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Coronavirus / Politicians back scientist on early coronavirus testing in isles

Tests could be part of lockdown exit

NORTHERN Isles parliamentarians have backed calls for comprehensive testing in the isles from a top scientist as part of a potential next step in coronavirus containment.

Speaking to the Scottish Parliament’s health committee today (Tuesday) Hugh Pennington of Aberdeen University said that the Northern Isles “could really do something different” in terms of moving away from lockdown.

During the virtual evidence session Professor Pennington said that the next stages of coronavirus containment could be developed earlier in the islands, “but only if we had a comprehensive testing strategy in those places to make sure that the virus wasn’t going under the radar”.

Professor Hugh Pennington. Photo: Aberdeen University

Pennington also told the committee the virus could still be “seen off by Christmas” through social distancing, testing and contact tracing.

He also said he would not be putting money on a vaccine being found, despite 80 groups working on this around the world.

Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael and MSPs Beatrice Wishart and Liam McArthur called on ministers to “fully consider and openly engage with all potential approaches to easing lockdown restrictions” in the wake of the bacteriologist’s comments.

The Lib Dem trio called on the Scottish Government to “provide assurances that they will engage meaningfully with Professor Pennington’s proposals” and consider how they might be safely implemented.

Carmichael said: “I hope that the Scottish Government will engage with these proposals seriously. That engagement must, however, also include close cooperation and discussion with local communities to ensure public confidence in safety.

“This is not a plan that can be run centrally. Local input and know-how is key and islanders should be at the heart of how we translate these proposals into action.”

Wishart added: “As we consider how to move away from lockdown, the policy needs to be guided by the best evidence available, and Professor Pennington’s comments add to that mix.

She said the Scottish Government “need to be open about how they are engaging with these suggestions, so that the people at the other end of them can have confidence in what they are being told to do.”

She added: “As Professor Pennington has said, if the islands would benefit from a different approach this will need to be backed up by a reliable testing and tracing regime. There are reasonable questions to be asked about whether more localised approaches would lead to better outcomes but next steps need to be taken safely.”

McArthur said that public safety must be paramount when deciding on lifting restrictions and that Pennington’s suggestions deserved “serious and urgent consideration”.