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Coronavirus / Coronavirus pandemic latest – UK told to stay at home, SIC convener makes plea to public

In this regularly updated blog Shetland News will bring you all the latest local news plus the major national developments on the Covid-19 crisis

It has been said many times over recent weeks – these are unprecedented times, and they are likely to stay with us for many months to come. At a time of crisis when the natural reflex is to move closer together we are being told to keep our distance to delay the spread of the virus. Because of the terrible consequences of this new disease it is more important than ever before to be well informed.

Prime minister Boris Johnson has confirmed that a number of restrictions will be placed on people’s movements for at least the next three weeks.

In a speech tonight (Monday) he said people in the UK should only leave their homes for:

  • shopping for basic necessities, as infrequently as possible
  • one form of exercise a day – for example a run, walk, or cycle – alone or with members of your household;
  • any medical need, to provide care or to help a vulnerable person; and
  • travelling to and from work, but only where this is absolutely necessary and cannot be done from home.

More information can be found online.

The A400M aircraft shortly before taking off from Sumburgh airport on Sunday evening. Photo: Ronnie Robertson

ROYAL Air Force have confirmed that a man in his 60s in need of critical urgent care was transferred on board an A400M aircraft from Shetland to Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on Sunday late afternoon.

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Following the transfer, the aircraft from RAF Brize Norton was cleaned  and returned  to base where it remains at three hours’ notice to move, an RAF spokesman said.

Last week a similar medical evacuation was conducted by Joint Helicopter Command, whose Chinook Force transferred a critically ill patient from the Isle of Scilly to a mainland hospital so they could receive life-saving treatment.

Minister for the Armed Forces James Heappey said: “Our airmen and women do amazing work and are ready day in, day out, to support the NHS. As we fight back against Covid-19, their readiness to help will be ever more important.”


Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael has raised in parliament the subject of cruise liners visiting the islands, asking “if these companies were to reinstate cruise ship business before it were safe to do so then steps would be taken to prevent them from doing it?”

Responding for the government, MP Chris Philp said:

“As I said previously the scientific advice is at the forefront of the government’s thinking and there is absolutely no question at all of any unsafe operating practice by cruise ship operators or anybody else being allowed.

“The government will not contemplate allowing that to happen until the scientific advice categorically states that it is safe.”

The NAFC Marine Centre campus in Scalloway will be closed to staff, students and the public from 5pm today (Monday).

The centre said staff will be working remotely and will endeavour to continue providing as normal a service as possible (except for face-to-face teaching) but some delays and interruptions may occur.

All optical practices in Scotland have been instructed to cease provision of routine eye examinations as of today (23 March) in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.

In line with this all three local optical practices ICare Shetland, Miller Opticians and Specsavers will be cancelling all existing routine appointments and they will be unable to take any additional bookings at this time except for patients requiring emergency care.

They will be available by telephone to handle any other requests. Patients requiring emergency eye care should call their optician and follow the instructions given over the phone or via answer phone message.

A telephone consultation will be arranged with an optometrist to discuss your problems who will then decide if it is necessary to make an appointment in practice in line with current clinical guidelines.

Convener of Shetland Islands Council Malcolm Bell has released a statement encouraging the public “in the strongest possible terms” to adhere to government guidance on coronavirus.

Malcolm Bell. Photo: Shetland News

“This is now the period of rapid growth of the outbreak, and this is a plea to the Shetland community in the strongest possible terms to adhere to the very strong measures we must all take,” he said.

“This is a pandemic. We are now in extremely difficult times. Proper hygiene and social distancing is crucial.

“We must really assess what is essential, assess again, and assess once more.

“This requires major changes to our daily lives, and will impact on us severely. This is no time for doing our normal activities. If we take individual responsibility we can flatten that curve, manage demand on our health services, and save lives.

“There is nothing more important than that.”

All civil marriage/partnership ceremonies booked between 28 March and 30 June will be cancelled or postponed, according to Shetland Islands Council.

This includes all ceremonies either within Lerwick Town Hall, or at another venue. Ceremonies beyond 30 June will be kept under review.

Birth registration has also been suspended until further notice, but “there is no need to worry about the 21 day time limit”.

The registration office at the Town Hall will close to the public from Tuesday (24 March) until further notice.

Councils across Scotland have been asked to increase support for care at home, nursing homes and care homes to reduce delayed discharges and free up hospital beds.

Health secretary Jeane Freeman confirmed that subject to expenditure being aligned to local plans the Scottish Government will meet additional costs to increase support and staff capacity in social care.

“We have placed the NHS on an emergency footing and we also need to increase the capacity in our social care sector,” she said.

“Extensive work is already underway by health and social care partnerships to free up hospital beds and care for older people, and others in need of support, in care homes and in our communities.

“We have now informed councils that any additional expenditure to maximise the care available to our communities, aligned to work that is already underway, will be covered by the Scottish Government.”

