CalMac has told Scottish ministers that ferry services having to keep to two-metre social distancing rules “wipes out any tourism season for 2020” - warning that the “restrictions are completely unsustainable for island life”.

The Arran ferry operator has raised concerns with MSPs that when it is safe to relax restrictions and begin to re-open the tourism sector, stating that it could double the number of passengers it can carry if the two-metre social distancing rule is reduced to just one metre.

The company added that “implementing physical distancing of two metres throughout our operations will reduce the capacity of our fleet on average to 17 per cent of normal passenger capacity”.

The company is currently operating a reduced service during the lockdown and is restricting the use of its fleet to essential travel for islanders, key workers and those delivering supplies. 

Staff have been forced to refuse travel to hundreds of people attempting to make non-essential journey including day trips – while police have been called in on occasion to help CalMac staff verify the reason for people wanting to travel to island communities. 

READ MORE: Stowaways discovered breaking lockdown on CalMac ferry from Arran

In written evidence to Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee, the company, which is publicly owned, has called for the Scottish Government to consider “prioritisation of passenger categories if demand outstrips capacity” if and when restrictions are gradually relaxed – while also pointing to “temperature screening” to determine whether passengers are fit to travel.

Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing is due to give a statement to MSPs today about the impact of Covid-19 on tourism.

At her daily briefing, Nicola Sturgeon stressed that there was no scientific evidence to suggest that the two-metre rule can be relaxed.

She added: “I understand the challenges that all businesses are going to face in adapting to the COVID world that we are going to be living in for some time.

“To become operational while not allowing the virus to spread is not going to be easy and we are talking to businesses across all sectors of the economy as we work to put guidance in place for how they do that – clearly, that’s going to be more difficult in some sectors than it will be in others.

“I have had no advice given to me and to the best of my knowledge, although I obviously don’t see all the advice that the UK Government gets, I’ve not seen anything they have had that would advise a change in the two-metre rule right now. On the contrary, most of the advice I see says the two-metre rules should be retained.”