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Could the Highlands lead the way in ending Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic lockdown?

By Scott Maclennan

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MP Drew Hendry.
MP Drew Hendry.

MOVES to lift elements of the coronavirus lockdown earlier in the Highlands than elsewhere would be welcomed – but cautiously – it has been claimed.

Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey MP Drew Hendry commented following speculation that the region’s relatively low number of recorded coronavirus cases may lead to changes here first.

It has been reported that experts believe testing how best to come out of lockdown could be done in the Highlands and Islands as long as tourists are temporarily banned.

Substantial testing and contact tracing would also be needed.

“The fact that the spread of the virus is being slowed, according to the latest figures, and is relatively contained is a hopeful sign, as is the reference to potential elements of the restrictions being lifted if this good work continues,” Mr Hendry said.

“All of us here in the Highlands want life to return to as close to normal as it can as quickly as it can, but as the First Minister has repeatedly pointed out, we have to be guided by the best scientific and clinical advice.

“If that advice eventually leads to some measures being lifted or modified in our communities earlier then, of course, that would be welcome. In any case, it is critical that we continue as we are for just now and all do our part to continue to keep the pressure off the NHS and to prevent the spread of this virus.”

Last week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon outlined how lockdown measures could be eased but stressed it posed risks. She said it would be “careful, gradual, incremental, and probably quite small to start with”.

Scottish Government business secretary Mike Russell told MPs at the first meeting of Holyrood’s Covid-19 committee: “It will become clearer what we can and can’t do.

“There’s been speculation about the question of whether there should be geographical lockdown. If you look at some of the figures that we’ve seen on a daily basis in terms of outbreaks in certain parts of the country, you could come to some conclusions about that, but it would be wrong of me to say that’s where the debate is going.”

Professor Hugh Pennington, a bacteriology expert at the University of Aberdeen, said: “A geographically staged reduction in lockdown would primarily benefit the residents, for example by allowing schools to reopen. Islands are the easiest because travel controls would significantly reduce the risk of virus importation.

“Testing and contact tracing on a substantial scale would be a prerequisite to reassure residents that the virus would not be allowed to spread.

“It would be very helpful to know where virus cases were located; some areas might only have had very few cases which would be the best places to start the reduction. No tourists, though.”

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