Shetland Times Column - 24 December 2020

It didn’t take much working out that something serious was afoot when both the Prime Minister and the First Minister were holding press conferences late on a Saturday afternoon. The new Covid-19 variant with up to a 70% higher transmission rate required immediate action.

It’s a fast-changing situation and messages in my inbox are mainly about the impact on Christmas travel plans.  With reduced options and limited flights people have struggled to return home or to carry out the planned caring responsibilities for family members on the Mainland. People seek a safe travel route, trying to make sure they don’t break the law travelling to Mainland airports or Aberdeen Northlink terminal.

The inbox enquiries demonstrate that people want to do what is right in the emerging and emergency situation, to protect themselves and others.

The good news is that a Covid vaccine has reached Shetland and is being rolled out to the highest priority groups. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is a more complex structure than the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine which hopefully will be approved for use soon. 

Making sure that every drop of this precious commodity is used is something I was able to question an expert panel on at last week’s Covid-19 committee. Professor Wei Shen Lim from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said that they advised that “there should be common sense and flexibility operationally in the use of vaccines.”

Other constituents write that all travel into Shetland should be stopped, or that there should be mandatory testing on arrival. Just as there is a debate to be had about whether moving the islands from Level 1 to Level 3 is proportionate, there is also the issue of testing people coming into Shetland. After 9/11 new security measures were rapidly introduced at airports. The same consideration should be given to testing.

At the time of writing (Tuesday) as the Covid-19 variant spreads across the UK there’s chaos at the UK-France Channel routes and it’s impacting seafood exports. And this is before the anticipated chaos of 1st January and Brexit’s new regulatory requirements. It’s interesting to hear some people say they voted for Brexit but now they realise what some of the consequences are they would vote differently today. It’s a lesson for the future.

Not everyone has Christmas Day off. I wholeheartedly thank all the emergency service workers who keep us safe all year round. I also thank the many volunteers and workers behind the scenes who provide valuable services and support, especially to the most vulnerable members of our community.

This has been a hard year and we’re not out of the woods yet. Tough though this is, if we stay safe, if we’re kind and care for others, we’ll all be back together soon.

In the words of Captain Sir Tom Moore, “the sun will shine on you again and the clouds will go away.”

Merry Christmas, and may your 2021 be a healthy and peaceful one.

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