Self-isolation relief but worry as schools go back

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Businesses on Arran breathed a sigh of relief this week as the Scottish government announced the relaxation of the strict self-isolation rules.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon confirmed a cut from 10 days to seven from midnight on Wednesday, if people record two negative tests and have no symptoms, bringing Scotland into line with the rest of the UK.

And in a second change the requirement for ‘fully vaccinated’ close contacts of positive cases to self-isolate will be replaced by taking lateral flow tests every day for seven days.

The chance to the rules, which have fuelled a so-called ‘pingdemic’, was a welcome relief for hospitality and other businesses struggling with staff absences, as well as the island’s hard pressed health services and CalMac.

Latest official figures show there were a record number of confirmed Covid cases on the island which stood at 43 ahead of the new year – there has been no updated figure since. Across Scotland a continuing surge in Omicron cases is set to see figures break the one million mark.

There is further concern of a rise in cases as Arran schools went back to class this week. A number of Arran High School pupils, between 12 and 17 years, have had their second dose of the vaccine, and a further clinic for the age group is to be held on the island on Sunday January 16.

Pupils of all ages were asked to take a lateral flow test before the first day back and then take them twice weekly after that. A further clinic for the age group is to be held on the island on Sunday January 16.

However, there is also concern that teacher absences, as a result of catching Covid or self-isolating, could also disrupt lessons.

The First Minister, in a virtual address to MSPs this week, agreed that she expects continued growth in the level of infections as people return to school and work – and that infections will become more widespread in the days to come.

Ms Sturgeon outlined the new advice on testing, which she says has been ‘carefully considered’.

People who have symptoms should still book a PCR test. However if you do not have symptoms and get a positive result using a lateral flow test, you do not have to book a PCR test.

Instead, Ms Sturgeon said, people should immediately isolate and report their results online so that contact tracing can begin. The risk of getting a false positive on a lateral flow test is very low – about three in 10,000, she said.

Ms Sturgeon added: ‘These changes are significant and they are not completely without risk. However at this stage of the pandemic they do strike an appropriate balance between the continued importance of self-isolation in breaking chains of transmission and reducing the disruption self-isolation causes in the economy and other critical services.’

No further curbs were announced on Wednesday but existing restrictions in Scotland will continue in place until Monday January 17.