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Coronavirus / No final decision yet on island entry testing

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

THE SCOTTISH Government has stressed that “no final decision” on introducing island testing has been taken after hopes were raised following a meeting between the Northern Isles parliamentarians and government ministers on Friday.

Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said after the meeting that the government had given a commitment to consider Covid-19 testing at entry points to both Shetland and Orkney, but recognised that a number of practical challenges had to be overcome first.

On Monday, NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson said he welcomed in principal the commitment to explore how such a testing regime could be implemented, but he warned that a number of questions needed answering before firm proposals could be put forward.

These 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?

Late on Monday, the Scottish Government insisted that “no final decision was taken on island entry point testing as there are practical challenges that still need to be taken into consideration.”

A government spokesperson told Shetland News: “Officials are working with island boards and local authorities to develop their proposals that address the testing requirements of their communities and we will continue to work with them to develop sustainable, effective testing policies that meet the needs of the communities involved.

“We sympathise with the concerns in island communities about the risks of asymptomatic people travelling from higher prevalence areas and inadvertently being a source of transmission in island contexts.

“We also recognise that there have been calls for testing people travelling to the islands to reduce this risk, however the medical advice on limitations around testing have to also be considered.

“Testing cannot tell us whether a person is incubating the disease, and so may go on to become infectious after the test.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021