I really hope that folk in Orkney have enjoyed the first few days of relaxation of the Covid-19 lockdown rules. Coming last Friday,they have happily coincided with a great spell of weather across the country, allowing meetings of families and friends in gardens, parks and other outdoor areas.
While there were concerns about the distance some folk appear to have travelled to enjoy this welcome new freedom, I know that in Orkney this is unlikely to have caused many issues and is one of the benefits of being a group of islands.
And, now that Phase 1 has been triggered, I know trips to garden centres have been enjoyed, and I suspect that there may have been a high volume of traffic at the two recycling centres at Hatston and Garson when they reopened on Tuesday to accept garden waste. These small returns to something nearer normal – but with social distance still required – are possible because of the patience and discipline most folk have displayed since Monday, March 23.
However, these new freedoms must not be abused. The routemap out of lockdown expressly recognises that during Phase 1 there is still a high risk that the virus is not yet contained.
We all must understand that and continue to remember it.
As if to reinforce this, Orkney recorded its eighth positive test case of coronavirus on Friday, the very day Phase 1 began. This was the first new case to have been confirmed in the islands in almost five weeks, although true numbers are likely to be significantly higher and sadly, two deaths have been attributed to the virus.
For that reason, it is critical that folk do not overstep the flexibility that has come with the change to restrictions. As I said, it is less of a concern in Orkney that folk may be travelling long distances, but the strong recommendation stands that when two households meet there should be no more than eight people in total in a group. That is guidance because we trust the majority to keep those groups small and stay within the rules.
However, if evidence grows that even a minority are not abiding by these guidelines then these restrictions on group size and travel distance may well have to become law, as is already the case with the stipulation that no more than two households can meet at any one time.
Other changes that are being prepared for include return to schools. Unlike in England, there will be no children in classrooms in Scotland before the summer holidays, with August 11 the target start date. However, I am aware that milestones are being reached and in Orkney secondary pupils will be moving up a year this week. It will be strange for this to happen while most of you are at home and not with your classmates, but it is important that you see yourselves as making that progress, and I want to wish you all well as your educational journey progresses.
This is a regular column by Maree Todd, SNP MSP. All list MSPs in the Highlands and Islands have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views