Northern Isles MSPs seek clarity over localised approach for covid restrictions

Orkney’s MSP, Liam McArthur and Shetland’s MSP, Beatrice Wishart have today (Friday) met with the Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman and Deputy National Clinical Director, Dr John Harden to discuss how applying a more localised approach to restrictions might work in the islands.

Mr McArthur and Ms Wishart were also joined by the Islands Minister, Paul Wheelhouse and MSP for Na h-Eileanan an lar, Alasdair Allan.

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

Mr McArthur and Ms 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.

Following the meeting, Mr McArthur commented:

“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. “

Responding to the situation regarding travel for island students, Mr McArthur added:

“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.”

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