I know from speaking to folk in Orkney on a regular basis that the shift from Level 1 to Level 3 on Boxing Day was a tough move to take, given the level of cases in the county at that time.
There is no doubt that the pandemic restrictions across Scotland, where most of us have been at Level 4 for the duration, have made this a hard winter to cope with for many.
However, with the return to school for some younger and older pupils this week, together with Tuesday’s announcement by Nicola Sturgeon of how restrictions will be eased over the coming weeks, hopefully folk can see some light as we head towards spring.
With the potential for a return to school for more pupils by the middle of March, along with a phased return for some university and college students, non-contact outdoor sports for 12-17 year olds, and socialising rules being eased for outdoor meetings, there are signs of hope for a bit more normality.
The Stay at Home requirement is likely to be lifted in early April, subject to conditions being met of course, along with the final phase of school reopening if required, and the expansion of the essential retailers category and the resumption of click-and-collect for non-essential retail.
The First Minister was right not to be naming dates far into the future. That will come in mid-March, when we have made further progress on the vaccine and have a greater understanding of the impact of the initial return of pupils to school. That is when more detail will hopefully be able to be given of further relaxations of restrictions over April, May and into the summer.
We already know though that there is the potential for mainland Scotland to move to Level 3 towards the end of April. At that stage, as long as we are able to continue to suppress the virus, we can start to re-open the economy and society in the more substantial way that we are all so keen for.
Of course, I recognise that for Orkney there is a case being made around testing to allow earlier relaxation of restrictions.
This is not surprising a community that has done so well in keeping cases down, and where there has been brilliant progress with the vaccine rollout, even during the recent wintry spell.
Testing is kept under regular review, but it is clear that testing can’t detect those who are incubating Covid-19.
Testing needs to be deployed in a suite of mitigations to prevent the virus spreading. If you’re using tests to avoid re-seeding, you need to quarantine as with international travel. This kind of system is already in place in island groups such as the Faroes and Iceland.
I know that Liam McArthur stated last year that a travel ban was too high a price to pay for easing of restrictions, but he and his colleagues need to recognise quarantine as part of any testing plan.
Stay strong folks.
This is a fortnightly column by SNP MSP Maree Todd. All MSPs in the Highlands and Islands region have been offered the same space in The Orkney News to share their personal views.
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