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Coronavirus / Individuals urged to work with contact tracers to get on top of latest Covid cluster

NHS Shetland chief executive has warned that more confirmed cases of Covid are likely after three positive tests linked to Whalsay

Ivan Reid's photograph of Whalsay.
Photo: Ivan Reid

MORE than 100 islanders have been asked to self-isolate by NHS Shetland following a cluster of cases linked to a social gathering in the island of Whalsay.

Official government figures have confirmed three cases in the past two days but NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson said that number is likely to rise further over the weekend.

He has issued a strong plea for people to provide fully accurate information to contact tracers to assist the health board in getting on top of the latest cluster.

One individual in particular had been “very reluctant to share their information” and was “denying they were even in the place we all know they were”, Dickson said.

North Isles councillor Duncan Anderson, meanwhile, said he has seen “first hand the effort being made by the isle to assist track and trace to get this under control”.

“As well as the sensible precautions being taken by individuals and businesses of their own accord,” he added in a post on Facebook.

“I have just been for my test and will be isolating for the full recommended time period as I am sure all the other folk contacted will be doing. As we have since the beginning of the pandemic I know the isle will pull together over this unfortunate period.”

Shetland is due to move into level zero restrictions from midnight, and Dickson said that would still go ahead “unless something emerges further down the line” as “we’re still looking at a cluster of cases” rather than a more widespread outbreak.

NHS Shetland has confirmed the source case for the latest cluster related to travel from the Scottish mainland, with the individual in question then attending a “significant”-sized gathering last weekend.

Since the first case emerged amateur football matches involving Whalsay have been cancelled, while the island’s leisure centre has also closed its doors as well as other public buildings like the boating club.

During a media briefing on Friday lunchtime, Dickson said what was “fundamentally frustrating our progress in this area is people not being open and honest about their contacts, about who they’ve spent time with”.

He emphasised that NHS Shetland was “not here to judge” and used information provided to contact tracers purely to try and get on top of the spread of Covid-19.

“No one wants to be the person that is known for bringing Covid into the community,” Dickson said.

“I understand the sensitivities about that… [but] by not working with us, it just increases the risk.

In the case of one person, he said, a contact tracer had “begged the individual to share where they have been and got nothing out of them”.

“This is about protecting your community, making sure your loved ones are safe and supported.”

As well as the obvious public health factor, Dickson pointed out the knock-on effects of so many people having to self-isolate included that “individuals will lose money because they’ve got planned activity that won’t go ahead”, while visits to Whalsay’s care home have been halted and “we might not have needed to do that if we had a very clear picture”.

Dickson said NHS Shetland had a “dedicated, tenacious” contact tracing team, but a lack of full and frank disclosure from individuals was forcing them into taking a “really broad risk-based approach”.

If staff were more confident about the information being provided the number of folk asked to self-isolate would be smaller.

That has created uncertainty as to whether this cluster of cases can be contained as quickly as previous outbreaks, such as the one in the North Mainland during the festive period.

“We have more people isolating than we would otherwise need to,” he said.

“Our contact tracing team are phenomenal, but if we don’t have that clarity about who has been with whom – not to judge but just to understand it – it is likely we’ll have someone that will take the virus and then transmit it to a place.

“I think there is a nervousness that people may have. There was a social gathering that took place – it happens, it was an extended social gathering.

“People are worried that somehow there may be sanctions placed against them, law enforcement – that’s not what we’re talking about, it’s about getting in front of the virus.”

“I think it is likely we will see more cases,” the chief executive said, adding that while genomic testing has not been carried out on the latest positive tests, with the Delta variant that first originated in India “becoming predominant” nationally it is likely Shetland will experience cases of the more transmissible variant.

People connected to the cluster can phone 01595 532030 to provide more contact tracing details.

Dickson urged islanders to continue complying with FACTS and to come forward and request a Covid-19 test if they feel symptomatic.

The three North Isles councillors – Anderson, Ryan Thomson and Alec Priest – have encouraged anyone with questions or concerns to get in touch.

Thomson said: “The island of Whalsay, and all the residents are going through a very tough and worrying time at the moment.

“They are, however, all doing a fantastic job at complying with track and trace, complying with the rules and regulations set out, and adhering to the FACTS guidance. Businesses have voluntarily closed, leisure centres are closed, and people who do not need to isolate, are doing so as a precaution.

“It is clear and obvious that the residents are going over and above the call of duty for themselves, and for their community. It is at times like this that close-knit communities such as the kind, warm and most welcoming of people in Whalsay are at their best, and at their strongest.”