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Businesses across the Islands are being hit by the combined impact of the vast outbreak of Covid-19 infection and the remaining anti-Covid regulations, particularly as regards to self-isolation. 

Everyone from school-children to care-home residents is being affected as community transmission has become the norm. 

Two years ago this week, the community came to a silent standstill as the first total lockdown – with its 'stay-at-home' command – hit the the whole UK. 

Then the cases here numbered in handfuls, now they are counted in 1000s. 

Last night (Friday March 25) the Stornoway Trust announced: "Due to Covid, the Woodlands Centre will be closed for the next few days. Please check our Facebook page for updates." 

Several other island businesses - for example, Lewis Revival in Point Street - have been closed for a number of day as a result of Covid in the past week.  

Lewis Revival reopened yesterday (Friday March 25) saying: "And we are open! Peter (AKA Mr. Empty House Traders) will be serving you in both shops today with entrance through Lewis Revival.

"Bear with us as our Covid-caused staffing issues will hopefully resolve next week.

"If you are still looking for a Mother’s Day gift or voucher, stop in because there is lovely new stock including a full range of UK-made cushions from @windsorandwhite."

Other businesses are struggling to maintain services as absences mount with remaining staff working extra shifts.  

Meanwhile the latest update from NHSWI Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson last night stated that NHSWI was aware of 139 new cases: 2 on Barra, 7 on South Uist, 9 on Benbecula, 18 on North Uist, 13 on Harris - and 87 on Lewis.

This brings the total number of officially-reported cases in the last seven days to 948. 

And ferries continue to be affected by Covid-related absences. The latest is the Sound of Harris service.  CalMac ferries say: 

Friday 25 – Tuesday 29 March. Due to Covid protocol leading to a crew shortage, a smaller vessel will operate this service with an amended timetable also in operation. "As a result of a smaller vessel operating on this route we would strongly advise all foot passengers book in advance to guarantee a space."

Saturday 26 March

  • Depart Berneray: 07:25, 10:05, 12:45, 15:25
  • Depart Leverburgh: 08:45, 11:25, 14:05, 16:45

Sunday 27 March

  • Depart Berneray: 08:30, 13:30, 16:10
  • Depart Leverburgh: 09:50, 14:50, 17:30

Monday 28 and Tuesday 29 March – Service will operate to the published timetable.

Scottish Covid-19 Summary: 25 March 2022

  • 10,100 new cases of COVID-19 reported
  • 41 new reported deaths of people who have tested positive
  • 2,326 people were in hospital yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 28 people were in intensive care yesterday with recently confirmed COVID-19
  • 4,341,965 people have received their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccination
  • 4,089,894 have received a second dose
  • 3,446,630 received a third dose or booster

NHSWI have a range of vaccination clinics today, including a drop-in for flu/COVID in St Brendan’, Castlebays: 2.30-4pm. 

The Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Humza Yousaf, told the Scottish Parliament on Thursday: "This week, the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 has reached the highest level since the start of the pandemic, which is having a significant impact on our health and social care services across the entire system, but especially in accident and emergency departments.

"That level of pressure impacts on patients and staff, and I want to start by thanking our national health service and social care staff, to whom we owe a huge debt of gratitude and who continue to provide vital treatment and optimal patient care during the most challenging times. I have no hesitation in apologising to patients and those who have been in any way inconvenienced, or who are suffering, because of the current pressures for that suffering and inconvenience. I appreciate the patience that every person is showing at this extremely challenging time.

"Today, there are 2,322 Covid patients in our hospitals. That number has more than doubled since February, and it is now past the previous peak of last winter, when 2,053 patients were in hospital with Covid in January 2021. Using the latest published Covid-19 modelling, we anticipate that the number might well continue to increase over the next few weeks.

"The increase in cases and hospitalisations is largely due to the dominance of the more transmissible omicron BA.2 variant, which accounts for about 90 per cent of all reported cases. The latest Office for National Statistics survey data shows that one in 14, or more than 7 per cent of people in the community in Scotland, would have tested positive for Covid in the week to 12 March. That is the highest estimate that Scotland has had since the survey began in autumn 2020.

"Thanks to the excellent progress that has been made on vaccinations, the recent rise in cases and hospitalisations has not—thankfully—translated into an increase in the number of cases of people with severe illness who require intensive care. However, that level of continued pressure is challenging in the context of a health service that has been dealing with sustained and relentless demand and pressure for nearly two years. Unlike in wave 1 of the pandemic, when services were stood down, we are remobilising our national health service.

"In addition, infection prevention and control guidance remains in place and is important for maintaining safety in our hospitals. However, that undoubtedly creates additional complexities and inefficiencies when it comes to moving people through the system—for example, patients cannot wait in the discharge lounge or “sit out” to wait for discharge drugs. That means that they must wait in the bed space for longer than required, and that space must then be deep cleaned prior to a new admission. In addition, patients cannot access normal transport and must travel on their own or with other patients with Covid.

"I can advise that all four United Kingdom nations are looking to develop an exit strategy from the existing UK winter infection prevention and control guidance and are considering what a return to business as usual would look like. Next steps include a range of changes that, if implemented, would help to relieve some of the pressures that the system is currently experiencing. Ultimately, if we can control community transmission of Covid, we will help to alleviate the current pressures."