The possibility of mass Covid testing at entry points across the Scottish islands of Shetland, Orkney and the Western Isles is being investigated.
Cross-party politicians confronted Scottish Government ministers at a meeting today over testing at the major entry points of airports and ferry terminals.
Orkney MSP Liam McArthur, Shetland MSP Beatrice Wishart and political island colleagues have called for this additional safeguard to be put in place.
Mr McArthur and Ms Wishart subsequently met with islands minister Paul Wheelhouse and the minister for public health Mairi Gougeon to discuss the option.
The islands politicians said both Ms Gougeon and Mr Wheelhouse agreed on the need to look at how such a testing system might be made to work in practice, indicating they would welcome proposals from the island authorities and health boards.
Both Mr McArthur Ms Wishart said they were “grateful to both ministers for their constructive approach and welcome confirmation that the Scottish Government is keen to work with the island authorities and health boards on proposals for mass testing at airports and ferry ports”.
They added: “As restrictions begin to ease, having such a system of testing in place could give additional reassurance and confidence both to those travelling as well as our island communities.
“Of course, implementing this type of testing will present practical challenges and throw up a number of questions about the best approach to take.”
They added that the “invitation from the Scottish Government appears to be an open one” and they looked forward to working with island councils and health board “to help develop proposals for how a scheme might be made to work effectively”.
The move came as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon defended her route map out of lockdown, saying she would be “making it up” if she gave a specific date for the end of Covid-19 restrictions.
She also confirmed parts of the country – including more rural communities – could open up under Level 2 restrictions by the end of April.
Minister for Public Health and Sport, Mairi Gougeon, tonight responded to the calls.
She said: “The Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands and I held a constructive meeting with island representatives today.
“I know that there are concerns in island communities about the risks of asymptomatic people travelling from higher prevalence areas inadvertently being a source of transmission in island contexts.
“I also recognise that there have been calls for testing people travelling to the islands to reduce this risk, however, we must also consider the limitations around testing. Testing cannot tell us whether a person is incubating the disease, and so may go on to become infectious after the test.
“My officials are working with island boards, and local authorities to develop their proposals that address the testing requirements of their communities and we will continue to work with them to develop sustainable, effective testing policies that meet the needs of the communities involved.”