Isles MP, Angus MacNeil has written to both the First Minister and the Health Secretary to suggest piloting a World Health Organisation policy approach, like that being used in Iceland and on the Faroe Islands, of widespread informed Covid-19 testing in the Hebrides.
This could mean testing a couple of thousand people - maybe 5-10% of the population – as these other places have done. Mr MacNeil has also contacted NHS Western Isles to enquire about assisting in contact tracing and Police Scotland, who showed willingness to assist the health authorities here, if such a policy change were piloted on the islands.
On Monday, NHS Western Isles said it hoped to have good news later in the week about the availability of Covid-19 testing facilities in the Islands
Mr MacNeil said:"On 18th March I said that, ‘The Government should be testing more, if the UK was testing to the level of Iceland or the Faroe Islands, we would have a better picture of what is going on and we would probably be more aware of where the clusters of coronavirus are now. Unfortunately, the UK is doing a lot of this blindfolded, against World Health Organisation advice and Scotland is caught in that web too.’
Over a month later we are in much the same situation. My opinion on testing remains the same, we need to test more. It is quite amazing, if not shocking, that we have people in the islands who tested positive for Covid-19 yet their spouses and other members of their household have not been tested.
"Thankfully in the islands we have few Covid-19 cases, although it is hard to be certain that we have such few cases given the lack of testing.
“Surely, it is time to drop the fatal two-step which Scotland has been engaged in with Whitehall, and start our own policy, trialled here in the islands, for increased testing. We have got spare testing capacity in Scotland, 40% of the testing capacity is unused, therefore it would seem wise that while island numbers are low we should keep them low by the contact tracing, testing and tracking, so well employed in some other countries.
"I hope the First Minister and the Health Secretary will respond to this favourably. Time is always of the essence, testing capacity in the islands should be increasing although it is already 2 weeks delayed.
“We could then change policy and not wait for the virus to turn up but we seek out the virus as in other countries. Such a policy change could start now in the islands. Then we might be able to move on and do what the Faroese did yesterday (Monday 20th April) which was to remove their internal lockdown while still keeping the islands externally locked down.
“For now, we remain in lockdown and it is difficult to change that until we have increased testing, to give us a better picture of Covid-19 in the Hebrides.”
Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron has urged the Scottish Government to ensure that it is ready to allow construction projects to restart when conditions allow.
Mr Cameron made his plea to the Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Tourism and External Affair, Fiona Hyslop, yesterday (Tuesday 21st April) during Topical Questions at the Scottish Parliament.
In his question Mr Cameron made special reference to the Highlands and Islands where projects tend to be smaller and social distancing easier to maintain.
He said: “The restrictions on construction are stricter in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, and that makes it all the more important that when conditions allow we are ready to go.
“Having discussed this issue with a local Chamber of Commerce only this morning, I was pleased that the Cabinet Secretary responded positively to my question and indicated that the construction sector would be considered very seriously when the Scottish Government is looking to ease restrictions on commercial activity.
“The Highlands and Islands is taking an economic pounding from the pandemic and it would be highly beneficial if there was the prospect of construction work being one of the first sectors to resume operations.”