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Coronavirus / SIC leader frustrated by lack of talks with government on Covid-19 restrictions

First minister Nicola Sturgeon, meanwhile, reiterates that a different approach for the islands is not being ruled out

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) leader Steven Coutts says the local authority is still waiting to hear from the Scottish Government over its plans for a tiered system of coronavirus restrictions which could offer regional variations.

It comes as first minister Nicola Sturgeon reiterated during her daily briefing earlier today (Monday) that a different approach to coronavirus restrictions in the Scottish islands could not be ruled out.

She repeated that any easing of restrictions in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles would probably result in a “trade off”, such as more stringent limits for travel.

SIC political leader Steven Coutts.SIC leader Steven Coutts: Photo: Shetland News

Sturgeon had earlier confirmed that proposals for tiered approach to restrictions, which could be applied differently around the country, would be published later this week before going in front of parliament.

The Scottish Government will also indicate what levels of restriction should apply to different parts of the country, or potentially all of the country, once the current temporary restrictions on hospitality come to an end next Monday (26 October).

Coutts is keen for the SIC to be involved in the discussions around the tiered system but he said the local authority is still waiting on a call from the government.

He also said the council is still waiting to have a follow-up meeting after holding talks with Scottish islands minister Paul Wheelhouse and NHS officials in early October before the tiered system was mooted.

Leadership at the Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles councils have called for the Scottish Government to consider a different approach to the islands, where there is a lower prevalence of the coronavirus.

A key focus of their request was the current ban on indoor household visits as winter approaches.

When asked if a restriction on travel would be an acceptable “trade-off” Coutts said: “We need to get to the stage where do we have that joint meetings, and that’s my frustration, that they have not been set up.

“I would reflect that over the last number of months we’ve had no travel restrictions and the community has adhered to the guidance, and I think that’s been borne out with the lack of community transmission that we’ve had.

“But the key thing from my point is that we get around the table together […] but we need the council, the government and the NHS to have that meetings and have that discussions.”

Coutts said he wants to “understand the rationale behind any travel restrictions as there’s no travel restrictions at the moment and the community is doing very well to adhere to the guidelines”.

“I don’t necessarily see it as an either/or situation at this stage, but I’m open to having that conversation with the public health experts and the government,” he added.

Coutts said SIC staff and the team in NHS public health are in good correspondence, “but we need the government to come to the table”.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Sturgeon, meanwhile, was asked during her briefing if a different approach for the islands was under consideration.

She said there needs to be caution when it comes to the risk of Covid-19 to the islands, highlighting the recent outbreak in the Western Isles.

The first minister said localised restrictions for the islands, however, remains an option.

“We can’t be complacent about the risk in our islands, but we know certainly in Orkney and Shetland we don’t have the same increase in cases that we’ve seen in mainland Scotland, and Western Isles obviously had the outbreak that I’ve referred to,” Sturgeon said.

“So we do need to – on an ongoing basis – consider whether we want to take a different approach to islands. Like anything in relation to this virus though and how we manage the virus, there are trade-offs.

“If we wanted to have a situation where restrictions in place on mainland Scotland were not in place on the islands, that would probably necessitate more strict travel restrictions between the islands and the mainland.

“There is always a trade off to be made, and it’s why it’s important that we continue to listen to those on the islands and not rule out anything, and that will continue to be part of our consideration in the period ahead.”

Shetland continues to have 63 recorded cases of Covid-19, although some of the recent increases have been local people living on the mainland and registered to a Shetland health practice.