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Coronavirus / North politicians ask government to consider mass testing at entry points to isles

The NorthLink ferry terminal in Lerwick. Chris Cope/Shetland News

POLITICIANS in the Northern Isles have called on the government to explore options for mass testing of people for coming off flights and ferries in Shetland and Orkney.

MP Alistair Carmichael, Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart and her Orkney counterpart Liam McArthur have written to Scottish health ministers on the matter.

They suggest that the deployment of testing at ports in the English Channel could potentially guide the introduction of testing at entry points to the islands.

It comes after a second case of Covid-19 was confirmed in Shetland within the space of a few days, with health officials believing it to be community transmission.

Wishart said: “If there is a case for mass testing at the Channel ports then surely it is also worth exploring to prevent further outbreaks in the isles.

“We ought to have a geographic advantage in stopping the spread of Covid but without wider testing on ferries and flights we have seen recurring outbreaks in Shetland.

“If the new variant is as serious as it appears then it could cause a lot of damage in a small community like ours – better if we can stop it before it arrives.”

Carmichael said: “I hope that the government will take these proposals seriously as it cannot be long before we see the new variant of Covid spreading quickly across the country.

“The isles often have geographic challenges relative to the rest of the UK – this is an opportunity to make use of our geographic advantages.”

The full letter from Carmichael, Wishart and McArthur is as follows:

“We write regarding calls for testing at entry points into Orkney and Shetland.

“During the pandemic constituents have regularly raised the matter. These calls have intensified with news of the newly discovered Covid-19 variant, but also now the use of testing at ports in England to help get freight moving again following border closures.

“The suggestion is that testing people arriving into Orkney and Shetland would add another layer of protection to island areas, helping to reduce the risk of importation of the virus to communities with low numbers of cases.

“There are fixed entry and exit points in Orkney and Shetland, making it more practical to test people as they arrive by ferry or plane at scheduled times.

“We understand that testing would not be a solution in and of itself to preventing the spread of the virus.

“However, with ongoing improvements in testing technology we ask that proper consideration is given to this proposal and that it is kept under review by the Scottish Government ahead of decisions being taken in the new year regarding levels of restrictions.”