The north-east’s top police officer has called on the public to show caution and undertake “an element of self-policing” over big festive social gatherings in order to reduce the impact of the Omicron variant on core services.
In an interview with the Press and Journal, Chief Superintendent George Macdonald said that while he “sympathises” with people’s desire for a night out during Christmas and New Year, the risk it presents to services are “quite significant.”
His comments come as cases of the new variant appear to be doubling every two days.
‘It is a challenging time of year’
Speaking directly about how his police division will approach the new Omicron variant, Mr Macdonald said it was “unclear at the moment” about the likelihood of further legislation from the UK and Scottish Governments, as was seen last year.
But added that the current message to the public “certainly seems to be routed around guidance”.
He stated that after almost two years of having to enforce tighter restrictions his officers would continue to work openly with the public as they could on the imposition of any new legislation or rules.
Mr Macdonald said: “We’re going to have to live with this and there has to be an element of self-policing by the public in terms of behaviours.
“Undoubtedly this is a challenging time of the year because of mass gatherings.
“And some of those frustrations that people perhaps feel – that they deserve to have a gathering or deserve to have a night out because of all the challenges – you can sympathise and understand that point of view.
“But the risk in terms of the spread and the impact it could have on services is quite significant.”
Chief concerned about ‘mass episodes of isolation’ for teams
Mr Macdonald, who is responsible for all policing in the north-east, also expressed concern that if the virus took hold within his division it could have a “significant” impact on officer numbers.
“The evidence we’ve got from throughout the pandemic is that because officers follow the guidance in terms of PPE and the basic instructions, our interaction with the public hasn’t been a significant factor in terms of transmission – so that’s actually been positive,” he said.
“Where we do have issues is with individuals that we have long contact with, such as people that we bring into custody.
“Preserving our workforce is the most important element and the concern is that we might get spread and we might have mass episodes of isolation in terms of teams.
“Our teams are clustered, we work together, and to lose an entire team can have a significant impact.”
‘Fundamental focus is the wellbeing of staff’
Mr Macdonald, who was appointed as north-east divisional commander in 2020 after three years leading the Highlands and Islands division, said his main focus is protecting his staff in order for there to be enough capacity to serve the public.
But he also said the police service has a number of options to adapt if the division becomes overstretched by the Omicron variant.
“My fundamental concern would be the wellbeing of my staff, to protect them from the spread, and also inherently to ensure our resources are protected as best we possibly can so we continue to provide a service to the public”, Mr Macdonald said.
“But we’ll continue to do the things that we’ve learned through the pandemic, such as flexing our resources from back office to front and flexing our resources from one part of the country to another, if we need to.”
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