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Professor presses for lockdown exit

Professor Hugh Pennington says Orkney could be “freed” from lockdown ahead of the rest of Scotland.

AN ABERDEEN microbiologist, who claims that there have been no coronavirus patients admitted to hospital in Orkney since April 5, has called on Scottish ministers to “free” the county from social distancing and lockdown, ahead of the rest of Scotland.

But NHS Orkney has been unable to confirm whether this is the case.

Professor Hugh Pennington, of Aberdeen University, initially shared his views with The Orcadian, last month, suggesting that Orkney and the Western Isles — which have both experienced a low number of test-confirmed cases — could be used as test-beds for a lockdown exit strategy. He stated his belief that Orkney could one of the first places to say “we’re free of the virus.”

Since then, Professor Pennington has been called to give evidence to the Scottish Government’s health and sport committee, stating his case for an isles specific plan to ministers on April 28.

Now, he has followed up with a letter to the committee, backing up his proposals by alleging that Orkney has had no one treated in hospital for COVID-19 since April 5 — a claim which has neither been confirmed or denied by NHS Orkney.

“I am on record as proposing that residents of Orkney and the Western Isles could be freed earlier from social distancing and lockdown than mainland communities,” Professor Pennington told ministers in a letter dated May 6.

“They have had few COVID-19 cases (none in hospital in Orkney since April 5 and none in the Western Isles since April 2), they have excellent public health systems, and they control travel from the mainland very significantly, thus reducing the risk of virus importation.

“Orkney has its own testing facility that provides a turn round time of less than two hours. For exit from local controls, a prerequisite would be community testing on a significant scale, and the establishment of a system of contact tracing. They could also serve as places to evaluate any smart phone apps.”

Unfortunately, The Orcadian has been unable to verify Professor Pennington’s claim regarding coronavirus admissions in Orkney, due to a lack of available data.

Asked to confirm whether there had been any coronavirus admissions at The Balfour since April 5, NHS Orkney referred The Orcadian to the Scottish Government daily coronavirus hospital figures, which are broken down by health board. According to the government, if the number of patients admitted is under five, it is logged as an asterisk in order to protect confidentiality.

The last time that there were five or more patients at The Balfour suspected of having coronavirus was April 4, and the daily figure since then has been recorded as an asterisk (indicating between zero and four patients).

Asked to confirm how many of those patients who have tested positive for the virus in Orkney have made a recovery, an NHS Orkney spokeswoman told The Orcadian on Monday, that it could not disclose this information due to patient confidentiality.

However, NHS Orkney has since confirmed that five of the seven people who have tested positive in Orkney at the time of publication have made a recovery. Sadly, two people have died with the virus.

Responding to Professor Pennington’s comments, the NHSO spokeswoman added: “NHS Orkney is grateful for continuing to see low levels of COVID-19 related activity within the hospital. All COVID-19 data is monitored nationally via the Scottish Government.”

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