Detailed planning has taken place over recent weeks to ensure the Council can respond as effectively as possible in the event of Covid-19 cases in Orkney.
Interim Chief Executive John Mundell said: “The situation is unprecedented and changing rapidly. That means we will continue to plan and prepare for the weeks ahead, working closely with our NHS partners and following national guidance on public health.
“Our aim is to ensure the resilience measures we have in place best meet the needs of our local community and minimise disruption as far as possible to the services we provide.
“We will maintain business as usual for as long as we can. But it may become necessary to prioritise in order to ensure the delivery of our most essential services, including caring for the most vulnerable people in our community. That might mean that other services are provided more slowly or stop altogether.”
To help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and to protect local communities as far as is practicable, OIC is only allowing travel by staff and Elected Members to meetings and training events on the Scottish Mainland in exceptional circumstances. In Orkney, Councillors and staff will not be attending community council and other public meetings.
In line with national guidance, school closures will not take place at present, but school trips outwith Orkney will be cancelled.
Council Leader James Stockan said: “Elected Members met our Senior Management Team today to review the extensive steps already taken to prepare for the likely impact on Orkney of the coronavirus pandemic. I believe the organisation is well prepared to respond effectively to what is a fast-changing situation.
“I aware there is concern in our community about visits to Orkney by cruise ships. No other port in Scotland has stopped such visits and we are following national guidance on this.
“We have had port health procedures in place for many years for dealing with cases of infection aboard ships of all kind. These procedures are aimed at preventing infection coming into the country.”
In addition, all cruise ships have been asked to provide a Maritime Declaration of Health before visiting Orkney, whether or not they have any illness on board. It is also evident that cruise companies are starting to cancel voyages themselves.
If there was a suspected case of Covid-19 aboard a ship, the Council’s port health and NHS Orkney’s public health teams would work in conjunction with Health Protection Scotland and the Scottish Government to decide on the best course of action to take.
If a situation of this kind arose, the most likely outcome is that the ship would be redirected to a port on the Scottish mainland close to more specialist health facilities.
Councillor Stockan added: “Although there has been a focus on cruise ships, people do of course travel to and from Orkney by other means – and that makes it very difficult to prevent the spread of the virus into the county. This makes it all the more important that we as a council – and our wider community – do all that we can to reduce the potential impact on us all.”
Advice and information related to the coronavirus is available here.