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Coronavirus / Health chief welcomes government commitment on testing

Michael Dickson warns, however, that the logistics are ‘not as simple as some may portray’

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson. Photo: Chris Cope/Shetland News

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson has welcomed a commitment from the Scottish Government to explore the prospect of testing travellers to the Northern Isles for coronavirus.

However, he stressed that it is “not as simple as some may portray” and said there are a number of questions around logistics which remain unanswered.

The Shetland and Orkney MSPs met with government ministers on Friday and local political Beatrice Wishart said afterwards that the government is now “keen to work with the island authorities and health boards on proposals for testing at entry points”.

Speaking on Monday, Dickson – who also leads NHS Orkney – said he understands the desire from many in the community to test those coming into the islands.

“At this very early stage the logistics of how this will be done need to be worked out and discussed,” he said.

These questions include:

  • who would carry out the testing?
  • where would this take place (as proposals would require multiple health boards and transport companies)?
  • how would positive cases be managed and isolated (we wouldn’t have legal powers to detain them)?
  • would this apply to all entry and exiting individuals (including freight and fishermen)?
  • how would we manage travellers who decline a test?

“All of thismust be discussed before firm proposals can be submitted to the Scottish Government for consideration,” Dickson continued.

“This is not as simple as some may portray. If it is to be introduced, it must work well so the public can have confidence in it.

“And, if the Scottish Government introduced mandatory testing, it would require a multi-agency partnership across the islands and mainland agencies.”

The idea of testing people coming into the islands has been backed in principle by the council and Shetland’s MSP and MP.

The local branch of the farmers union also created an online petition in support.

At the moment travel into Shetland is for essential purposes only.

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.