GP ‘worried’ about Up-Helly-A’ after coronavirus reaches isles

An isles GP is “worried” about the potential for a wider coronavirus outbreak in Shetland if this weekend’s South Mainland Up-Helly-A’ (Smuha) goes ahead.

Susan Bowie, who works at the North Mainland’s Hillswick practice, said that the respective committees in Shetland’s two remaining fire festivals (Smuha and next Friday’s Delting Up-Helly-A’) should consider cancelling or postponing festivities in public halls around the communities.

On Monday the Smuha committee said that they were monitoring the spread of coronavirus following the confirmation of two cases in Shetland but had no plans, as yet, to cancel or postpone the event.

And as of Tuesday afternoon, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said it was “not appropriate” to cancel large scale events in light of the virus, though “all of that continues to be under review”.

Hillswick GP Dr Susan Bowie is worried about the potential spread of coronavirus in Shetland.

Dr Bowie said that she felt the burnings could go ahead but warned that the festivities in public halls which follow the galley burnings are like “a petri dish”.

Citing a recent example from her area, Dr Bowie said that a massive outbreak of the flu had hit Shetland’s North Mainland following Northmavine Up-Helly-A’.

In one week after the Northmavine event, Dr Bowie “saw more people than I’ve ever seen in a week with a flu-like illness”.

“And it seems to have come after Up-Helly-A,’” she added, “So I’m really quite worried about the Smuha and Brae Up-Helly-A’s.”

Dr Bowie said that a major concern was what would happen if a large number of coronavirus cases were confirmed in a short space of time.

This would place extreme pressure on the local health service, she felt.

“If everyone gets it and spreads it within a couple of weeks we’re not going to be able to cope”, said Dr Bowie.

She said: “People need to be really sensible about reducing their public gatherings and social contact.

“If people are sensible it really does make a difference so why would we throw caution to the wind?”


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