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By Hugh Boag
Arran this week collectively breathed a sigh of relief when news broke on Tuesday that the island was to stay under level three Covid restrictions, along with the rest of North Ayrshire.
This is despite a recent surge in cases on the island, which has seen Arran go into a virtual voluntary lockdown, with many businesses closed or operating limited services.
However with no new reported cases since last weekend shops and businesses are starting to reopen desperate to begin Christmas trade.
Most hotels, pubs, cafes and other tourist businesses closed and, with a travel ban from outwith North Ayrshire the island should be quiet, but there are still reports of a number of visitors around.
Health officials say there remains a sustained community transmission of Covid-19 on Arran that is a ‘continually evolving situation’ However, there have been no further positive cases reported since last weekend.
However, NHS Ayrshire and Arran is refusing to release numbers, as is the case on the mainland, as it says they would be quickly out of date. But if there are no new cases some businesses hope to start reopening next week.
In North Ayrshire the number of positive cases over seven days until November 14 was 172 and the rate per 100,000 population 127.7 – a lower rate than in South and East Aryshire which have been moved into level four restrictions.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon even hinted on Tuesday that North Ayrshire may soon be able move into the lighter level two restrictions.
But while there can be no room for complacency, North Ayrshire Council leader Joe Cullinane has praised the efforts and sacrifices people have made so far to prevent the spread of the virus.
‘The Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t been easy for any of us – few people could have predicted back in March that we would still be living with the outbreak going into 2021,’ said Councillor Cullinane.
‘Having lived with restrictions for eight months now, some people might be tempted to take risks, such as meeting friends or family in social settings. But we have to stick with it – the more we abide by the restrictions, the sooner we will be able to defeat Covid-19.’
In a statement Lynne McNiven, director of public health, on behalf of the Arran Outbreak Incident Management Team, said this week: ‘We have a well-established outbreak incident management team in place to continually assess the situation. This team comprises representatives from NHS Ayrshire and Arran’s Health Protection Team, Public Health Scotland, North Ayrshire Council, North Ayrshire Health and Social Care Partnership, Scottish Government Outbreak Response Team and Arran Medical Group.
‘The testing system continues to work well, which means we can identify community cases and complete contact tracing quickly, allowing people to immediately self-isolate when required.
‘We appreciate this is a very worrying time. However, we would like to assure the people of Arran that every measure is being taken to protect those in the community. We would also like to thank local businesses and those living on Arran for their support in ensuring the safety of those living or visiting the island.
‘We are reminding people to be vigilant for the symptoms of a fever, new persistent cough or loss of taste or smell. Anyone who develops any of these symptoms should self-isolate immediately and book a test.
‘For those living on Arran, if you need a test and meet the eligibility criteria, call 01770 601033 to book a test. Lines are open from 9am to 5pm seven days a week.
‘If you are unwell and need to speak to a doctor, telephone Arran Medical Group on 01770 600516 or call NHS24 on 111 out-of-hours.
‘If you need help or support – for example, with food or medication supplies –please call the Arran Community Support Hub on 01770 600532. Leave your name and phone number, and a member of the team will contact you to discuss all your requirements.’
Meanwhile the number of children staying off Arran High School improved slightly this week but remains high.
A spokeswoman for North Ayrshire Council said: ‘We can confirm that a significant number of pupils are currently absent from Arran High School. However, this is for a number of different reasons and not all are as a result of advice from Public Health in relation to Covid-19.
‘While it is correct that some pupils have been asked to self-isolate because they are close contacts of a very small number of pupils who have tested positive, more than half of current absences are a result of parents/carers choosing to keep their child at home as a precautionary measure.
‘In these instances, we are working with the families and providing resources to ensure our students can continue their learning during this period and we expect to see them back in the classrooms very shortly.’