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Community / Council chief praises community’s ‘really, really good response’ to coronavirus guidance

THE CHIEF executive of Shetland Islands Council (SIC) says the local community feels a “little step ahead of other parts of Scotland” when it comes to responding to the coronavirus crisis.

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

Maggie Sandison said one example of this was some businesses shutting their doors before the government ordered them to.

On Monday night prime minister Boris Johnson effectively put the UK into a “lockdown” by restricting people’s movements and closing non-essential shops.

Sandison said the SIC had been planning for a lockdown scenario, although it came quicker than expected.

“At the moment our corporate management team is meeting every day, and certainly through last week I was asking directors to start to map what a lockdown situation critical service requirement would be,” she said.

“We have been planning for this certainly since the end of last week and into this week.”

Sandison praised the way the Shetland community has risen to the challenge of dealing with ever-changing guidance which has had a significant impact on everyday life.

“I think our community feels a little step ahead of other parts of Scotland,” she said.

“I think the press have been really good at keeping everybody informed and getting the message out from both the NHS and the council.

“I think in terms of an informed community, and people making choices before the government made them…you see that with the businesses that have already chosen to close, and shut their premises. I think there’s been a really, really good response from a lot of people in the community.”

Sandison confirmed that the SIC, as the licensing authority, was not aware of any pubs or cafes flouting guidance and staying open at the weekend following orders from the government on Friday evening to close.

In terms of how the council is running following Monday’s guidance, the overriding theme is that if staff can work from home, they should.

“We are only expecting critical services to maintain delivery,” Sandison said.

“So that’s our care services, care for vulnerable children, the childcare provision, which is about keeping the health services going. We have to maintain buildings, and the ferry service.

“Clearly what we’re trying to do is reduce anything that we can that is non-critical, in order to maintain the social distancing advice.”

The ‘White House’ at 8 North Ness is quiet as staff work from home. Photo: Shetland News

She said, for example, that there are HR advisers who are working from home, while the planning service is doing the same.

“There’s barely anybody in the 8 North Ness office now,” Sandison said.

The council boss said staff are following “good hand hygiene” and guidance on self-isolating if unwell.

There is not a scheme in place, however, to test frontline staff dealing with vulnerable people, such as care workers.

At the moment NHS Shetland are only testing people critically unwell with respiratory issues.

Absence rates among SIC staff varies across departments, although the guidance to stay at home if a householder has symptoms has had an impact on the local authority’s workforce.

“A lot of the absences that we’re seeing are from people seeing symptoms in their household, so that’s had a bigger impact than I think perhaps we were necessarily expecting,” Sandison said.

You can read all of today’s local coronavirus news on our live feed below:

Coronavirus latest – Islands prepare for life under ‘lockdown’ as people told to stay home