30 October 2020

The publication last week of the Scottish Government of Scotland’s Strategic Framework containing five levels of restrictions meant that the question everyone was asking at the weekend was, “what tier are we in?”

We didn’t need to wait long for the answer. In a leaked letter sent to COSLA from the government at the beginning of this week, hopes of returning to some kind of normality were dashed when we discovered that Shetland, along with Orkney, Moray, Highland and the Western Isles, would be in Level 1. At the time of writing that tier has not been formally confirmed by government.

On closer examination though it appears that Shetland might be in a tier of 1.5 – that is, Level 1 but with two “additional safeguards” including no in-home socialising.

Much was made in the debate in parliament on Tuesday afternoon, when MSPs were asked to note the framework, about the high prevalence of Coronavirus in some parts of Scotland, and the impact on the population and the damage to businesses.

We all know the great community effort it has taken to keep the virus levels low in Shetland, and we must continue to be vigilant, but the in-home socialising rules weigh heavily on families and friends. When the going gets tough those support networks are what helps us get through difficult days.

With a long, dark winter ahead and little immediate prospect of being able to meet people at home, feelings of anxiety, loneliness and isolation are only likely to increase.

If the Scottish Government is going to keep asking us to stick to that rule, it needs to provide explicit evidence showing Covid risk in Shetland continues to outweigh those social harms. In the debate on Tuesday, I emphasised that point and that the framework needs to be part of a two-way conversation.

MSPs are frequently asked “why can I meet family/friends/neighbours in a pub/café/restaurant but not at home?” If government wants to continue to bring people along with it then it should provide justification for the level of restrictions it is introducing, with clear messaging to accompany it.

Following Tuesday’s debate, at a meeting of the Cross Party Group on Crofting, there was a presentation on winter preparedness. It highlighted that this year it is especially important for crofters to have a plan in place should they fall ill to ensure, for example, that their livestock would be tended. Any crofter needing help to draw up such a plan can get advice from The Royal Scottish Agricultural Benevolent Institution (RSABI). Their helpline number is 0300 111 4166 or go to their website: rsabi.org.uk/How-RSABI-can-help.

Yesterday was World Stroke Day. I was pleased to meet with members of the local Stroke Support Group and hear how they have been able to keep in touch with each other despite not being able to hold physical meetings. Each year about 40 people in Shetland have a stroke so the group provides invaluable support to many families. You can find more information on their website: www.sssg.co.uk

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