DELTING Up Helly Aa has been now been postponed following advice from NHS Shetland on coronavirus.
The fire festival was due to take place next Friday (20 March).
Its committee is aiming to host the festival on 30 October this year.
It said in a statement on Thursday: “Due to the current status of the coronavirus and with the guidance of the Shetland health organisation, we are postponing Up Helly Aa. It has reached a stage where it is out of our control, and comes with risks we cannot take.
“All we can do is apologise for the inconvenience caused and for those who have made plans, travel and accommodation for the event. However, we are looking to re-schedule our festival for this year. Up Helly Aa date: October 30th 2020.
“We will still continue to monitor the situation weekly and update you all with information as we find out. Ticket refunds, Hop ticket refunds and squad fees will all be paid back in full. We will announce time and dates for money collection in due course, and will be in touch with all squad leaders. We will announce all further Up Helly Aa plans in due course.”
The development came after NHS Shetland issued guidance advising against the two Up Helly Aas being held over the risk of Covid-19 being spread.
Two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Shetland earlier this week, but health officials expect more could crop up.
Health board chairman Gary Robinson said on Wednesday evening that the coronavirus outbreak had been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, and that Scotland had reported the first community transmission of the virus.
An NHS Shetland spokesperson added: “We are getting numerous enquiries about large public gatherings going ahead.
“At the minute the Scottish Government advice is that there is no requirement to cancel such events as the evidence base does not currently support this measure.
“However, we know that large social gatherings for particular occasions pose unnecessary risk and may dilute the actions that are required to halt the virus progression, e.g. hand hygiene and prolonged close contact.
“In light of the community’s concerns and the rapidly changing picture our view is now that the forthcoming Up Helly Aas in the South Mainland and Delting should be postponed.”
Doubts have been cast over Up Helly Aa’s participation in this year’s Tartan Day parade in New York, which is scheduled for early April.
Members of the Lerwick, Delting and Bressay squads were due to take part in the event.
Shetland Folk Festival, which is due to take place at the end of April, has been monitoring the situation.
The cruise liner Magellan, meanwhile, is due to arrive into Lerwick on Friday morning from Iceland.
Lerwick Port Authority previously confirmed that the master of any vessel is required by law to report on the health of crew and passengers prior to a port visit.
“For any vessel arriving with passengers and crew on board who may be showing symptoms of the virus, the port authority would take advice from the relevant authorities, including local health officials,” harbourmaster Captain Alexander Simpson said.
Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart also offered her thoughts on the cancellation of South Mainland Up Helly Aa.
“I recognise the disappointment that many people who have spent months preparing for the event will feel,” she said.
“I support NHS Shetland in their efforts to manage the situation and reduce understandable anxiety in the community. Measures like this are not taken lightly but in exceptional times we must take exceptional action.”
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