PROFESSOR BACKS MACNEIL’S ISLES TEST PLAN

Angus MacNeil MP has expressed delight that Professor Devi Sridhar, Chair of Global Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, is backing the idea for an Isles test plan pilot.

Mr MacNeil who has been pushing the case for greater testing in the islands for over a month, to give a better picture of the spread of Covid-19 in the islands, has welcomed the comments by Prof Devi Sridhar.

Backing the idea of a Hebridean test and trace pilot the well respected expert during this pandemic, Professor Devi Sridhar, said:

“It’s clearly incredibly important to increase testing as we need to move from a situation of quarantining everyone, to quarantining just those who are carrying, or who have been exposed to the virus.

“Testing is essential as well to identifying carriers of the virus- and we should be testing everyone who is symptomatic, and even going further to testing large numbers of health workers and front-line essential workers to identify asymptomatic carriers of the virus.”

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“Clearly the policy has to change when experts are telling us what they are telling us. We know full well if we leave lockdown and don’t know where the virus is that the virus will get the chance to escape and spread around, causing a further lockdown.

“Testing helps us leave lockdown in an informed way. In a way which minimises economic damage. Our first responsibility is to health but we can’t be ignoring the economy while safeguarding health when it is possible to do both at the same time.

“As Prof Sridhar is advocating, the testing to identify the carriers is a vital thing that must happen.”

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MACNEIL CALLS FOR PILOT POLICY OF WIDESPREAD COVID-19 TESTING IN HEBRIDES

Isles MP, Angus MacNeil has written to both the First Minister and the Health Secretary to suggest piloting a World Health Organisation policy approach, like Iceland and the Faroe Islands, of widespread informed testing, in the Hebrides. This could mean testing of 5-10% of the population being tested as these other places have done.

Mr MacNeil has also contacted NHS Western Isles about the policy to enquire about assisting in contact tracing and Police Scotland, who showed willingness to assist the health authorities here, if such a policy change were piloted on the islands. 

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“On 18th March I said that, ‘The Government should be testing more, if the UK was testing to the level of Iceland or the Faroe Islands, we would have a better picture of what is going on and we would probably be more aware of where the clusters of Coronavirus are now.  Unfortunately, the UK is doing a lot of this blindfolded, against World Health Organisation advice and Scotland is caught in that web too.’ Over a month later we are in much the same situation.

“My opinion on testing remains the same, we need to test more. It is quite amazing, if not shocking, that we have people in the islands who tested positive for Covid-19 yet their spouses and other members of their household have not been tested. 

“Thankfully in the islands we have few Covid-19 cases, although it is hard to be certain that we have such few cases given the lack of testing. 

“Surely, it is time to drop the fatal two-step which Scotland has been engaged in with Whitehall, and start our own policy, trialled here in the islands, for increased testing. We have got spare testing capacity in Scotland, 40% of the testing capacity is unused, therefore it would seem wise that while island numbers are low we should keep them low by the contact tracing, testing and tracking, so well employed in some other countries.

“I hope the First Minister and the Health Secretary will respond to this favourably. Time is always of the essence, testing capacity in the islands should be increasing although it is already 2 weeks delayed. 

“We could then change policy and not wait for the virus to turn up but we seek out the virus as in other countries. Such a policy change could start now in the islands. Then we might be able to move on and do what the Faroese did yesterday (Monday 20th April) which was to remove their internal lockdown while still keeping the islands externally locked down.

“For now, we remain in lockdown and it is difficult to change that, until we have increased testing, to give us a better picture of Covid-19 in the Hebrides.”

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Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme opens for applications

The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is now open for applications and Isles MP Angus B MacNeil is sharing the step-by-step guide which details the information that employers need to provide to HMRC to make a claim through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.

Businesses to claim up to 80% of each affected employee’s salary, to a cap of £2,500 per month.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“There is no doubt that businesses are under pressure during this pandemic and with April’s payday fast approaching, it is good to see that the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is now open for applications.

“It is essential that the application process runs smoothly to avoid adding further pressure to businesses.

