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By Charlotte MacKay
Annan and Eskdale
Covid cluster

A CLUSTER of ten positive cases of Covid-19 in the Annan and Gretna area means the five-mile travel restriction will not be lifted for residents of seven Dumfries and Galloway postcodes.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday confirmed that the limit on non-essential travel will remain in place locally and that care home visiting will not restart until the virus cluster – believed to have originated with an individual who works at Carlisle’s Cumberland Infirmary – has been contained. This applies to residents and those in self catering holiday accommodation in the DG1, DG2, DG11, DG12, DG13, DG14 and DG16 postcode areas for at least this weekend.

But she said that these measures were “ultra precautionary”, and that all evidence suggests that the Test and Protect contact tracing system is working to contain the local outbreak. The presence of the cluster was first revealed by NHS Dumfries and Galloway chief executive Jeff Ace at a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, where he said he believed the cases were broadly confined to two or three family groups.

Scotland’s clinical director Professor Jason Leitch yesterday added: “The initial first case that we were aware of is a health care worker from the Carlisle hospital. This may be connected to an outbreak at that hospital but we can’t be sure yet. The other two high-risk work places are two factories in Dumfries and Galloway and we have sent mobile testing units to them today to test all of the workers and staff.”

He later confirmed that these two factories are Youngs Seafoods at Port Street in Annan and PPE manufacturers Alpha Solway, although he said there was currently no evidence of transmission within either of these workplaces and that the testing was precautionary. All the confirmed cases are self-isolating and work is continuing to trace anyone they may have been in contact with.

Prof Leitch continued: “Most clusters of this size, when the history is written, suggest the guidelines may have not been strictly adhered to. I don’t know that for certain in this cluster, but that is usually what happens. So I really implore you to obey the guidelines as best you can. You can see how quickly, within a matter of days, we can have ten positives and an increasing number of contacts that gets harder and harder to trace.

“I should also make it clear that it is not an individual’s fault if they contract this illness and I take this opportunity to once again stress how important it is we all continue to follow the guidelines around physical distancing and hand hygiene. If you have symptoms, particularly but not exclusively if you live in this area of Dumfries and Galloway, please please come forward for testing. If you see testing units you should be reassured, you should not be worried. You should embrace that opportunity to be tested.”

The First Minister stressed that this did not constitute a return to lockdown, but said the guidance meant that residents in the affected postcodes should not be travelling to pubs in Carlisle which are due to reopen this weekend. She said: “If you have plans to travel into these areas over the weekend to visit or stay, you should follow the travel advice while there. If you run a business in these areas, including at the Gretna Gateway Outlet Village, please be extra vigilant about hygiene and physical distancing.

“And generally, to people in these areas – until we conclude the management of this outbreak, please assume there is a higher risk of infection just now and take particular care to follow all public health advice. And remember, I’m sorry about this, the five mile limit means you should not travel to pubs south of the border this weekend.

“I know this will not be welcome news for people in these areas, and I’m sorry about that. But this outbreak is sharply reminding us just how highly infectious COVID is, and how vital it is that we proceed with care and caution.”

Nicola Sturgeon said an incident management team, which includes public health officials from both sides of the border, would continue to meet daily over the weekend and that further updates will be provided on Monday.

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