Scotland’s first chief scientific officer has said a trial to ease lockdown in Shetland “would be worth considering” – but must be handled carefully.
Professor Dame Anne Glover made her comments in response to questions raised on a Northern Isles edition of Debate Night on Wednesday.
Asked by a member of the virtual audience whether there should be a “localised approach to ending lockdown” Prof Glover gave cautious support for the idea.
“It would be reasonable to look across Scotland and indeed the UK to identify areas that could be subject to slightly earlier [easing of] of lockdown or slightly different conditions of lockdown,” she said.
“In many ways a one size fits all is not really appropriate and we should have the flexibility to be able to consider different options.
“The thing we’d have to bear in mind when you do something like that that people are moving around the country, so you’d have to be quite careful.
Prof Glover said the Northern Isles would not appreciate visitors from parts of the country with high rates of infection.
“You would have to be quite careful and sensitive about how we would implement something like that but I think it would be certainly worth considering,” she added.
The possibility of a piloting an exit strategy in Shetland has already been raised by politicians.
Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart said last month her constituency was the “ideal place” for such a pilot.
Cabinet office minister Michael Gove has also suggested lifting lockdown restrictions at a “progressively greater rate” on the Scottish islands than the mainland.
Responding to the suggestion, one Debate Night audience member said it would be a “positive step” – but added that there needed to be a “degree of resilience” in local services to ensure they could cope with a resurgence in the virus.
Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s cabinet secretary for economy, also indicated cautious support for the idea – though she stressed it had to be done with consent.
”It should not be done to the islands,” she added.
“They should want it and discuss it and be part of it, not be told by Edinburgh or London that we want to use them as an experiment.
“I’m not saying no – but it’s got to come from the islands themselves.”
Other topics for discussion included questions on whether there would be greater support for tourism operators, of which there are many in Shetland and Orkney.
One B&B owner explained she had been unable to receive any financial support because the government’s grants were only eligible to people who paid business rates, whereas she paid domestic council tax.
Others questioned how the tourism season would be able to reopen again safely.
Prof Glover said that while she could not say with any degree of certainty when tourism would be able to reopen – it would likely require ongoing social distancing.
She highlighted a scheme in Europe where restaurant diners were seated in “perspex boxes”.
“These are the sorts of things we could move towards,” she added.