Health leaders have warned that a lack of openness and honesty is frustrating their efforts to tackle the cluster of Covid-19 cases in Whalsay.
NHS Shetland said more than 100 people were now self-isolating on the island after a further two cases were confirmed in today’s official figures.
However, chief executive Michael Dickson urged people to be more forthcoming about their contacts to assist the tracing team get a grip on the cluster before it reaches more concerning levels.
He said: “The cluster of cases we are seeing in Whalsay is understandably a concern.
“We are fortunate enough to have a really dedicated, forthright, tenacious contact tracing team and they’re working incredibly hard to get in front of these cases.
“It was bound to happen. We were always knew we would have cases.
“What is fundamentally frustrating our progress in this area is people not being open and honest about their contacts; about who they’ve spent time with.”
Mr Dickson said the community had previously been very supportive in contact tracing.
However, he said the health board’s lack of confidence in the contact information provided regarding the latest cluster meant it was having to take a more draconian approach, requiring more folk to self-isolate.
With greater clarity from known contacts of the initial positive case, Mr Dickson said the team could use its tried and tested methods and reduce the requirement for self-isolation.
Mr Dickson said there appeared to be a “nervousness” of some folk coming forward for fear of facing sanctions or even law enforcement, as the cluster was linked to an extended social gathering.
However, he stressed this was not the case, and “we’re not here to judge”.
“We don’t care where people were, who they were with or for how long – we just need to know,” he said.
Mr Dickson said there was a particular issue with one individual at the heart of the cluster who had been “very reluctant” to share their information.
“It’s really difficult to do contact tracing when someone is denying they were even in the place we all know they were,” he added.
“That’s a really difficult place to be. It becomes virtually impossible to contact trace.”
He said a contact tracer had “begged” that person for information – “but got nothing”.
However, Mr Dickson also said the issue was also more widespread than one individual.
“If it was one person, we’ve experienced this before, and you can work around it.
“But this is about a number of people, who we know have had multiple contacts but when we ask for details and length of time and who they’ve been with, we might get two or three people.
“And we know that’s not correct; we are aware of the events, we are aware of what happened – not to judge – but let’s just be clear about it, so we can be more effective in our contact tracing.”
Mr Dickson stressed he did not believe anyone was intentionally trying to cause harm, however he said it was resulting in difficult consequences, such as the care home being closed to visitors.
“We might not have had to do that if we had a very clear picture of what was going on it terms of contact tracing,” he added.
Yesterday’s confirmed case was the first since April and led to the cancellation of football matches and the closure of several facilities in Whalsay, including the leisure centre.
NHS Shetland said the case was linked to travel and other cases on the UK mainland.
Interim director of public health, Susan Laidlaw said there may well be more cases because around 100 contacts had already been identified.
Dr Laidlaw urged the community to work with the public health team, especially contract tracers, to help control the spread of the virus.
“Most of the community is really supportive of our efforts and wants to help,” she said.
“That means if you are contacted by the team then giving as complete a picture as you can about your movements and contacts.
“The team is already busy trying to contact trace and it is more work for them, and delays the response, if people are not as co-operative as they could be.”
Dr Laidlaw said that while most cases and contacts were on Whalsay, the situation had already spread and urged the whole Shetland community to once again be careful and to keep following the guidance.
NHS Shetland has sent a testing team to Whalsay today to swab people who have been asked to get a test. This is by appointment only.
Anyone who does not have symptoms and who has not been asked to get a PCR test, can access lateral flow tests. Health and social care staff, school staff and secondary pupils, and certain workplaces can already access LFTs. Anyone else can order on line.
People can call 01595 532030 to let the health board know their contacts.