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Coronavirus / Health officials ask for patience over household socialising ban

Disappointment over continued house visit ban but NHS chief says it is the right move to begin with

THERE has been a somewhat mixed reaction to Shetland being placed in level one of Scotland’s new coronavirus restrictions from Monday onwards.

A relaxation on rules for hospitality has been welcomed but the continued ban on people visiting each other indoors has rankled many.

Shetland was one of five council areas in Scotland to be placed in level one, which means looser restrictions than the rest of the country.

This does include, however, advice against travelling to areas in level three or four, such as Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee, for non-essential purposes.

Council leadership is disappointed that household visits remain off limits for the time being, with worries over the effect it could have on social isolation in rural communities where there are no places like cafes to meet in.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Shetland News

The decision to defer opening up household visits – which will be reviewed soon – was taken on clinical advice, and health officials believe the move was the right approach.

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson said he felt it was a “reasonable trade-off” at this point in time.

“This about an ongoing process and I would say that I would rather we take a cautious approach because we still have the ability to be able to take further measures, relax those restrictions,” he told BBC Radio Shetland.

“We’re talking about days, possibly a few weeks, it’s not a huge period of time especially if we look back not that far ago when we were in full lockdown for a number of months.”

National clinical director professor Jason Leitch, also appearing on BBC Radio Shetland on Thursday evening, said there were always going to be difficult choices when deciding levels.

All of Shetland’s indicators showed that it should be placed in the lowest level – zero – but the national picture meant that the government decided against placing any areas in the bottom tier to begin with.

“The alternative [to the tiers] is to have the same restrictions across the whole country, and go to the lowest common dominator, which at this point in this part of the world would be Lanarkshire, where the numbers are higher,” Leitch said.

He added that “over time I am as confident as I can be and as hopeful as I can be that that household restriction will be reduced and you may even move to level zero if we can continue to keep it down”.

“The difficulty with that is we still have a lot of virus in the country,” Leitch said.

“We had 11 hundred new cases today (Thursday), we had 35 deaths across the country. And we have to think about what that means in terms of travel, and tourism and transport across all these boundaries both on the mainland and of course in Shetland.”

While folk will not yet be able to visit friends or family in their houses, from Monday hospitality businesses will be allowed to open as per ‘usual’ but only up until 10.30pm.

Following weeks of closure Shetland pubs are gearing up to reopen on Monday, with the Lounge in Lerwick “so pleased” to be back in business as pints are poured once more.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart, meanwhile, said it is “imperative that government works closely with elected representatives, officials, and communities in Shetland to understand the situation in the isles, with a view to easing restrictions safely”.

“This has to be a two-way conversation where islanders are heard,” she added.

“There has been a great community effort to keep levels of the virus low in Shetland, and we must all remain vigilant. The government now needs to do all it can to show that areas can move down levels when all the right indicators are in place.”

Highlands and Islands MSP for the Scottish Greens John Finnie said it is “essential” that we all continue to follow local guidance.

“It’s important to that both governments make adequate support available to individuals and businesses to support them through these difficult times,” he continued.

“Clarification is required on what support will be available when restrictions change if the area is moved up or down a level. The UK Government’s decision to end the furlough wage support scheme at this time is hugely irresponsible and I once again urge the chancellor to reconsider.

“Shetland Council must also be given the resources it requires to continue supporting the most vulnerable in our communities, and ensure it can enforce regulations as necessary.”