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https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-job-retention-scheme-step-by-step-guide-for-employers?

Covid19: Help and support available

Isles MP Angus B MacNeil is highlighting the various helplines which are available to constituents during the Covid19 crisis.

Commenting Angus MacNeil said.

“I know that many people require assistance during this pandemic, particularly businesses, employees and the self-employed and help is available.

“The situation we are in is unprecedented and it is important that we all do our bit in supporting each other.  The support available locally is heartening and once again shows island hospitality at its very best.

“I have included details of some of the helplines available.  As always, I am happy to help in any way I can and constituents can contact me by email angus.macneil.mp@parliament.uk or by calling 01851 702272.”

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Vulnerable people helpline:

Public facing helpline those at high risk (older, disabled, pregnant or receiving flu jab for health reasons) and do not have a support network at home.  It will connect them to local services which can provide food and medicine as well as emotional support. Tel: 0800 111 4000

Other Sources of help for Individuals and families

Help for Employees

  • Employment rights advicewww.acas.org.uk, Helpline: 0300 123 1100, Relay UK: 18001 0300 123 1100

Help for Businesses

Useful Websites

Volunteering and helping in your community

Isles MP welcomes additional support for business

Isles MP Angus B MacNeil has welcomed today’s announcement from the Scottish Government that additional support is being made available for businesses – including the recently self-employed to help them deal with the ongoing impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak.

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“I am pleased that the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary Kate Forbes MSP is providing further support to businesses and the recently self-employed during this Covid19 crisis.

“I know that for many businesses and those who are recently self-employed cash flow is a challenge and this additional support will hopefully go some way to easing the financial burden.  Further details of how and where to apply, eligibility criteria and deadlines will be available soon.

“Protecting people’s health is of course very important and rightly remains the Scottish Government’s primary concern, the economic impact of covid19 is enormous and the Scottish Government is doing everything it can to support business and individuals.”

https://www.gov.scot/news/additional-support-for-business/

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Cartridges needed for Isles Covid-19 testing

Isles MP Angus MacNeil has written to Health Secretary and Director of Covid-19 testing at Scottish Government to get Isles testing up and running. 

Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:

“All praise to NHS Western Isles who have done everything they needed to do to be ready for testing, including getting equipment in place and training staff. However, due to the lack of cartridges, tests require to be sent to Glasgow.

“The only thing required now is cartridges which hold the reagents to allow tests to be carried out at NHS Western Isles. I understand some other centres across Scotland also have an issue with the lack of cartridges and I am writing to the Scottish Government Health Secretary, Jeane Freeman, and the Director of Covid-19 testing, as to when we these cartridges will arrive. 

“This could be a vital window to get testing up and running in the islands if we hope to replicate the amazing success of the Faroe Islands in staving off the effects of Covid-19.  This was achieved by testing and chasing the virus, in addition to tracing people who have been in contact with those who had the virus. 

“The window is short and hopefully this problem can be resolved soon.”

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MP welcomes BT move to increase broadband access for more island homes

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil welcomes the move by BT to make ‘adequate and affordable’ broadband available to more island premises and says such provision has ‘never been more important’ as communities cope with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Currently more than 15 per cent of premises in Na h-Eileanan an Iar do not have access to a fixed line broadband connection of at least 10Mbps but there is now a legal right for those eligible to request the service under the new Universal Service Obligation (USO).

In areas where there is 4G access but no broadband, customers can apply to BT for a home hub.

Mr MacNeil said: “This is a very welcome step forward in providing an adequate and affordable broadband connection for island premises.

“I would encourage householders to contact BT for further details on their eligibility.

“The value of access to online services has never been highlighted more strongly than in our current Covid-19 situation. It has never been more important as communities, businesses, churches, schools and more are all relying on online services to communicate and to continue providing vital support and order services.”

BT will be writing to all those premises in Na h-Eileanan an Iar who Ofcom’s preliminary analysis has shown may be eligible. 

