by Colin Campbell
TWO main centres in Inverness have been hit by the coronavirus and the response has been very different.
The Victorian Market was closed “until further notice” on Monday after a virus case was linked to the site. Highland Council said the closure would be as short as possible while “deep cleaning” was carried out.
Hours later a staff member at Inverness Leisure tested positive and, although several staff went into quarantine, it remained fully open for business.
There was no semblance of agreement among members of the public on which approach was right.
Amid an eruption of comment on social media several people said “they couldn’t believe” that the leisure centre hadn’t been closed for deep cleaning.
Another person responded with heavy irony: “Remove occupants and burn it to the ground. Problem solved. That’ll stop the snowflakes whining.”
It’s an indicator of how fortunate Inverness has been in this seven month saga that the emergence of the two single cases of the virus at the Market and Inverness Leisure became the talk of the town.
Although reported infections across the Highlands have risen in the past two weeks the numbers remain very low.
Statistics don’t reveal how many in total relate to Inverness.
But, in cities across Britain and further afield, if every location where a coronavirus case was reported was deemed to require deep cleaning, deep cleaning would be going on 24 hours a day and still barely making a dent in the process.
If Highland Council decided it was necessary to close the Market because of a single case that was their call. It was presumably open again yesterday – if not the situation would have been ridiculous.
But wouldn’t a “deep clean” of the premises most directly affected have been sufficient?
Apart from the disruption involved, the obvious problem is that the action they took could further stoke up unnecessary anxiety among more nervy members of the public.
Would staff working elsewhere in the Market have been left at risk without this deep cleaning closure? Would members of the public walking through it or shopping there have been left more vulnerable?
The answer, based on everything we know about the virus, has to be no, they wouldn’t.
Sensible and proportionate precautions need to be taken, but a flare-up of paranoia would help no-one.
I learned of the situation at the leisure centre just before going along there, as I have done nearly every day since it reopened.
If I’d been informed the entire venue was being shut down “until further notice” for cleaning – whether deep or otherwise – I’d have been left climbing the walls with frustration.
But the centre management – who have got just about everything right in their response to the virus – were not for closure.
That would have been a drastic and excessive response to a single case and I thought the statement they issued was perfectly appropriate.
High Life Highland chief executive, Steve Walsh, said, “An individual employed at Inverness Leisure advised us that they had received a positive test result for Covid-19. As a result of this isolated incident, a number of co-workers have been advised by Health Protection colleagues to self-isolate for 14-days as a precautionary measure to ensure that there is no further risk to our customers or employees.
“HLH has taken specialist advice from colleagues in NHS Highland’s health protection team as well as from Highland Council’s environmental health colleagues. We are grateful for the excellent health advice that has allowed us to continue to operate safely.
“We would wish to reassure our customers that our safety precautions and immediate action protocols already in place to deal with this type of incident allow us to continue to operate safely. High Life Highland’s priority has been, and remains, the safety of customers and staff.”
High Life could have panicked and gone into lockdown just a month after reopening and their customers would have been left out in the cold again.
Instead they provided a reasoned and measured response to a single case of the virus.
One of the worst effects of virus-fear in Inverness has, unfortunately, been the fall-off in numbers returning to the leisure centre. This can’t all be attributed to virus fear – some people will have just lost the exercise habit – but those staying away may well have be doing themselves no favours at all in terms of their health, fitness, and their weight.
However, everyone has to make their own choice in the current situation.
And, self-evidently, the risk of contracting the coronavirus is not non-existent, but with the amount of precautionary work put in at the centre I believe it’s negligible and no greater than a visit to Tesco – and far less than going to a pub.
So thank goodness the leisure centre didn’t panic and put the shutters up. Morale is fragile at the moment. And the spectacle of the centre being turned into an empty shell again would have stretched and strained it to the limit.