THE LEADER of Shetland Islands Council (SIC) says he would be “extremely cautious” of the isles diverging from a national path towards exiting lockdown unless there are “clear scientific reasons to do so”.
Councillor Steven Coutts said “what we seek now is to ensure testing and tracing is available in Shetland, and used to its full extent to enable quick locally based actions should they be required”.
Meanwhile, south end councillor George Smith has reiterated his view that the ‘test, trace and isolate’ strategy successfully applied in Shetland in the early stages of the pandemic should never have been abandoned.
On Thursday the Scottish Government outlined its phased approach to exiting the lockdown, with the first stage set to begin at the end of May.
There has been discussion over whether Scottish islands could pilot a different approach to easing restrictions, with Shetland for instance not having a confirmed case for over a month.
Transport in and out of the isles have also been restricted to essential travel only.
But SIC political leader Coutts said that he expects Shetland to follow the national timeline and guidelines in terms of the “timing of easing, and if required reintroduction, of restrictions”.
“We will work with government and health partners but would be extremely cautious of any departure from the national roadmap unless there are clear scientific reasons to do so,” he said.
Coutts said that the government is looking at easing restrictions because it has created capacity in the NHS and has “suppressed the spread of Covid 19”.
“They have also started to significantly increase the much needed test and trace capabilities,” the councillor added.
“We must ensure that those in Shetland have access to the same testing and tracing regime as elsewhere in the country. We must have the ability at a local level to identify and isolate spread.”
Coutts warned that there will need to adapt to a different way of living for a while yet as the indications show a vaccine or treatment may be some time off.
“People still need to move in and out of Shetland, especially for health and work reasons,” he added.
“As restrictions are gradually lifted in a controlled measure, travel to and from Shetland will inevitably increase.
“We are not an isolated community and neither should we become one. However we will want to ensure that travel in and out of Shetland is as risk free as it can be and that any necessary precautions are in place.”
Echoing comments made recently by NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson, Coutts warned against complacency in the response to Covid-19 in the absence of a confirmed case.
He added that having the ability to test and trace “should allow an understanding of the prevalence of the virus in Shetland”.
South mainland councillor Smith, who last month suggested Shetland could be used as a case study for mass testing when relaxing the lockdown, said on Thursday: “I think it was a mistake when the government took the decision to abandon the track, trace and isolate approach. We made a good start in Shetland at the time we had the first outbreak.
“We now seem to come back to this and it is a shame that we lost all those weeks, but that is not a criticism of anybody locally, it is a UK-wide observation.”
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