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Caithness councillor calls for common sense as Covid cases rise in the Highlands

By Gordon Calder

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A CAITHNESS councillor has urged parents to “exercise common-sense precautions” as the number of Covid-19 cases rises in schools across the Highlands.

Matthew Reiss, a Thurso and northwest Caithness representative, is concerned about the increase in cases with more than 1000 pupils and 150 staff affected by the coronavirus throughout the north.

Thurso and northwest Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss is concerned about the Covid rise in schools
Thurso and northwest Caithness councillor Matthew Reiss is concerned about the Covid rise in schools

“I am concerned about the rising figures. We are in uncharted territory and have to keep a close eye on the situation. We are dealing with a virus that can mutate and evolve and we need expert professional advice about what the implications are. More testing is going on so we are uncovering more cases,” he said.

Asked what advice he would give parents, Mr Reiss replied: “Trust your instincts and exercise common-sense precautions. There are problems for the schools and we have to take this a day-at- a- time.”

Mr Reiss, who was at Miller Academy and Mount Pleasant primaries yesterday as part of an event to encourage people to get to school by ways other than travelling in a car, said: “I was struck by the cheerfulness and enthusiasm of the pupils and the staff who are doing everything they can to take common-sense precautions to deal with the coronavirus.”

Wick Provost and councillor, Willie Mackay, said: "This is a very worrying situation developing in our schools which have just recently gone back after the summer break. Even more so with with staff resources being stretched as the number of infections rise and the increased number having to self-isolate.

Councillor Willie Mackay is concerned about the rise in Covid cases
Councillor Willie Mackay is concerned about the rise in Covid cases

"I feel for the children and the disruption to their education. They have great resilience but it can't be easy for them.

However, I was more than delighted to see how many of them came through the pressures of last year's pandemic to gain Highers in their exam results."

They spoke after Highland Council leader Margaret Davidson wrote to First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, saying the situation is “unmanageable” and calling for a review of the guidelines as cases are rising daily.

Mrs Davidson said schools are coming under enormous pressure with some unable to function due to the high numbers of staff and pupils self-isolating. She said teachers are under great stress as they try to manage face-to-face teaching and online classes while whole classes of S5 and S6 are in isolation.

Mrs Davidson said the coronavirus is creating a short-term impact on schools and on long-term education across the Highlands but she emphasised she does not want to see a return to lockdown.

The council’s education boss, Nicky Grant, yesterday confirmed there are more than 1000 pupils and 150 staff off school due to the massive rise in Covid cases across the Highlands.

Ms Grant, speaking at the education committee meeting, said: “As we start the new session we see an increase of positive Covid cases both nationally and locally, which reminds us we need to be vigilant, follow all the rules and stay safe.”

She said: “As it currently stands, we have 79 staff absences with Covid symptoms, 71 non-teaching staff and there were 58 confirmed cases of Covid within our teaching staff.

“And we have over 1000 pupils across our Early Learning and Childcare, Primary and Secondary setting – a figure that has increased by five per cent in the last week – 295 of those young people are in the senior phase and potentially face exams next year.

“I am however pleased to say that over 7.8 per cent of our 16 plus students have been vaccinated.”

Council chief executive, Donna Manson, underlined the extent of the crisis by saying:”This has been one of the most stressful weeks for our council services and for the NHS in the whole of the pandemic so far.”

A Highland Council spokeswoman confirmed there were four classes self-isolating at Pennyland primary and pointed out one of the classes returned to school on Thursday. It is anticipated the remaining classes will be back by Monday.

She said: " We continue to work in partnership with NHS Highland’s Health Protection Team to manage Covid-19 cases in our school settings".

As reported last week, Pennyland primary in Thurso was one of 60 schools across the Highlands which were affected by Covid-19 since the new term began. Dr Jenny Wares from NHS Highland said the virus is “spreading very rapidly and the impact on families, schools and businesses remains significant.”

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