Britain’s lockdown exit plan could be “trialled” on island communities, Michael Gove has said.
The Cabinet Office minister told MPs this afternoon that a relaxation of restrictions could be “piloted” on the UK’s outlying islands before being rolled out on the mainland.
Mr Gove’s comments came just hours after First Minister Nicola Sturgeon refused to comment on such an idea.
Ms Sturgeon, speaking at the daily briefing, said: “I am going to resist getting drawn into speculation about what we might or might not do in terms of approaches we will take then, because we are not there yet and let me stress that.
“What I have said is, as we start to properly assess options we will be open and transparent about that.”
Mr Gove was not so cautious in his evidence to the Commons public administration committee, however; he said: “Regional variation (in lifting the lockdown) is something being talked about in France, my own personal view is that we do it as one United Kingdom.
— PACAC Committee (@CommonsPACAC) April 29, 2020
“But there is a specific scientific justification for saying island communities can be areas where you could pilot some measures, contact tracing in particular, in order to combine that with relaxing measures at a progressively greater rate and that can help you judge what is right for the country overall.
He added: “My belief overall is it’s better if we do it as one United Kingdom, but there are specific opportunities in island communities to conduct trials.”
The comments were welcomed by island MPs Alistair Carmichael and Angus MacNeil this afternoon.
Mr Carmichael, who represents Orkney and Shetland, said: “The willingness of Michael Gove to consider the possibility of a different approach for island communities is welcome.
“So often our geography is against us. If this once geography works in our favour then that is worth exploring. I shall follow up Mr Gove’s comments in correspondence.”
Mr MacNeil, who represents the Western Isles, also gave the thumbs up to Mr Gove’s comments and said the UK and Scottish governments should now look to the Faroe Islands as an example of how to lift lockdown on the islands.
He said: “We are just waiting for coronavirus at the hospital door at the moment, we need to get much better on this.
“In the Faroe Islands if coronavirus moves a muscle they know about it, as they test and quarantine.
“We don’t know what’s around us, there may be a lot of people who are asymptomatic, if we lift the lockdown here we will need better testing.
“If we get the testing up then we could internally end the lockdown here.”
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