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Isles MSPs welcome relaxation on home visiting

Liam McArthur MSP

News that Orkney residents, along with those in Shetland and the Western Isles, will be allowed to visit one another’s homes from Friday has been welcomed by some of the MSPs representing them.

Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, has been joined by Highlands and Islands list MSPs John Finnie and Jamie Halcro-Johnston in responding positively to the news.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement this afternoon, Tuesday, but advised that visit would strictly be limited to a maximum of six people from two households.

Welcoming the news, Mr McArthur said that hoped this relaxation of measures would help combat social isolation in some of the isles’ most rural areas.

“Having raised this issue with the First Minister on two separate occasions at the end of last month, I’m pleased that she has now agreed to ease restrictions in this small but important way. It will come as a relief to many in Orkney and the other islands affected that small, indoor gatherings can now take place again.

“As we enter winter, meeting outdoors is simply not a realistic or practical option.  Continuing with such a restriction risked isolating many individuals, some of whom may already be extremely vulnerable, and thus impacting on people’s mental health and wellbeing.

Highlands and Islands MSP, John Finnie.

“In light of the fact that cases are still relatively low in the islands, this more proportionate approach was both necessary and justified. It also belatedly applies the Scottish Government’s own framework for dealing with COVID in level one areas to Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.

“That is not to say that the risk from COVID is not still very real. The public must continue to take great care and adhere to the advice.  However, I hope this slight easing of restrictions will help make a difference, particularly for those who have been struggling to cope.”

Meanwhile, Green MSP John Finnie has called for the Scottish Government to ensure that adequate support is available for anyone who is forced to self-isolate if they are exposed to the virus when visiting the mainland for essential purposes.

He said: “Today’s announcement  by the First Minister will be welcomed by people in Orkney, especially as we enter the height of winter.

“However, it’s important to recognise that the risk has not been eliminated and imported cases remain a risk.

“That’s why it’s vital that support is available for anyone who has returned from the mainland and has to self-isolate, to make absolutely sure that the virus remains contained.

Highlands and Islands MSP, Jamie Halcro Johnston.

“There is light at the end of the tunnel but the fight against the coronavirus is not yet won so it’s vital we all stick to the guidance and ensure our communities stay safe throughout the winter.”

Conservative MSP, Mr Halcro Johnston added: “There is a real cost to social isolation, and the ban on meeting in homes has left many local residents unable to meet up properly with family and friends. 

“As the evenings get darker and the weather gets worse, meeting outdoors simply wasn’t a realistic option for many people, particularly our older or more vulnerable residents.

“So I welcome this small easing of restrictions and hope it will bring some comfort to those who, since the pandemic started, have been forced to spend too much time apart from friends and loved ones.”

The First Minister has advised that further information and guidance on household mixing will be issued in the coming days. She also warned of the potential dangers of households mixing when one or more of the individuals involved has recently travelled from the Scottish Mainland or further afield, strongly advising against it.