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Decision to close schools is out of Council's hands

By Matt Leslie

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Caithness councillor, Karl Rosie, said that the decision whether or not to close schools during the Coronavirus outbreak is "not a matter the Council can decide".

Criticism has headed towards the UK government over its decision to keep schools across Great Britain and Northern Ireland open.

Other countries in Europe have told parents to keep their kids at home to lessen the risk of children not only contracting the virus but passing it on as well.

The UK government's policy has come under increasing scrutiny following news that a pupil in a school in Belfast tested positive for the virus.

Demands have grown that the Scottish government, and indeed Highland Council, should take the initiative themselves and close the schools both in the far north and the rest of Scotland.

However, Cllr Rosie admitted that the Council's hands were tied and that they could only do so much with regard to whether or not to close down schools.

He said: "The Council must comply with protocols under the Civil Contingencies Act and can't deviate from national directives.

"Therefore, the Council does not have the power to close schools for an indefinite period – it can only close schools for a short period of time.

"A school can only close if in liaison with (the) Public Health (Executive) there was felt to be a health issue or insufficient staff to run safely.

"There is likely to be increasing staff absence due to precautionary self-isolation – if that leads to school closures these will be notified by the head teacher or the Council website.

"In other words, the schools will close only if the Public Health Executive direct them to. It's not a matter the Council can decide."

Meanwhile, Mr Rosie, who is an elected Councillor for the Thurso & North-West Caithness ward, has advised people to follow the health guidelines already provided.

Please don't assume that because you are young and healthy you can 'take it'

He added: "The UK Government is considering quarantine of people aged 70 and over. However, the Scottish Government has said that this won't be complete isolation.

"It will more likely be a case of telling elderly people not to go to group meetings and activities and to limit the people they see.

"Close family visiting should take extreme care, wash hands thoroughly and regularly, and sit at a distance, avoiding personal contact.

"There are still two confirmed cases in the Highland area. However, it is likely there are many more unconfirmed and the most important thing is that people keep calm, follow expert advice and take reasonable steps to protect yourselves and your family.

"If you show symptoms such as fever and persistent dry cough, self-isolate as a precaution. Do not go to your GP or the hospital.

"Please don't assume that because you are young and healthy you can 'take it' - it's important we all consider the vulnerable people we could pass it on to."

In light of the recent panic buying of goods in supermarkets – such as hand gel sanitiser, pasta, toilet roll, rice and bread – Mr Rosie urged people to think of others and to only buy what they actually need.

He said: "Please consider that if you are panic shopping you are potentially taking supplies from the people who most need them or are least able to get them.

"People who are immuno-compromised – for example due to cancer treatment – need supplies like hand gel, and so do our medical and care staff. Buy only what you really need.

"The supermarkets have said they CAN meet demand providing people shop in a measured way – it's the spikes that the supply chain stores can't cope with."

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