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NHS Western Isles is this week commencing a new long-term approach to addressing COVID-19, known as Test, Trace, Isolate, and Support.       

The principles of this approach - in line with with Scottish Government policy – are to:

  • Test people in the community who have symptoms for 48 to 72 hours consistent of COVID-19, to identify cases of infection
  • Contact trace to identify close contacts of the case who may have had the disease transmitted to them
  • Isolate cases for 7 days and contacts for 14 days, so that if they do develop the disease, there is less risk that they will pass it on to others.
  • Support these people to remain in self-isolation, which may happen more than once if they have contact with another person who becomes a case.   We will monitor cases to ensure prompt management of symptoms, and follow up contacts, advising on actions if they develop symptoms and require testing (and subsequent contact tracing of their contacts). 

So far, there have been 268 coronavirus tests conducted in the Western Isles.  For regular updates see ( That is about 1% of the population. In the Faroes (see so far, 16% of the population has been tested.

NHS Western Isles Director of Public Health, Dr Maggie Watts, explained: “It is inevitable that lockdown will come to an end at some point in the future and in the Western Isles, we need to ensure we are well placed to manage the impact of such release. This is where the new approach of Test, Trace, Isolate, and Support comes in, as our method to combat COVID-19.

“The Test, Trace, Isolate, and Support approach will be most effective when levels of infection are low and stay low, as is currently the case in the Western Isles. The success of this approach relies on all of us knowing and agreeing what to do if we have symptoms, and being prepared to self-isolate when advised to do so.”

So what does this mean in simple terms for members of our community?

If you are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, you can check with NHS Inform what to do.  If it is an emergency, dial 999 and tell the operator you may have COVID-19.

For further advice you should continue to contact NHS 24 on 111 who will advise you on how to access testing, if this is appropriate. 

Symptoms are specifically a new continuous cough and/or a fever/high temperature (37.8C or greater).  A new continuous cough is where you:

  • have a new cough that’s lasted for an hour
  • have had 3 or more episodes of coughing in 24 hours
  • are coughing more than usual.

The test for COVID-19 usually involves a swab through the nose. If your result shows presence of the virus, you will be given the appropriate advice, care and support, depending on your condition, and you will be required to self isolate for seven days. We will ask you about the people you have been in contact with (within two metres and for a minimum of 15 minutes) from two days before you had symptoms to the time you were tested for COVID-19.

This will help us to identify who may have been at risk of transmitting the virus as a result of contact with you. We will then work to contact those people, explaining to them that they have had contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19.  This means that they may develop infection within 14 days of this close contact and they will be asked to isolate for 14 days.  The purpose of isolation is to break the chain of transmission.

Dr Watts added: “The support aspect of this approach is vital as we recognise that this is not easy for our communities. We will be asking people to self-isolate, possibly more than once, as they come into contact with different individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

"We will not know for sure if these individuals have contracted COVID-19, but they are being asked to self isolate in order to protect others in case they have. We want to make sure support mechanisms are in place for these individuals to help them with essential aspects of their daily life during times of self isolation.”

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson said: “The Test, Trace, Isolate and Support approach is at this point our best chance of suppressing and preventing transmission of the COVID-19 virus. I would urge everyone to co-operate and comply with what will be asked of you. It is all intended to protect you, your loved ones, friends and family.”