I welcome the new strategic framework, which recognises the need for a tiered approach to deal with this virus.
It provides the vindication for the efforts we put into pressing for a localised approach. The government and others have moved away from the narrative of those who advocated a “one size fits all” national approach. This is welcome. Over the past weeks, Shetland has effectively been living under the same restrictions as all other areas of Scotland.
There was, and continues to be, real marked variation of Covid-19 cases across Scotland, but less so in terms of the restrictions. There is acknowledgement that there is wider harm in the community from these restrictions. There is a “balance of harm” that needs to be struck, and should have been given weight in decision-making.
However, the framework needs to deliver and to do that it must be consistent and understandable in its application.
With all this in mind, it is extremely disappointing to see the ban on in-home visits being continued, despite Shetland appearing in Tier 1. Indeed, in a call with Government yesterday they confirmed that all of the indicators that they are using place Shetland in Tier 0.
A very urban-centric view sees cafe and pubs being open to provide socialising opportunities. This is welcome for the Shetland hospitality trade and those in our community with disposable income.
But that provides little comfort to our remote and rural island communities who are cut off digitally and physically. A community that suffers from a very high cost of living, a community that is now going into winter.
Essentially, with no access to public spaces, those in remote and rural Shetland have effectively been placed in Tier 2, one that embeds and increases serious inequalities in our community. The government’s own evidence and indicators show a ban on in home visiting is not necessary.
I appreciate the offer of early review on this visit ban by the First Minister in her statement today. I will as a matter of urgency be taking up that offer. I will seek to ensure the government does not further isolate already disadvantaged individuals in our community for any longer than is necessary.
I have the confidence that as we approach the winter period we, as a community, will continue to play our part in controlling the Covid-19 impact. However, we are better able to do this if we have confidence and clarity on new guidance and restrictions, and that they are fit for Shetland.
As an elected politician, it is important I am able to scrutinise and question measures that are impacting on community wellbeing. I will continue to press for recognition of the “balance of harms” and the real needs of our Shetland community as we approach winter.
I would finally take the opportunity to again remind individuals of the need to follow the FACTS guidance. We are going to have to work hard to convince the Scottish Government that they can lift the ban on home visiting at their first review of Tiers. Everyone needs to take responsibility and demonstrate that reinstating this additional freedom will not cause behaviour that promotes virus transmission.
Steven Coutts, Political Leader
Shetland Islands Council