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Coronavirus / SIC leader hopeful of isles being placed in lower tiers of coronavirus restrictions

Heath board chief, however, wouldn’t be surprised to see Shetland start at a level ‘slightly higher’ than expected

SHETLAND Islands Council (SIC) leader Steven Coutts says his initial assumption is that the isles may be placed in one of the bottom two tiers of coronavirus restrictions in early November – which would allow people to socialise indoors and see hospitality rules loosened.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Shetland News

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson, meanwhile, said he would not be surprised it the Scottish Government places it in a higher tier than expected due to the fact that the isles has had cases recently and the risk posed by people returning from the autumn holidays.

Shetland’s position in the five-tier system, which is numbered 0 to 4 and was announced today (Friday), should become clearer next week following talks between the Scottish Government, local authorities and public health teams.

The tier system will be debated by MSPs next week and it is expected to come into force from 2 November.

Crucially for a rural local authority area like Shetland, the system will allow different parts of the country to be under different guidance.

First minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Friday that areas with a lower prevalence of Covid-19, such as the islands, could in theory be placed in a level with less restrictions.

She did previously say, however, that this could come with “trade-offs” such as more stricter rules on travel.

Speaking after the publication of the Scottish Government’s framework, SIC leader Coutts said: “My assumption is that we would be at level zero or level one, on my initial look through the strategic framework document.

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

“But we would be expecting discussions with the government over the next week to understand that their evidence says. It’s early days yet, but I’m keen to have that conversation.”

Council leaders in Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles previously wrote to the Scottish Government to encourage officials to consider adopting localised restrictions for the islands.

Coutts said he felt the proposed tier system “absolutely” validates the letter.

“Some time back we were advocating that the government should consider a move away from a one size fits all approach, and I think it’s clear in the framework,” he said.

“It’s good to see that the government has listened to that engagement.”

Dickson, however, said: “I would not be surprised if we start on a slightly higher tier than people might wish to be on, and that reflects a range of factors including the fact that we recently have had cases and the overall risk of people coming back from the mainland, with some people having holidaying in place where there are a higher number of cases.

“If I was a betting man, which I am not, it would be somewhere between tier one and tier two. A week is a long time in politics, in terms of this virus 24 hours is a long time.

“We had had cases, and we can’t predict if between now and the 2 November the number of cases will increase. If that is then that will push us firmly in the tier two category.”

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart. Photo: Shetland News

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart added: “The framework published by the Scottish Government must now be given full and proper consideration.

“I will do everything I can to make sure that the views and needs of Shetlanders are properly incorporated into these plans. If people have concerns about what has been put forward, I would urge them to get in touch.”

Under the proposed new system, in tier zero folk could meet indoors with eight people from three households, and most businesses would be open with safety measures in place.

Level one would see slightly more restrictions – for example, indoor household meetings would reduce to six people from two households.

Level two would be similar to what is in place across the country just now, while level three would be like the current Central Belt restrictions.

The top tier – level four – would be close to full lockdown, with non-essential shops forced to close.

Indicators due to be used to determine where areas will be placed in the tiers will include the number of cases per 100,000 people over the past seven days and the percentage of tests that are positive over the past seven days.