Lochaber MRT covers Ben Nevis, a popular destination for walkers. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

Lochaber MRT covers Ben Nevis, a popular destination for walkers. Photo: Bob Smith/grough

A Highland rescue team has urged outdoor enthusiasts to stay away from its mountains during the coronavirus crisis.

Dr Brian Tregaskis, secretary of Lochaber Mountain Rescue Team, said its volunteers’ ability to respond to emergencies may be reduced.

Posting on social media, he said: “Although the Lochaber hills are looking beautiful and inviting at present, we as a team would not be responsible if we failed to point out that, at this time of national emergency, our ability to respond to incidents may be curtailed by circumstances created by Covid-19.

“Hillgoers should consider what extra pressures a single accident may put upon already stretched local hospital services. Normal service in terms of recovery and transfer cannot be guaranteed.

“As much as it pains us, as hillgoers ourselves, the best thing folk could do is stay at home at this time. Support your local community. Please do not put extra stress on our small and already fragile healthcare infrastructure.

“The hills will still be here next winter and hopefully later in the summer adventure can be had. Stay safe.”

The Lochaber team is one of the busiest in Scotland, and covers the UK’s highest mountain Ben Nevis and many other munros in the area.

UK Government advice is that people can go for a walk or exercise outdoors if they stay more than 2m from others.

Mountaineering Scotland, which represents climbers, hillwalkers, mountaineers and ski-tourers north of the border, said: “Outdoor recreation has substantial benefits to both physical and mental health, which may be all the more valuable given the other restrictions being placed on society, and outdoor activities such as hillwalking, mountaineering, climbing and ski-mountaineering can be enjoyed while maintaining social distancing.

“However there are a number of considerations that should be weighed up before taking any decisions.

“Against the benefit of taking cash to rural economies there is the risk of bringing infection into a rural community with limited medical resources. There’s also the possibility of having an accident either while travelling to the hills or once there. As well as using up pressured NHS resources, those dealing with accidents are put at increased risk of infection.”

It said Scottish Mountain Rescue, of which the Lochaber team is not a member, has put out a statement urging people to stick to ‘familiar and safe areas’.

“Being in the outdoors has many benefits and we are usually very happy to encourage individuals to get outdoors and enjoy the beauty of Scotland. However, during this ongoing situation we ask you not to take any unnecessary risk when enjoying the outdoors. Perhaps go on adventures you are familiar and safe with and while doing so, keep social distancing in mind.”

Mountaineering Scotland said the organisation, which represents 24 rescue teams, said it was reviewing action plans to ensure it can provide a continuous service, and has asked people caught up in a rescue incident to let police know if they suspect they have coronavirus.

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