Orkney’s political leaders are urging the Scottish Government for an easing of Covid restrictions in the islands due to the low number of positive confirmed cases. What would this look like? And what might be the consequences for Orkney?
Leader of OIC, James Stockan has commented that “there is a strong case for a different approach for Orkney and the other island areas.”
He suggests that easing restrictions could be permitting social visits to other households.
“I am concerned that if we continue with the same level of restrictions Scotland wide, there will be an adverse impact as winter approaches on the mental health of many in our community and our already vulnerable economy will suffer greatly.
“I made the point during our discussions last week that if there’s flooding in Glasgow you don’t put out sandbags around Orkney. But you do have sandbags ready for when there’s flooding here.
“In other words, restrictions in response to a major spike in Covid cases in the Central Belt shouldn’t necessarily be imposed to the same degree in the islands – providing there are clear procedures in place for a rapid response to test, trace and protect the community if there is a local outbreak.”
The new restrictions which will be in place for 16 days as a temporary measure to limit the spread of Covid which has seen a considerable spike in cases in recent days can be found here:
On Thursday, 8th of October, Orkney Constituency MSP Liam McArthur, LibDem, pressed Nicola Sturgeon at First Minister’s Questions on a localised approach to the restrictions in Orkney.
Commenting afterwards Liam McArthur said:
“It also appears to be the case that there has been no community transmission in Orkney since April.
“While it would be dangerous to believe there is no risk from Covid, those risks would seem to be lower in the islands than elsewhere. This is not reflected, however, in the way the increased restrictions have been applied over the last three weeks.
“Given the toll those restrictions are now placing on the wellbeing of individuals as well as the threat to jobs and businesses, that is a real concern.
“The Health Secretary confirmed to me last week that work is underway to look at how a more localised approach might be taken forward in our island communities. However, there is a need for urgency.
“Meantime, the First Minister’s insistence that any such approach would necessitate a travel ban seems overly simplistic. These, though, are the details that need to be worked up in consultation with the island authorities and health boards over the coming days. I look forward to being involved in those discussions.”
It is important that there is factual reporting of what the First Minister said which was not a ‘travel ban’ but ‘ travel restrictions from the mainland to Orkney‘.
In answer to Liam McArthur, Nicola Sturgeon said:
“I am happy to have a discussion with the local authority in Orkney, but if we were to say that, if Orkney does not have cases, it can be exempted from national restrictions, the quid pro quo would probably be that there must be travel restrictions from the mainland to Orkney. It is not for me alone to say what the islanders would prefer, but it is for me to be frank about the choices and trade-offs that have to be made.
“I say, in all sincerity, that we are happy to have those discussions with the islands on an on-going basis. We have had a significant outbreak in the Western Isles in recent days, and there have been cases in Orkney, although I absolutely take Liam McArthur’s point about the circumstances. One of the early outbreaks of Covid was in Shetland.
“These are not easy issues, but, if there are different ways of protecting our island communities, we are open to them. However, I will not stand here and pretend that it will be easy or straightforward. There will always be trade-offs in how we deal with the situation. I would be happy to have the islands minister follow up with Liam McArthur and the other islands MSPs to see whether there is a different way that they would be interested to pursue.” https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=12883
We all remember how dreadful the months of lockdown were but which in turn did keep people safe and protected the NHS from being overwhelmed by rising hospital numbers.
The evidence presented by Scotland’s Chief medical experts reported on the rise in hospitalisations and the move from infection in the younger population now spreading to older people who are more vulnerable to the devastating health affects of the virus – including death.
Orkney could certainly have a localised approach with an easing of restrictions within the islands but to do this there would be a trade off.
People , currently, can move in and out of the islands. They can go off on holidays to other parts of the UK and further afield. Visitors can also come to Orkney with no hindrance and move about freely. They can stay in holiday accommodation, go to our cafes and spend money in local shops.
Could this ease of movement still happen if restrictions were to ease in Orkney?
This seems unlikely and would also be irresponsible for each one of those individuals could be bringing the virus into Orkney. Easing restrictions would make transmission of the virus to islanders a real and present danger.
This is why if restrictions were to ease in Orkney there would have to be checks on those coming into the islands – including Orcadians returning home. These checks would have to involve testing and quarantine until the individual got 2 negative test results.
This is doable but it is a considerable trade off. Orkney has an ageing demographic. We have many vulnerable people in our communities whose health would be endangered if Covid was to get into the islands. At the moment our NHS is able to cope and many services are now restarted. Our care workers are able to deliver their services to those that need them and our Care Homes are allowing limited visiting. Any breakout of cases in Orkney would put all that in jeopardy.
That is why if restrictions are eased in Orkney, as our political leaders would like to see, and no doubt some members of the public would agree with, travel into the islands would require limitations imposed on it. This would in turn affect the income of transport operators and accommodation providers as people may be put off taking a holiday in a place where they would be required to be tested twice and be quarantined.
Many members of the public, particularly those who were shielding, have found it reassuring that there is a high rate of compliance in Orkney – people wearing masks and the lengths businesses have gone to in order to protect customers. With an easing of restrictions the public would have to be certain that the islands were made safe from the importation of the virus. If they are not confident that those limitations exist to travel then they will decide not to shop local and go back to buying online. In other words the cafes and shops will lose the trade of many islanders if they fear they are no longer safe shopping and eating out.
It is worth noting that the Western Isles which between the 17th and the 24th of September had recorded only a total of 10 positive Covid tests, by the 7th of October had a total of 53. That is how quickly the virus can spread when it gets into island communities.
Orkney’s businesses have made tremendous efforts to keep the public safe and to continue to trade. The measures announced for Scotland are in place for 16 days. In that time if Orkney decides that a localised easing of measures is to go ahead islanders would need to know exactly how their community will be protected from the virus being brought in.
And the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to remember FACTS. Covid is spread by people and if we all do what we can then it is possible to limit transmission and eventually eliminate the virus.
Reporter: Fiona Grahame