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Services ‘under strain’ as Orkney COVID infection rate reaches highest in UK

An OIC incident management team has convened in response to Orkney’s high COVID infection rate.

An incident management team has convened in efforts to keep vital services running, as Orkney’s  COVID-19 infection rate rises to the highest in the UK.

Data shows 2,290 cases per 100,000 in the county — considerably higher than our island counterparts of Shetland (1,216) and the Western Isles (1,815) and the national average (1,000).

The widespread community transmission is putting a strain on a number of council-run services — most notably schools, nurseries, health and care settings but also in areas of sport and leisure and quarries.

For this reason, and the impact on some areas of service delivery, Orkney Islands Council (OIC) Incident Management Team meetings will be held daily for the foreseeable.

OIC’s interim chief executive John Mundell said: “The widespread community transmission is undoubtedly impacting on how many of our services are run. Somewhat incredibly many continue to operate relatively unhindered, however for other service areas – despite the forward planning and contingencies in place — due to the significant levels of staff being impacted, the cracks are beginning to show, and the level of fragility widen in terms of service delivery.

“There continues to be a suspension of a number of classes within several schools across Orkney. While there are more than 200 pupils isolating due to COVID at present, the issue has arisen due to the high number of teachers being absent — 62 in total on Monday largely as a result of COVID. This situation in schools and nurseries has been ongoing for some time now and shows no sign of easing. The pressures on remaining staff can’t be underestimated.

“There are also challenges arising in our school kitchens, with a number of staff off due to COVID-related matters. It is likely that some of the smaller schools affected will be moved to a restricted menu of soup and sandwiches – however this still ensures pupils and staff have access to a hot and nutritious lunch.

“Within adult care services, two of our older people’s day care services on the Mainland are closed as staff had to be deployed to assist within residential care homes. There are further staffing challenges in adult social work and Occupational Therapy.

Mr Mundell added: “We are aware of the perception among some that as long as the rising level of COVID cases does not lead to the hospital wards filling up then it’s not a problem. However, there is a much bigger picture to consider. Not only are our services being stretched to closure in some areas, but our colleagues within NHS Orkney have announced the suspension of planned surgeries this week given the pressures on staffing levels.

“In addition to the isolation period required, there are many who are suffering ill-effects of this virus – they may not require to be hospitalised, but they remain very unwell for sometimes long periods. When children are off due to class or school/nursery closures this also impacts on the ability of their parents and carers to do their job, which in turn affects all our services.

“It is imperative that we are all vigilant to ensure that our services are not impacted further.”

Given the changing level of guidance and restrictions, it can be difficult to keep up to speed in regard to testing and what to do when you return to work after having had COVID.

Public Health Orkney has clarified:

  • People who are positive for COVID-19 should stop using LFTs from day 11-28 and resume routine testing from day 29.
  • People who are positive for COVID-19 and are part of the PCR surveillance testing programme (care home staff) should stop weekly PCR testing for 90 days.
  • Anyone who develops new symptoms who have recently been positive for COVID-19, should seek a PCR test irrespective of the time since diagnosis.

As a reminder the NHS say you can protect yourself, your families, friends and those around you by ensuring you are fully vaccinated against the virus. If you are due your next dose or yet to start the vaccination process you can call our vaccination centre on 0300 303 5313 to book an appointment and to find out more information. Please do, continue to wash your hands regularly and use hand sanitiser when out and about. If you’re meeting up indoors with those out with your household, opening doors and windows will ensure good ventilation and less chance of the virus spreading.

The NHS and OIC continue to urge the community to carry out regular lateral flow testing particularly before meeting up with others, travelling and attending events. All lateral flow results should be recorded.

If you develop symptoms and have not yet taken a lateral flow test, a PCR test is still recommended. If you are seeking a PCR test, simply drive to the Testing Centre in Kirkwall where you will be given a self-testing kit to undertake and hand back for processing. If you’d like more information on PCR testing or cannot drive to the centre, please call 0300 303 9545 to book an appointment. The details on when a PCR test is required are detailed on the Scot Gov website https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-getting-tested/pages/covid-symptoms/.

Finally, if you fall into the clinically extremely vulnerable category and have tested positive for COVID-19, you may be eligible for antiviral medication, more information can be found here https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/infections-and-poisoning/coronavirus-covid-19/coronavirus-covid-19-treatments within this link is also the number you can call to speak to someone here in Orkney. If you had a letter regarding antiviral medication, you should follow the instructions provided.