Northern Isles Parliamentarians have called on Scottish Ministers to fully consider and openly engage with all potential approaches to easing lockdown restrictions, following further statements by Professor Hugh Pennington of the University of Aberdeen before the Scottish Parliament’s Health Committee today (Tuesday).
During the virtual evidence session, Professor Pennington said that the northern isles “could really do something different” in terms of moving away from lockdown. The academic suggested that the next stages of coronavirus containment could be developed earlier in the islands, “but only if we had a comprehensive testing strategy in those places to make sure that the virus wasn’t going under the radar”.
Shetland and Orkney’s parliamentarians, Beatrice Wishart MSP, Liam McArthur MSP and Alistair Carmichael MP have called on the Scottish Government to provide assurances that they will engage meaningfully with Professor Pennington’s proposals and be open to considering how they might be implemented safely.
Mr McArthur commented:
“Public safety must be paramount as decisions are taken about how and when the current restrictions might be lifted. In that context, however, Professor Pennington’s suggestions, which have already attracted a great deal of interest in Orkney and other island communities, deserve serious and urgent consideration.
“If the Scottish Government genuinely want to treat the Scottish public ‘as grown ups’ then suggestions like these need to be dealt with in a transparent manner.
“I have already written to both the Health Secretary and the First Minister to make this point, and to seek clarity on what consideration is being given to a more localised approach for the islands. It is important that all options to tackling the coronavirus remain on the table during this unprecedented time.”
Ms Wishart commented:
“As we consider how to move away from lockdown, the policy needs to be guided by the best evidence available, and Professor Pennington’s comments add to that mix.
“The Scottish Government need to be open about how they are engaging with these suggestions, so that the people at the other end of them can have confidence in what they are being told to do.
“As Professor Pennington has said, if the islands would benefit from a different approach this will need to be backed up by a reliable testing and tracing regime. There are reasonable questions to be asked about whether more localised approaches would lead to better outcomes but next steps need to be taken safely.”
Mr Carmichael commented:
“I hope that the Scottish Government will engage with these proposals seriously. That engagement must, however, also include close cooperation and discussion with local communities to ensure public confidence in safety.
“This is not a plan that can be run centrally. Local input and know-how is key and islanders should be at the heart of how we translate these proposals into action.”