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Covid: Scotland has double rate seen in England as infections rocket on remote islands

Scotland’s remote Shetland and Orkney Islands now have the highest rates in the UK

Coronavirus rates are rocketing in some of the UK’s most isolated areas, official figures show.

Scotland’s remote Shetland and Orkney Islands, which have historically seen much lower levels of the virus, now have the highest rates in the UK, with one medical professor warning that  “eventually, Covid-19 will reach every place”.

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The Shetland Islands in Scotland had the highest number of Covid cases, with a rate of 1932.7 new cases per 100,000, based on tests taken from 18 - 24 February.

The Orkney Islands also had the second highest number of Covid cases, with a rate of 1486.6 per 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, also in Scotland, was found to have the biggest increase in cases of coronavirus.

The area had 161 Covid cases during the week of 11-17 February, but new cases rose to 250 based on tests taken from 18-24 February - a change of 55.3%.

Why are cases higher in some areas?

Martin Michaelis, Professor of Molecular Medicine at the University of Kent, said the spread of the virus occurs at different times and speeds in different regions.

He said: “We do not see an even distribution across the country but regional peaks and troughs that are to a large extent caused by chance.

“Hence it is not a surprise that you see differences in spread in different regions. We have basically observed this throughout the pandemic.”

However, he added: “If there are places that are initially or for a while lucky, Covid-19 will spread there at a later point in time.

“Eventually, Covid-19 will reach every place, if we do not put measures in place that prevent this.”

Public Health Principal for NHS Shetland, Elizabeth Robinson, said: “After a large increase in cases during February, Shetland’s numbers have started to fall again.

“The Omicron variant is highly transmissible and this, combined with Shetland residents continuing to follow guidance on regular Lateral Flow testing if asymptomatic, and PCR testing if symptomatic, has meant that we are continuing to capture cases and have a good understanding of patterns of infection.”

Director of Public Health for NHS Orkney, Dr Louise Wilson, said: “Orkney saw proportionately fewer Covid-19 cases than some areas on mainland Scotland earlier in the pandemic but have seen particularly high levels over the past two months.

“Changing societal guidance and the high transmissibility of the Omicron variant have also likely contributed to the rise in cases.

“Vaccination rates are high in Orkney and the community have worked hard to protect each other, following public health guidance, undertaking lateral flow testing and if symptomatic, PCR testing which has allowed identification of cases and contact tracing to occur.”

How does Scotland compare with the rest of the UK?

Covid case rates in both Scotland and Northern Ireland are more than double those seen in England, according to data from the UK Coronavirus Dashboard.

There were 918.1 new cases per 100,000 in Scotland in the week up to 2 March, and 775.9 Covid cases per 100,000 in Northern Ireland over the same period of time.

England had a rate of 313.4 per 100,000 people.

Wales had the lowest rate, at 171.6 per 100,000 people.

However, a spokesperson for Public Health Wales said positive lateral flow tests in Wales were not counted on the main UK Coronavirus Dashboard, unlike other parts of the UK.

The spokesperson said: “Changes in Welsh Government testing policy in January 2022 have removed the requirement for a follow-up PCR test if a lateral flow test (LFT) is positive.

“More people who would have tested positive by PCR and appeared in the headline figures are now testing positive by lateral flow device and are included in the lateral flow testing data, which has been reported separately in Wales since March 2021.”