Islands MSPs on a Localised Approach to #Covid19

Constituency LibDem MSPs for the Northern Isles, Liam McArthur (Orkney) and Beatrice Wishart(Shetland) have asked how a differentiated approach to the current limitations across Scotland during the Covid pandemic could be applied.

The public health crisis which has seen confirmed cases world wide rise with a spike in Scotland and the whole of the UK ,can have life changing health issues in people who catch it sometimes resulting in death.

Cumulative of Cases Tested Positive For Covid19 as reported on that date on the Scottish Government website

Liam McArthur and Beatrice Wishart attended a meeting with the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, Deputy National Clinical Director, Dr John Harden, Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse and MSP for Na h-Eileanan an lar, Alasdair Allan, SNP, on Friday 2nd of October, to discuss how applying a more localised approach to restrictions might work in the islands. 

Jeane Freeman confirmed that discussions would be taken forward over the coming weeks with island councils and health boards to develop protocols that would be needed if a localised approach to restrictions were to be applied by the Scottish Government.

Commenting after the meeting Liam McArthur said:

“This was a helpful discussion and I certainly appreciate that there are complex and sensitive balances that need to be struck in decisions around how restrictions apply. 

“Nevertheless, I welcome the Health Secretary’s confirmation that the Deputy National Clinical Director has been tasked with developing protocols on which a localised approach could be based. This will be taken forward in consultation with island councils and health boards and with a degree of urgency. Again, that is something I believe is sensible and pragmatic. 

“Obviously any protocols will also have to take account of the fact that each of the island communities is different.  It was encouraging to hear the Health Secretary acknowledge that a one-size-fits-all approach would not be appropriate across all three island groups.

“None of this guarantees that a localised approach will be adopted in the coming weeks.  However, it does at least allow for a more transparent and consultative process for arriving at decisions.

“In order to ensure continued compliance, the decisions Ministers take need to command public confidence. That is all the more so when the restrictions themselves are seen to have potential adverse impacts on people’s mental and physical health.

“Hopefully the steps agreed with the Health Secretary today will help provide greater reassurance to people in Orkney and the other island groups that these issues are being fully and properly considered. “

Liam McArthur and Beatrice Wishart also raised concerns that the most recent government guidance on students returning home takes no account of the needs of island students, who have no option but to take public transport in the form of a plane or ferry.

All students who have tested positive for Covid must self isolate and if they require to return to their home address must not use public transport. These are the same rules as everyone has to adhere to. The recent case of the SNP MP Margaret Ferrier highlights how a breach in these rules is viewed by the public and the Police due to the danger it puts people in.

Commenting on the issue of students who wish to return to the islands Liam McArthur said:

“The current government guidance appears to take no account of the realities for island students who may need to return home over the coming weeks. This point was recognised by the Health Secretary, who helpfully agreed to take up the issue with her colleague, the Education Secretary.

“I would hope that, on that basis, the government can come forward with revised guidance that treats island students with fairness and equity.”

Scottish Government advice for students can be found here:

Student accommodation – guidance on visits home

“It is an offence not to comply with the restrictions on gatherings. However, it is a defence to show that there was a reasonable excuse in the circumstances. A reasonable excuse might include a visit home for a family emergency, such as a bereavement, or for wellbeing reasons.”

“We want students to be able to return safely to family homes at Christmas where they wish to do so. We are considering the best approach for the festive break but, given no one can predict the future path of the pandemic, we will update the guidance in due course.”

In Scotland on 3rd of October there were:

  • 764 new cases of COVID-19 reported; this is 12.1% of newly tested individuals
  • 4 new reported death(s) of people who have tested positive
  • 23 people were in intensive care yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 191 people were in hospital yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 22,144 new tests for COVID-19 that reported results

For statistics for Scotland and the UK please click on this link: Travelling Tabby Coronavirus Tracker

1.3 million people in Scotland have downloaded the NHS Scotland covid contact tracing app in the battle against the spread of the virus.

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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