The COVID-19 (Coronavirus) outbreak has led to many questions over the impact of the virus for you as individuals, and also for the police service and policing. These questions are entirely understandable and I can assure you the SPF is working tirelessly with the senior executive and wider command teams to be able to respond to your concerns.
It will not be lost on you that we really are in unprecedented times. Whilst the police and other public services have long established plans for dealing with events such as a flu pandemic, it is not unfair to observe that these plans are being tested due to the speed with which this virus is spreading.
You will have become aware that on the 16th March the Scottish Government issued updated advice for immediate application, in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. That advice can be summarised as follows;
- Minimise social contact by avoiding crowded areas and large gatherings, including religious congregations and smaller gatherings such as restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, cinemas and gyms
- Avoid using public transport as much as possible
- Work from home when possible
- Those who cannot work from home should continue to go to work unless advised by their employer or if they display symptoms.
- follow the latest health and travel advice, and follow basic hygiene precautions, such as washing hands frequently, not touching their face and covering their nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing
- People showing symptoms suggestive of coronavirus should stay at home for seven days and only contact NHS 111 or their local GP if their symptoms worsen during that period.
- Members of a household where someone has suspected symptoms should stay at home for 14 days.
- Schools will remain open for the time being, however this decision will be consistently monitored and reviewed depending on the spread of the infection.
As general good practice the SPF would actively encourage reliance on the official UK and Scottish Government advice on COVID-19 and to recognise that a calm measured response is in everyone’s best interests.
As is often the case with any advice, it can present as many questions as it can answers. That is especially true in respect of police officers who face what appear to be irreconcilable conflicts between the general advice and the need to continue to deliver policing for the communities of Scotland.
Many of you have questions, which in ordinary times might be categorised as “routine.” These tend to relate to your holiday arrangements and insurance, and the provision of PPE for your work. Obviously these take on a greater significance at this time and I hope to be able to provide as much useful information as is possible.
In respect of your holiday arrangements / insurance, I regret that we have no more additional information to provide to you beyond that which can be found here.
The SPF is in almost constant contact with our providers and if, or when more information is known it will be published on our website. In the meantime I need to ask your assistance in NOT contacting the SPF staff on respect of this as they do not have any additional information beyond that published.
On PPE, the SPF Vice Chairman (elect) has been leading the charge for the provision of PPE (masks, eye protection, gloves, hand sanitiser gels etc.) for officers for responding to incidents where COVID-19 is suspected. This has been an ongoing challenge for several weeks as the service is not immune to the same logistical and supply issues faced by other parts of the public sector.
A limited supply of PPE is available across the service and this is being is being distributed to business areas of the service that are assessed as being at greatest risk of exposure. We appreciate that if you are not in receipt of this PPE it does little to alleviate your concerns and we are doing all we can to remedy this situation ASAP.
It is understandable that in addition to the practical work related questions you have that you are also asking questions over your domestic arrangements. It is important to stress that the responses provided below may be overtaken by advice due to the evolution of the Government response. I also appreciate that in some instances the answers, as we have them, are not particularly helpful and we are constantly trying to bring additional clarity in these areas. Please note the following examples are not intended to be exhaustive.
- If a member of my household has to self-isolate – do I, as a police officer, in the same household have to self-isolate also?
- I have children at school and they were mixing with other children who have now self-isolated. Do I, and the rest of my household have to self- isolate also?
The advice on self-isolation is clear that at this time the requirement to self-isolate is directly dependent you or another member of your household displaying symptoms such as a new continuous cough, or if you experience a fever or temperature in excess of 37.8 degrees.
- As a key worker will I be able to be tested for COVID-19?
We expect that key workers like health workers, and police officers will be amongst the first to be screened / tested for COVID-19 but at this time we do not have any information on when this may be.
- (A member of my family who is in a vulnerable group / I have an elderly parent) who lives with me is being asked to limit social contact for the next 12 weeks. Does this mean I need to self-isolate?
No – The advice on self-isolation is clear that at this time the requirement to self-isolate is directly dependent you or another member of your household displaying symptoms such as a new continuous cough, or if you experience a fever or temperature in excess of 37.8 degrees. The additional advice on the elderly is to mitigate the risks to them. The Scottish Government has indicated it will issue additional specific advice to vulnerable groups in the next few days.
- I am in a vulnerable group – should I self-isolate?
The Scottish Government has indicated it will issue additional specific advice to vulnerable groups in the next few days. In absence of this formal advice we would recommend you approach your supervisor and ask to be withdrawn from public facing duties pending this specific advice.
- My colleague who I shared a car with for most of my shift has displayed symptoms requiring him to self-isolate. In light of this, should I self-isolate?
At this time no specific advice has been issued for those who have been in contact with people who have displayed symptoms other than within the same household. In absence of this advice you do not need to self-isolate.
- Given the latest advice on limiting social contact am I as a police officer at increased risk due the need to socially interact with the public in my day to day activities?
The most recent clinical advice received indicated there was no increase in risk to police officers performing their routine duties. It is important to note however that advice predated the general government advice on social distancing issued yesterday. I regret that combined with the lack of PPE this will do little to reassure you and we are working hard to bring clarity to this area ASAP. In the meantime we would implore the adoption of good hand hygiene.
- What practical measures can I take in light of this uncertainty?
Whilst it may appear that the extent of the advice is simply to wash your hands, this is at the core of what is required to beat this virus.
- You should adopt good hand hygiene and wash your hands for 20 seconds using soap and water
- Keep your fingernails short and where possible be clean shaven. Masks (when they are supplied) will not provide the desired level of protection if the wearer is not clean shaven
- Where possible, keep sleeves rolled up to avoid their making unnecessary contact with surfaces.
- If practical to do so – when you enter a home or other premises, ask the occupant if you can wash your hands before doing anything else
- Wash your hands as soon as you arrive in the police station and as soon as you return home
- Keep your mobile phone, desk, keyboard and desk phone clean
- Look out for each other – do not try to be a hero and suppress any symptoms you may be experiencing. If you have a new persistent cough or fever, you should self-isolate and follow the usual advice.
It is important to acknowledge that the honest answer to many of your questions is that we simply do not have answers at this time. Despite this it is also important to acknowledge that the lack of answers is as much a source of frustration for the service, and the SPF as it is for you. We are in constant dialogue with the service as we try to address this.
Given the clear Government advice issued yesterday (16th March 2020) the SPF itself has had to immediately adopt a series of steps to ensure the safety of our staff and delivery of service to our members. This is detailed below.
- The SPF will, over the next few days, be moving to a position where our staff increasingly work from home
- This will impact on the range of inquires our staff will be able to respond to, especially in the immediate to short/medium term
- Within the next few days the SPF telephone response will be manged through voicemail. If you contact the SPF by phone, make sure your query is urgent and fully explained. This voicemail approach is required to manage call volume within a home working environment. Web inquiries are still able to be submitted in the usual manner and these will be responded to on the basis of urgency.
- Non urgent inquiries will not be responded to.
- Our officials continue to be contacted in the usual way but please be aware they are heavily involved in local and national planning responses to the COVID-19 outbreak and their ability to respond quickly to your inquiry may be limited as a result.
- As we develop the home working capacity of our staff, we hope to be able to return to offering a full range of services in a matter of weeks.
We appreciate that these are uncertain times for you and your families. That uncertainty will continue for the foreseeable future, and I regret that we are unable to be able to alleviate all of your concerns just now. We are working tirelessly with the service and other agencies to ensure you are as well informed and prepared for the many challenges that lie ahead.