LOCAL politicians and senior council officials will continue their discussions with government departments today (Monday) to gain more clarity on what the new emergency Covid measures, announced to fight a new and highly contagious strain of the Covid-19 virus, mean for the islands.
The general relaxation of restrictions over the Christmas period has been severely curtailed meaning that up to eight people from three households can now only meet on Christmas Day.
From Boxing Day Shetland along with the other island authorities will be placed in level three while the rest of Scotland will have level four restrictions imposed. These restrictions apply initially for three weeks, but will be reviewed after two.
Travel is banned for all but essential travel and Loganair has already introduced an emergency timetable valid until the end of January.
Schools will generally not return on 6 January 2021 as planned and most pupils are expected to be taught online until at least the 18 January.
The Scottish Government says for children of key workers schools will open as previously scheduled. They will also open as normal for the most vulnerable children.
Council leader Steven Coutts said on Monday he hoped the council would be able to give clear guidance on how education will continue in the new year to parents and carers by Tuesday when pupils go into the Christmas break.
“Over the next few days we definitely do need further clarity of what the restrictions do mean across a whole range of areas. One particular concern is around schools and education,” he said.
“There needs to be some degree of certainty before our schools break up tomorrow (Tuesday) afternoon. Parents and carers need to know where they are at.”
Shetland Islands Council and NHS Shetland both had no prior warning of any of the changes announced late on Saturday afternoon by first minister Nicola Sturgeon.
There is a sense in the community that Shetland is receiving a raw deal by having tier three restrictions imposed when there has not been a single confirmed Covid infection reported since the start of the month.
The council hopes to be able to convince the government that special circumstances apply for Shetland and that household visits could be re-introduced at some point.
Council convener Malcolm Bell said: “We will continue to engage with the government and seek to ensure an appropriate level of restriction commensurate with the risk, is applied to Shetland.
“In particular, we want to see the continuation of in-home visiting. This was a hard won concession and one which was valued by the many in our community who suffer from the negative effects of loneliness and isolation.”
Coutts called on the government to publish the evidence that led to the drastic changes announced on Saturday.
“The effects of darkness and isolation have not changed, but what appears to have changed is the concern that the government and health officials have about the new variant and its ability to spread more easily that the previous virus. We have not had the kind of detailed conversation with the government yet,” he said
Coutts added that further clarity was urgently needed on areas such as transport restrictions, the supply chain, access to European markets as well as business support packages.
“The new restrictions will have a significant impact on businesses and, again, that is something I will be seeking clarity on from the government in terms of the support packages that come with these restrictions.
“I don’t want to see our islands disadvantaged through the tier system. Mainland Scotland will be in level four and the islands in level three, however, there is no doubt that all this will have an impact on businesses, and we have to make sure that the support is there.”
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