Online bookings are now available for Shetland’s inter-island ferries following their reduction in service.

Previous bookings are not valid and will require to be rebooked.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Shetland has remained at 24, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

Fourteen people have died of the disease in Scotland, an increase of four over the last 24 hours. The total number of confirmed cases in Scotland stands at 499, while more than 350,000 people have been infected worldwide, according to figures collected by the Johns Hopkins University.

NHS Shetland will host another media briefing this afternoon. More later …

Lerwick Port Authority says there are now no cruise calls scheduled to visit Lerwick until May.

It added: “Many cruise lines have suspended operations which will affect scheduled visits throughout the season. Confirmations are awaited and further updates will be notified as changes occur.”

The port said it continues to operate to all current advice and guidance, closely monitoring the situation daily and liaising with relevant third parties.

Baltasound Hotel confirmed this morning (Monday) that they were closed for business as advised by the UK and Scottish governments.

The hotel – and Unst – featured in a Daily Mail guide at the weekend of places to visit in the UK to get away from coronavirus.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s press briefing can be viewed at https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/uk-scotland-51998906

As of this morning (Monday) 14 people have died of coronavirus in Scotland. The number of confirmed cases stands at 499, but this is almost inevitably a significant underestimate.

The process of local democracy in Shetland is undergoing some major changes as councillors keep their distance from Lerwick Town Hall. In a bid to streamline proceedings, the SIC has done away with most of the committee stages to focus on full council meetings.

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland NewsSIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Shetland News

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison said: “We are cutting out the committee element from the diary, and we are also promoting the use of dial-in facilities, so that not all elected members have to come in for council meetings.

“For those who are coming in for meetings we will make sure we provide enough space between people. All elected members have been advised if they have symptomatic not to come in and self-isolate for seven days and doing good hand hygiene.”

Sandison added that council meetings would continue to be public meetings, but those attending are expected to spread out more.

“If we need to move into a larger room for council meetings we would do that.

“We are recognising the need to trying to make sure that people are distancing even within the room, but I think a lot of the elected members will be taking up the opportunity to dial in from home.”

There have been numerous acts of generosity and thoughtfulness seen in Shetland during the last two weeks as the community rallies around each other.

One recent example was the Dragon House in Lerwick offering a free takeaway yesterday (Sunday) to NHS workers, social care staff and supermarket employees before it closed for two weeks.

It was well appreciated in particular by NHS Shetland, which said on Facebook: “A big thanks goes out to Dragon House takeaway in Sound who provided free food to working NHS Shetland staff yesterday as they ran down their stocks due to Covid-19!”

May and George Anderson, aged 80 and 81, self-isolating at their home in Lerwick’s Navy Lane. Thanks to grand daughter May Graham for sending in this photo, and thanks to May and George for allowing us to use it.

Loganair says any decision on who can travel on its planes has to come from the government.

It comes after the Scottish Government restricted transport on ferries to the islands to essential travel only.

“In response we would like to say that we have been flying throughout Scotland and the Islands since the 1960s, and throughout those many years of service, have always had the best interests of the community at heart,” Loganair managing director Jonathan Hinkles said in a statement.

“We are continuing to fly all island lifeline routes on a skeleton schedule during the current crisis. However, we should point out that Loganair is neither legally nor morally able to make unilateral decisions as to who can, and cannot, travel on its flights at this time.

“The decision to restrict travel or movement within the UK more broadly or within Scotland has to be a government initiative with which, of course, we would comply fully if the time comes.”

Tourism body VisitScotland has welcomed Sunday’s announcement from the Scottish Government that ferry services to the country’s islands would be restricted to essential travel only.

Hotels, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation have also been advised to no longer accept visitors.

Accommodation can be provided for staff and to help essential works and support essential services.

VisitScotland chief executive Malcolm Roughead said: “We understand that it is a particularly worrying and stressful time for everyone. We want to protect our communities right across the country for the future as they are what make the visitor experience so special.

“There will be a time when we can welcome visitors back with open arms to enjoy all that is special about beautiful Scotland – but now is a time for staying safe and close to home.”

On Saturday Shetland police retweeted a message from Scotland’s chief constable Iain Livingstone thanking the overwhelming majority of people for observing instructions to avoid pubs and restaurants. He also urged people to comply with government/health advice.

“To be clear no public houses or other entertainment venues should be opening for patrons until further notice.”

However, there are reports that some venues stayed open over the weekend.

On Sunday, first minister Nicola Sturgeon said in a press briefing that things couldn’t be clearer: “Last night a tiny minority of pubs however stayed open. Let me be blunt; in doing so they put lives at risk.

“My message to them is: close now, we will have emergency powers within days to force them to close and we will use these powers if we have to.

“You should not wait for that, you should do the right thing now and help us save lives. These are steps we all must take to protect Scotland.”

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