A Shetlander living and working in quarantined Italy has shared her thoughts on the situation.
Osla Fraser, who lives in the Umbria region of the country, posted to Facebook after the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the isles reached double digits (11) on Friday.
The lecturer in translation studies, who is currently working from home, saw events were being cancelled here but feared “the authorities are still very much trying to play down the scale and gravity of the problem”.
“I’m writing this to see if I can be of any help getting the message across to the general public and\or those with decision making power in Shetland, or indeed further afield, about just how important it is for everyone to take COVID-19 extremely seriously.”
The post is an edited version of an email she sent to NHS Shetland last week. It has been shared hundreds of times by isles folk. Comments beneath the post from concerned Shetlanders were full of praise for the letter.
She has also contacted isles MSP Beatrice Wishart and MP Alistair Carmichael who had been “prompt and receptive” in taking on board the message, but said she strongly feels much more must be done.
In the post, the translator described the “dramatic” situation in Italy and its current lockdown, which depended “entirely, on the co-operation, involvement and sense of personal responsibility of every single member of society”, on folk keeping up to date with the “current best information”, but that “a great and weighty responsibility also lies with health authorities, local and national politicians, the media and any other body that can be involved in influencing people’s perception of the situation and their consequent behaviour”.
Three weeks ago, she said that the current situation had seemed far away from daily life, adding that now she was “one of the extremely lucky ones”.
“Nonetheless, there are still people, here too, who would put the economic impact before the impact on health, despite being in possession of full knowledge of what is happening. As the death toll rises though and the news of how hospitals are struggling to cope spreads, these voices of descent have fallen silent.”
Going on to talk about the situation in the isles, she said: “Given that there are now 11 confirmed cases in Shetland and as I understand it, the Health Board locally as well as the NHS nationally are still giving advice to self isolate only when symptoms begin to manifest. I would like to highlight that this is in direct and complete conflict with the advice here, and the policy that China was forced to adopt. COVID-19 is incredibly contagious and many of the people who have been infected, have been infected by people precisely because the carriers were still unaware that they had contracted the virus. A serious outbreak in a remote community such as Shetland will, categorically, be disastrous.”
She said she was “horrified” to learn from the radio that “testing and tracing in the community are to be stopped and that people are not being advised of the danger of spreading the virus whilst they may be without symptoms”.
“Hospitals in Lombardia, which are much bigger and better equipped than our own GBH, are at breaking point. Right now, staff are having to make the stark choice between who to put on life support and who to let die, hospitals up and down the country are without some of the basic means of protecting their staff or assisting all the patients in need. Surgical masks and other basic supplies are simply not to be had, let alone respirators and supplies of more complex equipment needed to create extra places in ICUs.
“Obviously nobody wants to cause general panic, panic buying of toilet paper or other general supplies, or increased stress and worry for the most vulnerable in our society, panic is not helpful. On the other hand, it is extremely important that people stop talking and thinking about this as a ‘bad flu’ and realise that it is a virus that we can only beat by working together.”
Describing coronavirus as “just a ‘bad flu'” only dangerous for the elderly and “infirm” was simply not true, she said, adding later that the perception it was only dangerous for certain groups was dangerous.
She asked folk to reconsider “that shopping trip to Aberdeen, that long planned and hard saved for holiday, birthday bus, rugby match or simply a dinner with friends” and whether it “is really necessary right now”.
“I am not a doctor nor am I an expert in any pertinent field. I am simply an eyewitness to the development of this illness here in Italy, but I too feel that it would be negligent of me not to at least try to sound the alarm for the people I hold dear.”
The full post can be found here.