I was reminded this week that it’s almost 12 months since my first statement on the COVID-19 pandemic.
In March 2020, I made the following comments.
“I am full of admiration for the ongoing response work being carried out by our staff and those in other agencies, including - but not limited to - Public Health, Department of Work and Pensions and Hebridean Housing Partnership.
“This is likely to be the most challenging set of circumstances that most of us have ever faced in our lives. However, by working together and following advice - particularly to stay at home unless absolutely essential - I am confident that we are well prepared and that we will come through this stronger as a community.
“No one is complacent, as no one knows to what extent we will be affected, but all our work last week, this week and next week is about effective preparation.
“My main message to each and every one of you, is that you look after yourselves, and look after each other.”
I think it would be appropriate for us all to take a moment now to remember all those people in the Western Isles and further afield, who have been impacted in the past year. We should also be thankful that we have maintained a very low infection rate and we are all pleased too that test and protect measurers have worked effectively.
We all continue to be very grateful to everyone who has been working with great dedication for over a year now in order to cope with this pandemic.
We are fortunate now to be in a position where the vaccine programme is protecting older members of our community and is being rolled out at pace among other age groups. Well done to all involved in the efficient and effective delivery of the programme.
On Tuesday next week (16th March) the Scottish Government will have notified us of their plans for the next few weeks. In the meantime, we remain in Alert Level 4 and the stay at home message continues to be more important than ever as we reach the threshold of better times. Surely we can expect more social interaction within our islands soon.
As part of the Phase 2 return, all remaining primary school children across the Western Isles are set to return to school full-time from next Monday, 15th March, with all secondary pupils also returning on a part-time basis from that date. From 15 March, all secondary pupils will receive both high quality remote learning and some in-school teaching. Senior phase students (S4-S6) who are taking national qualifications will have priority for face-to-face lessons in school and some time will also be made for students in S1-3 to have time in school, with a focus on social interaction with peers and re-familiarisation with school attendance.
This is clearly very welcome news for many pupils. Schools are working very hard, in partnership with the Education Department, for their return and looking forward to being able to welcome them back and resume face-to-face teaching. Once again, I want to reassure everyone that a great deal of work has taken place to minimise risk of transmission of the virus in a school setting.
Thank you once again to the people of the Western Isles who are doing the right thing working and waiting patiently at home for restrictions to lift.
We really do appreciate your ongoing efforts in listening to the public health messaging and following the guidance which no doubt will help bring this unprecedented experience to a conclusion, and then we can all look forward to better times ahead together with family, friends and colleagues.