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Transport / Fragility of inter-island ferry service ‘even more perilous’ after isolation rule change

A reminder has been made for people not to travel on ferries to and from Shetland’s islands if they have Covid symptoms

Vidlin ferry terminal. Photo: SIC

A PLEA has been made for people not to travel on Shetland’s inter-island ferries if they have Covid symptoms due to the knock-on effect of crew having to isolate if they test positive.

Shetland Islands Council’s transport committee chairman Ryan Thomson said the recent change in self-isolation guidance “makes our fragile ferry services even more perilous”.

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“We need to do everything we can to preserve our ferry service and protect our amazing, hard working ferry crews,” he said.

Guidance in Scotland over household contacts of a positive Covid case changed last week, meaning that people need to isolate for 10 days regardless if they had an initial negative PCR test.

It comes amid concern over the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid, which has prompted the Scottish Government to accelerate its booster vaccine programme.

Councillor Ryan Thomson.

Self-isolation has already affected some of Shetland’s small ferry crews during the pandemic and Thomson said there has been a “few scares in recent times”.

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But the introduction of the 10-day isolation is causing worry, because if there ends up being not enough staff then some ferry services might have to be temporarily halted.

“In order to protect our lifeline ferry services over the festive period, I want to emphasise the fragility and importance of our ferry services to our islanders that they serve and to those who need to use the services for work or for medical needs,” Thomson said.

“People depend on our ferries to see loved ones, to attend medical appointments, to attend Christmas dinners. Our doctors, nurses and social care staff need them to reach their work, and to reach our loved ones.

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“So I need to emphasise. Please do not travel on our ferries if you have symptoms of Covid-19. Please, if you can, take a lateral flow test before you go on any of our ferries.

“Finally, please do everything you can personally to maintain and preserve our ferry service and protect our crews so that essential workers can get to work and our friends and family can get to their loved ones this Christmas and New Year.”

Council chief executive Maggie Sandison said on Tuesday that there is “inevitably a high risk to our services due to any rise in staff absence”.

Omicron is said to be more easily spread than other variants and its numbers are rising “exponentially”, according to first minister Nicola Sturgeon.

“We’d ask for the public’s patience and understanding if we have to step down, restrict or deprioritise services at any point,” Sandison added.

“We will obviously communicate any changes to the public as soon as possible should that happen.”

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