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Coronavirus / SIC keen to see community events return – but ‘test’ gatherings unlikely to work in Shetland

SIC chief executive Maggie Sandison. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

SHETLAND Islands Council chief executive Maggie Sandison says the local authority is keen to see events return to boost wellbeing in the community following the struggles of the past year.

Live events have largely been off limits since the coronavirus pandemic began last year, not only affecting organisers, venues and performers but also audiences. 

Several test events have started being held in England without certain coronavirus restrictions – such as no distancing – in preparation for the resumption of large events, with the results showing that relatively few positive Covid tests were returned.

Participants needed to return a negative lateral flow result before entry.

Sandison said hypothetically that a test event would not probably work in island communities like Shetland where there is very low prevalence of Covid.

“The issue for island settings may be that the research capabilities aren’t ordinarily available here so you would be importing a risk of infection to do the research rather than assessing the risk of the event happening in a place with no infections and no evidence of community spread,” she said.

Sandison did say, however, that the council is supportive of events resuming when safe to do so.

“The council is keen to see community confidence return and see community events proceed as a means of overcoming the isolation, loneliness and to enhance wellbeing through connection,” she said.

Sandison added that the last piece of Scottish Government guidance on holding events “maintained physical distancing as a key protective factor” – but a report on a review of measures like masks, distancing and enhanced learning is expected to be released soon.

The council chief added that she understood Shetland Arts has been involved in discussions at a national level about unlocking live events.

Shetland Arts chief executive Graeme Howell said he was unable to comment on this.

A consultation on a public entertainment licence application, meanwhile, has been requested for an apparent event in the King Harald street playpark in Lerwick between 26-29 June.

Shetland Arts is understood to be leading the project but it was unable to offer any more details at this stage, with more information due to be released soon.

When asked if NHS Shetland has been involved in any talks about the return of events in the isles, interim public health director Dr Susan Laidlaw said: “We have been asked for advice on some specific activities and events, but not live entertainment as yet.”

Under current level one restrictions small seated indoor events are advised to operate with a maximum of 200 people.

This requires social distancing, meaning it remains to be seen just how many venues in Shetland could actually cater for that number of people.

Outdoor “grouped standing events” are advised to operate with a maximum capacity of 500 people, while for outdoor seated and open space events this rises to 1,000.

When Shetland moves to level zero on Saturday, indoor seated event capacity will move to 400 – but again, physical distancing needs be in place.

There will be a rare chance to catch some live music at Mareel on Friday afternoon when the latest student showcase takes to the auditorium stage.

It will be seated, with social distancing in force.