"When we talk about international travel, there is a tendency – including on my part – to talk about holidays, but for many people, going to other countries involves seeing their families, friends and loved ones."
She continued: "I want to stress this, we do want to restore normality to international travel as quickly as possible, but we must be sensible as we do that in light of the risks we face and we see across many parts of the world.
"We’ll continue to work with the UK government to try to agree a common approach to international travel in the weeks and months ahead, but until at least 17 May – and possibly for a period after that – you should not leave the UK for non-essential purposes.
"That is, for now, an important measure to try to protect the progress we have made domestically and continue down that track of opening up our economy and society as much as possible."
Additionally, Sturgeon also confirmed all remaining restrictions on travel within Scotland, and travel between Scotland, England and Wales, would end from 26 April. "From Monday, you can travel anywhere across Britain for any purpose," she said.
The first minister said the government would also on Monday remove restrictions on travel to and from Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, but warned people to check each territory’s individual entry rules.
She also warned people the Scottish government may need to reintroduce either local travel restrictions within Scotland or between Scotland and parts of the rest of the UK where there are areas that have "flare-ups" of Covid infection, local outbreaks, or where "the general situation is causing concern".
The Scottish government will, from Monday, make free lateral flow tests available to people in Scotland, and Sturgeon said these would be particularly important when it came to unlocking travel to and from Scotland’s island communities.
"We are keeping island communities at the same level as the rest of the country at the moment so we can allow travel between island communities and the rest of Scotland. We know that creates a risk for our island communities," she said.
"Many of them currently have very low levels of Covid infection and will be welcoming visitors from parts of Scotland where Covid will still be circulating more widely. So if you are planning to travel to an island, we do encourage you to take two lateral flow tests before you depart.
"The second test should be on the day you are planning to travel, and the first should be three days before you travel. That means if you test positive, you have a chance to take a PCR test to confirm the result before making a final decision on cancelling your visit."