ESKDALE residents fear they are at risk of being infected with the coronavirus after the UK government relaxed restrictions on travel in England.
They are worried that visitors will come over the border on the A7, even though the lockdown continues in Scotland.
They say they are the most vulnerable to the virus being spread because they live so close to the border to Cumbria which has one of the highest infection rates in the country.
On the Langholm COVID-19 Support Group page on Facebook members questioned why the road sign at Gretna said “Dumfries and Galloway is closed to visitors”, while the sign on the A7 said “Stay at Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives”.
They believed the A7 sign should display a stronger message, like the one at Gretna, to prevent people from coming over the border for leisure activities.
Councillor Archie Dryburgh said he had contacted the council’s roads department about the electronic sign on the A7 at the border, which was part of Transport Scotland’s network.
The council spokesperson said: “I have contacted Amey Highways which maintains this road and they have forwarded the suggestion to Traffic Scotland which manages the signs for Transport Scotland.”
Councillor Ronnie Tait told the E&L Advertiser that the main reason for conflicting messages at Gretna and the A7 at Canonbie was that the A7 was managed by Transport Scotland for the Scottish government, while the road at Gretna was controlled by Dumfries and Galloway Council.
He added: “I know the council has talked to both Transport Scotland and the Scottish government to impose the same signage at Gretna on the A7 at Canonbie but the government has simply refused.”
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made it clear that the border must not be crossed by people coming from England for anything other than essential reasons.
Cross-border travel has caused confusion since the UK government relaxed restrictions on Monday asking people to Stay Alert but Scotland’s message remained the same, Stay at Home.
People living in Eskdale and Liddesdale, who work in Cumbria, voiced concern that, because people in England were told to return to work if they could, they could be forced to go back to their jobs, too.
A Scottish Borders Council spokesperson said: “The government Stay at Home direction for all residents is clear and we urge all our residents to adhere to that.”
|Police Scotland Chief Constable Iain Livingstone confirmed their position, saying there was no intention to have roadblocks on the border.
The area’s MSPs have also been contacted by concerned constituents.
Joan McAlpine, SNP MSP for South Scotland, said: “Some people in Langholm have contacted me worried about tourists and day trippers coming over the border into their community.
“This is caused entirely by the confusion created by the UK government.
The message in Scotland remains “stay at home” and that applies to people coming across the border, too.
“The message “stay at home” whether on the roadside or on TV is not open to interpretation.
“Crossing the border to do essential work, help a vulnerable person or shop for essentials is allowed. Anything else is reckless, puts lives at risk and could be breaking the law in Scotland.”
Labour’s South Scotland MSP Colin Smyth warned the collapse in relations between the UK and Scottish governments would risk borders’ communities.
He said: “When we need all governments to work together, the mixed messages are bad news for borders’ communities.
“They need to ensure they consider the unique impact their decisions have on people living near the border.
“Relaxing the lockdown has huge implications for people living in Scotland but working in England.
“They are unsure when they are expected to return to work and if they have children, Borders and Dumfries and Galloway councils will come under pressure to add them to their list of key workers so they can access childcare.”
Oliver Mundell, Dumfriesshire MSP, Oliver Mundell said common sense prevailed among most residents on both sides of the border in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
He said: “It is not in the interests of the people of Dumfriesshire, Cumbria and beyond to have the border restricted or even closed for checks, as some nationalists suggested.
“The priority remains to control this virus and I’m disappointed some Scottish politicians and activists have tried to stir up tensions about the border.”
He added: “It is important that electronic signage on the border should be consistent and relevant at all times.”