Those who think they are eligible should contact BT on 0800 783 0223. BT will then carry out some checks to confirm if analysis is correct, and that they are eligible for an upgraded broadband connection at no cost to them.

New Covid-19 Business Grant Scheme for Western Isles

Isles MP congratulates Comhairle on new Covid-19 Business Grant Scheme

The launch today of a Small Business Support Grant by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has been welcomed by Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil.

The grant scheme will offer those small business in the Council’s area who have not qualified for other schemes announced by the UK and Scottish Governments grants of up to £5000 to support local businesses through this crisis and help prepare them for recovery.

After hearing of this initiative Mr MacNeil said

“It is good to know that Comhairle nan Eilean Siar have been listening to the local business community and are being pro-active in supporting those most in need at this time.

“While there is a lot of help available for businesses of all sizes, there are inevitably some that will fall through gaps in provision. This move by the Comhairle targets those businesses in our own area who provide a valuable service but don’t meet the criteria for other schemes.

“I have had a number of constituents who are unable to get access to the business support schemes previously announced so it is good to have a local initiative to point them to. I congratulate all those involved in the formation of this scheme, Council Officers, Councillors and other members of the Comhailre’s Businesss Resilience Group.”

 For Further information Comhairle nan Eilean Siar advises businesses to  contact the Comhairle’s Business Gateway team on 01851 822775 or email businessgateway@cne-siar.gov.uk

Loganair converts plane to carry Covid-19 patients

Isles MP encouraged by efforts to transport Covid-19 patients from Isles

Angus B MacNeil MP has been encouraged by the joint efforts of the Scottish Government, Scottish Ambulance Service (SAS), Loganair and the military to ensure that transport is available to take Islanders with Covid -19 to the Intensive Care facilities not available within the Scottish Islands.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said

“Many in the Islands were concerned that transport of seriously ill patients from the Islands would be difficult during this pandemic crisis. I wrote to Scottish Ambulance Service and was heartened by their response telling me of the efforts they were making in conjunction with the Scottish Government to ensure the most seriously affected would be transported from the Islands to receive Intensive Care.

“The pictures of the Loganair Twin Otter equipped for this work is testimony to their efforts and the vital part that Loganair has within the Islands. Many will have memories of Loganair Air Ambulance planes from the past and it is good to see this company again putting their efforts into providing a much-needed service for the Islands at what is a very uncertain time for them. A number of military aircraft have also been placed on standby for transport of patients throughout Scotland.

“At this time it is good to remember the amount of co-operation taking place among many statutory bodies, SAS, the NHS nationally and here in the Western Isles, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar  and their employees from carers to refuse collectors, office staff,  teachers  and many others and I applaud all of them for their efforts. Worth remembering too all the volunteers who have registered to help their communities and all who help friends, neighbours and families during this difficult time.

“Importantly, we must all do our part and stay in, wash our hands and when out for our exercise or shopping maintain social distancing”.

Low numbers travelling to the islands

ISLE OF LEWIS, Passenger/Ro-Ro Cargo Ship - Details and current ...

Caledonian MacBrayne has informed Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil that the numbers travelling to the islands are a fraction of what they usually are during this time of year, given the Covid-19 crisis.

Commenting Mr MacNeil said:

“I contacted Caledonian MacBrayne after constituents got in touch with concerns that a handful of people who are not normally resident in the islands are coming here to isolate.

“CalMac has informed me that traffic for passengers and cars has dropped to around 5% of normal passenger demand and 60% of normal commercial traffic. They have confirmed that they do seek evidence of island residency or key worker status from travellers who coming by ferry. This is obviously a very welcome step and will go some way I hope to relieve fears.  They also have posters in ferry terminals to dissuade non-essential travel.

“However, we are now in a changing situation and is not just about who is travelling to the islands that matters but what we all do to make sure that we are not spreading it amongst ourselves. It is important that we are not spreading it further and therefore we should be staying at home the best we can.

“Like every other community around the world, Covid-19 is here amongst us and I wish all those affected a speedy recovery.”

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