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Coronavirus / Health chief welcomes ‘proportionate’ change to Covid rules

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

NHS Shetland chief executive Michael Dickson says the newly announced phased change to Covid rules is a “welcome and cautious step forward”.

But he warned that the pandemic is “absolutely not over”.

From 21 March the legal requirement for people to wear face coverings in certain settings will be downgraded to voluntary guidance as part of a strategy to ‘live with Covid’.

The Covid passport scheme will also end from Monday, unless venues want to run it voluntarily, and people will be asked to carry out lateral flow tests less often.

Speaking in response to first minister Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement on Tuesday, Dickson said: “I think this is a welcome and cautious step forward in terms of how we manage the next stages of the pandemic, presuming that nothing else changes, because there may well be a new variant that comes down the line.

“I think it’s proportionate and responsive to the situation in Scotland.”

Dickson also said the shift away from a legal requirement to guidance “isn’t that dramatically different”.

When asked if he expects the community to continue wearing masks come 21 March, the health chief said it will come down to a degree of personal judgement.

He said this judgement has been “pretty much spot on” in Shetland during the pandemic.

Dickson added that he understands why some people will be nervous when the rules change, but he pointed to the low numbers of people needing hospital treatment for Covid.

He stressed the guidance is that symptomatic people should continue to isolate, and encouraged people to continue doing the basics like hand washing.

Dickson warned though that the situation in Shetland remains different in terms of case numbers.

The isles continue to have the highest rate of Covid in the country when it comes to population, and more than 80 were reported today.

Interim director of public health Dr Susan Laidlaw reiterated that when it comes to positive results Shetland is still recording a high number of lateral flows compared to PCRs, suggesting people are following the testing guidance.

She added that on the whole Shetland has had a lower prevalence compared to other parts of Scotland, so “what we’re seeing now is us catching up a bit”.

Dr Laidlaw said anecdotally a lot of people in Shetland are still following the basic guidance.

Looking forward, the public health official said she expects case numbers to fall coming into the spring and summer.

But as long as people are testing and reporting them, cases will still continue to be recorded.

“I think with the changes that are coming up next month,” Dr Laidlaw said, “and generally as things open up more and people are mixing it a bit more, it’s possible that we might see a possible further increase there, or we might see it staying high and not going down.”

She stressed though that people with Covid tend to have very mild symptoms, if any. Dr Laidlaw also confirmed there have been cases in care homes in recent weeks.

“If this had been a year ago or six months ago, we would have expected to see lots more people in hospital and lots more people severely ill,” she said.

“I think that’s because of our good vaccination rates, and possibly because of changes in the virus strains.”