Nicola Sturgeon has moved to stem a flood of people travelling to the Highlands trying to “outrun” the coronavirus by barring them taking ferries to the islands and telling all accommodation providers to stop accepting visitors.
The First Minister said all hotels, bed-and-breakfasts and self-catering providers should only be housing staff and essential workers, amid fears local rural hospitals could collapse under the pressure.
She said Scotland’s ferry companies to the islands will now refuse to take “non-essential” travellers, except for those visitors “in the last few days” trying to get back to the mainland.
In a direct warning about the futility of trying to flee the virus, Ms Sturgeon said the Armed Forces had on Sunday airlifted an islander to the mainland for treatment.
The radical move came as Douglas Ross, a Scotland Office Minister, warned that new emergency powers could be used to force dozens of camper vans that have travelled in the Highlands in recent days to return home.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader and Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP, said they should be exercised to shut down all accommodation to visitors if hotels, caravan parks and camping grounds refuse to voluntarily comply.
The Association of Scotland’s Self-Caterers (ASSC), which represents the sector, backed Ms Sturgeon’s call for its members to close temporarily.
But the First Minister was forced to plead with people to stop gathering in parks and beaches in the sunny weather, amid reports of high visitor numbers to tourist hotspots in the Scottish Borders and Fife.
Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park urged people to stay away “after witnessing overwhelming numbers of visitors” on Saturday “disregarding advice on social distancing.”
Judy Murray, mother of tennis stars Andy and Jamie Murray, tweeted a simple message to “those relocating to the countryside” – a picture of a car and trailer with “Go home idiots” and “Covid-19” painted on the side.
All five of Scotland’s ski resorts shut their doors over the weekend, although some were extremely busy on Saturday.
The Nevis Range mountain resort in Fort William turned away 30 camper vans that had intended to use their car park as refuge. Pictures also emerged of camper vans loaded up on a ferry bound for Harris, in the Outer Hebrides.
Only eight people in the Highlands have tested positive for the virus, according to the latest update, but Scotland’s Chief Medical Officer has warned the figures hugely underestimate the true extent of its spread.
The region has only a handful of hospitals and intensive care beds and there are fears that it could not cope with coronavirus being exacerbated by visitors.
Nicola Sturgeon has tried to stop people travelling to the Scottish Highlands to flee the coronavirus
Credit: PA
Speaking at a media briefing in Edinburgh, Ms Sturgeon said there was “no corner” of Scotland that would be unaffected by the virus.
She said: “It may well be an understandable human instinct to think we can outrun a virus but the fact is we can’t.
“What we do is risk taking it to the places we go and in our remote and rural communities that means extra pressure on essential services and on health services that are already more distant from people.”
Confirming “non-essential travellers” will be barred from visiting the islands, she said: “From now on ferries will be for those who live on our islands, who have an essential need to travel to and from the mainland, and for essential supplies or business. Nothing else.”
Ordering accommodation providers to turn away visitors, she said: “Provide accommodation for your staff and make yourselves available to help essential workers and support essential services, that is all.”
Camper vans are parked up at Glen Coe as members of the public are asked to stop traveling to the Scottish Highlands in a bid to avoid spreading the coronavirus 
Credit: Getty Images Europe
Mr Ross confirmed there has been an influx of camper vans to his Moray constituency and across the Highlands.
Asked if this week’s emergency legislation will give police legal powers to order people to go home, he told BBC Scotland’s Sunday Politics programme: “The powers are there in this Bill to allow us at a UK level and a devolved level to instruct people, to enforce people.”
Kate Forbes, SNP MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch and the Scottish Finance Minister told BBC Radio 5 Live: “This is not a wildness, this is a place where people live. 
“While campervans think they are self sustainable they will inevitably need fuel and they will need to stock up on provisions so some of the smaller grocery stores are seeing a real increase in stock disappearing as well as low fuel.”
Mr Blackford hit out at two large holiday rental companies over their “irresponsibility” for refusing to cancel bookings and claimed one told him the exodus to the Highlands was “understandable.”
John Lamont, the Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP, said he had received reports of coastal towns and villages in his constituency being inundated with visitors and campervans.