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Coronavirus / Island councils want local approach to Covid restrictions

SIC leader Steven Coutts says every restriction should be ‘adopted carefully and proportionally’

The Muckle Roe bridge. Photo courtesy of Shetland Islands Council.Photo: SIC

THE SHETLAND, Orkney and Western Isles councils have teamed up to seek talks with the Scottish Government over the possibility of a more localised approach to coronavirus restrictions for the islands.

The leaders of the three councils have written to the Scottish Government’s national clinical director Jason Leitch to request discussions on the matter.

There is a feeling that some of the new restrictions imposed in Scotland earlier this week in response to a rise in infections are unfair for areas of the country where there are fewer cases of Covid-19.

This is particularly relevant for the ban on people visiting homes for social purposes. Generally people can now only socialise outside or in public indoor places like cafes, restaurants and pubs.

Shetland Islands Council leader Steven Coutts. Photo: Shetland News

SIC leader Steven Coutts said as winter approaches “our mental wellbeing is crucial”.

“We have short days, more inclement weather and less opportunity to meet outside,” he said.

“It must be remembered in lots of areas of Shetland, we don’t have access to broadband and digital calls, we don’t have cafes and pubs on doorstep in which to meet.

“So we must consider how we have appropriate and safe social interaction. We are seeking a willingness from government to have these conversations.”

The councillor added that “we have seen more severe restrictions imposed in some areas in excess of national restrictions”.

“We would suggest that in areas of lower prevalence then logic would follow we should take the opportunity to explore appropriate measures.

“To be clear all this is suggested while stressing the importance of following FACTS guidance.  So washing hands, masks, distancing.

“Every restriction results in significant impact on social, economic and other health issues. They must be adopted carefully and proportionally.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said an “islands approach may seem to make sense in some ways, but any divergence must be properly considered and well thought through so that public safety is always paramount”.

“The islands are naturally separate, and have many unique points that need to be considered when pandemic restrictions are being drawn up,” she said.

“[Orkney MSP] Liam McArthur and myself will meet with the Health Secretary and the National Clinical Director, and in that meeting I will be making those points clear. I look forward to hearing the Scottish Government’s response.”

A different approach for the islands was also supported by Scottish secretary in the UK Government Alister Jack earlier this week.

He said: “The R number is very high in certain parts of Scotland, very low in other parts of Scotland.

“I would feel sorry for the Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland, for instance, on this household ban because there’s very little prevalence of the virus up there.”

Orkney MSP McArthur has also spoken up in favour of a more localised approach.

“The recent decision by both the Scottish and UK Governments to enforce tighter restrictions on social gatherings is understandable given that confirmed cases are increasing across the country,” he said on Thursday.

“Nevertheless, I am concerned that these moves are seen by many constituents as excessive in light of local circumstances.”

Shetland’s cumulative tally of positive coronavirus tests, meanwhile, remains at 60.