An SNP ban on travel to two English cities has been branded "a new level of baffling" after it was imposed despite no restrictions being placed on journeys to parts of Scotland with near-identical coronavirus rates.

Nicola Sturgeon announced on Friday that Scots would be breaking the law if they visited Manchester or Salford from Monday for non-essential reasons, with the First Minister citing the "high levels of Covid" as justification for the move.

However, Scots remain free to travel in and out of Dundee, even though there has been a similar surge in cases and experts predict the situation on Tayside is set to get worse.

Opponents questioned why there appeared to be different rules applied depending on whether an area was in England or Scotland.

In Dundee, the most recent figures show an average virus rate of 316.8 cases per 100,000 over the past week.

Ms Sturgeon’s expert advisers have warned her this is highly likely to soon surge further, to more than 500 cases per 100,000 by June 27.

Meanwhile, in Manchester, there is a rate of 329.4 cases per 100,000 and in Salford, it is 333.

Conservative response

Annie Wells, health spokeswoman for the Scottish Tories, said: "We’re used to the SNP bringing in Covid guidance that doesn’t make sense but this decision is a new level of baffling.

"They seem to have decided that Covid is more dangerous south of the border than the areas where it’s spreading more quickly in Scotland.

"The SNP should clear up the confusion and present evidence to back up this move."

Travel restrictions remain in force from Scotland to Blackburn, Darwen and Bolton. In Bolton, there are 287.3 cases per 100,000, a lower rate than Dundee’s. 

Disappointment for friends and family

Restrictions that were in place on travel to Bedford and the Republic of Ireland have been removed, although questions remain about how bans on travel to places outside Scotland can be enforced.

"Manchester and Salford currently have high levels of Covid, and so from Monday onwards, non-essential travel between Scotland and those cities is not permitted," Ms Sturgeon said.

“Now I realise that for those with family or friends in Manchester or Salford, or for anyone who was simply planning a visit, this is disappointing.

"But rates of Covid in these cities are particularly high at the moment and these restrictions are intended to minimise the risk of either exacerbating the situation there or indeed allowing more virus to come back here to Scotland."

Reason for restrictions

Asked to explain the apparent discrepancies yesterday, with no travel limits on Dundee, Ms Sturgeon insisted decisions had been taken "on the basis of assessments of necessity and proportionality".

She added: "We’ve got the levels system in Scotland that determines whether and when travel restrictions are imposed within Scotland. 

"I don’t want to be imposing travel restrictions anywhere. We’re doing this because, advised by clinicians, we make assessments of how to minimise the risk of more virus coming into Scotland, or people travelling from Scotland exacerbating the situation elsewhere."

Michael Matheson, the SNP Transport Secretary, added: "Nobody wants travel restrictions in place for any longer than is absolutely necessary.

"Placing restrictions on travel between Scotland and Manchester and Salford has only been taken after extremely careful consideration and analysis of data to help prevent the spread of variants of concern."