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Coronavirus / South Mainland Up Helly Aa ‘closely monitoring’ coronavirus situation but event to go ahead as planned

The burning of the galley - Photo: Mark Berry
The burning of the SMUHA galley back in 2013. Photo: Mark Berry

THE SOUTH Mainland Up Helly Aa committee says the fire festival will go ahead as scheduled on Friday (13 March) as it continues to closely monitor the situation with coronavirus.

Shetland’s first two cases of Covid-19 were confirmed yesterday (Monday) as Scotland’s total number reached 23.

Clinicians have begun gathering details of the places the two patients – who are in self-isolation – have visited and the people they have been in contact with since returning to the UK from Italy.

The team behind South Mainland Up Helly Aa said it will follow NHS guidelines regarding the spread of the virus.

However, the committee said it has no plans to cancel.

Advice from the NHS.

As well as the torch-lit procession and night-time festivities around halls in the south mainland, the jarl squad is due to visit schools and care homes during the day on Friday.

“The SMUHA committee have been closely monitoring the coronavirus situation, but at this time there are no plans to cancel SMUHA,” it said on Monday.

“As with any large event the final decision on whether to attend lies with the participants, but we are hopeful of a good turn out to cheer on Jamie and his squad.

“We will continue to follow NHS advice following any changes to the current situation, and re-evaluate if required.”

The committee’s views are echoed by those behind Delting Up Helly Aa, which is due to take place the following weekend.

The fire festival is going ahead as normal unless instructed by the NHS.

It comes as Hillswick based writer and broadcaster Tom Morton wrote in a blog post that the two Up Helly Aas – as well as Shetland Folk Festival, which is taking place at the end of April – should be cancelled or postponed to avoid the risk of potentially spreading coronavirus.

“This is not a joke,” he said. “It’s not ‘media hype’. It’s real, it’s in our small community and it’s time to act responsibly and quickly to try and stop this virus hitting the ones who can resist it least.”

Morton added on Twitter that it is “time for leadership and urgent action” from the likes of Shetland Islands Council and Lerwick Port Authority.

A spokeswoman for Shetland Folk Festival said the event is scheduled to go ahead as normal, but the committee is continuing to keep an eye on the situation and on advice from authorities.

An update is expected to be provided to folk festival members later this week.

This morning Promote Shetland issued guidance regarding coronavirus to anyone visiting the isles.

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Typical symptoms of Covid-19 include fever, a cough that may progress to a severe pneumonia causing shortness of breath and breathing difficulties.

Generally, coronavirus can cause more severe symptoms in people with weakened immune symptoms, older people, and those with long-term conditions like diabetes, cancer and chronic lung disease.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, meanwhile, said the NHS is well placed to deal with the spread of coronavirus.

“My first thoughts are with the patients and their families. I wish them a speedy recovery,” she said.

“We must take sensible steps guided by scientific evidence. It is important for us all the follow and keep up to date with the advice from the NHS and take particular care to wash our hands regularly. The NHS is well prepared to deal cases of the virus.”

The theme of people on the mainland buying in bulk items like toilet paper and hand sanitiser in view of possible self-isolation appears to have reached Shetland, with Lerwick Co-op sharing a notice on Facebook informing customers of a restriction on the number of certain items people can buy.

It said that due to seeing “higher demand than usual we’ve decided to put a restriction of three units per person in place to protect availability for all our customers” on items like paperware, hand sanitiser and antibacterial soap.

The Scottish Government provides updates on the number of confirmed cases every day at 2pm.

NHS Shetland said on Monday that “if you are feeling under the weather with a fever, cough and shortness of breath and you have either been in direct contact with a confirmed case or you have travelled back from a category 1 or 2 risk area, you are asked to phone your GP for advice, or NHS24 (111) if your practice is closed”.

More information on coronavirus can be found on the NHS Inform website.