The managing director of CalMac ferries has given detailed information on the way in which test and trace worked during a recent outbreak of Covid-19 aboard the MV Isle of Lewis.

The cross-Minch ferry was berthed in Stornoway on Wednesday 4 November, when three cases of Covid-19 were detected among the crew. She had been serving the Stornoway-Ullapool route while MV Loch Seaforth was undergoing annual maintenance.

After the cases were detected, the Isle of Lewis sailed without passengers from Castlebay in Barra to Oban, where she was tied up to undergo a deep clean and a full crew change before returning to service between Oban and Castlebay.

Isles MSP Alasdair Allan followed up questions from constituents and wrote to CalMac to ask for clarification on the testing protocol used to identify the cases, which totalled four by the time the outbreak was over.

In a reply made public yesterday (Monday 23 November) CalMac MD Robbie Drummond said: “Our protocols on testing follow the Government guidelines and use the Government testing infrastructure. The guidance is specific that testing is only effective once symptomatic.

“Within our ship and port operations, we have identified work bubbles. These are groups of people that, due to the nature of their work, will at times be in close contact with each other. We also ensure that our crew avoid close contact with other members of our crew, but, if they do, this contact is logged.

“Upon detecting positive cases, we can then provide detailed information to the NHS for contact tracing.

“This is what we did for the Isle of Lewis. We worked with the vessel staff and provided a detailed list to the NHS. From that moment, the NHS is leading, and they advised which crew members should be tested and which crew members should be isolated.

“The NHS will also lead on the wider contact tracing to ensure all those that have been in close contact with infected persons, will be notified.

“Throughout the case, we applied Government guidance and followed NHS instructions on testing and isolating.”

Meanwhile, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP, Angus MacNeil has written to Jeanne Freeman MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Health regarding offshore workers who require to take a Covid-19 test prior to returning to work.

Many islanders are employed across the world working offshore and their employers are routinely asking their staff to be tested prior to returning to their place of work.  NHS Western Isles will only test people with Covid symptoms. 

Angus MacNeil MP said: “NHS Western Isles will only test people who show Covid symptoms and this means that workers are having to make needless journeys during this pandemic to all corners of Scotland to get a Covid test, potentially exposing themselves to the risk of catching the virus.

“These workers are getting tested at their own or employers’ expense and I know that there is capacity available in the Western Isles to carry out these tests. I have suggested to the Health Secretary that perhaps some arrangement could be reached that would be satisfactory to the companies, the staff and to the Scottish Government that would end the needless and risky travel across Scotland.   

“At a time of travel restrictions it seems counter-productive to expect people to do additional travelling to get a Covid test.  I would say the solution would be to enable NHS Western Isles to test these workers and a financial arrangement probably entered into. This would benefit the workers, employers and particularly public health.”