A new cluster of coronavirus cases has been identified on the tiny hebridean island of Barra - and is 'cause for serious concern' health bosses say.

A total of three residents of the island have now tested positive for the virus, with two of them already hospitalised. 

One was airlifted to a mainland hospital and the other was transferred to Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway. 

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson, said the outbreak is "cause for serious concern".

He said: “Our staff are working extremely hard in terms of Test and Protect, and important advice has been provided to all close contacts of the three cases identified.

"If we are to prevent the spread of this virus through Barra, everyone must play their part and ensure they follow the rules and strictly avoid any unnecessary risks. COVID-19 thrives on complacency. 

“In particular we are asking that everyone ensures they do not meet anyone who is not in their household within their home. Also, non essential travel must be avoided.” 

He added: “These cases on Barra have given us cause for serious concern, given that two individuals have required hospitalisation, and there are a number of close contacts already identified. We must all work together to ensure any spread of the virus is suppressed.” 

Test and Protect actions are well underway and a number of close contacts have been required to self isolate. 

Health officials added that two of the cases are clearly linked, but there is no clear link for the third case at this point. 

The residents of Barra are being asked to be particularly vigilant in terms of any symptoms and to immediately self isolate, along with their entire household, and book a test if they develop symptoms, regardless of how mild.

It comes as health officials plead with Scots not to assume symptoms are a cold or another winter virus – and ask that any symptoms common to Covid-19 are treated with the utmost seriousness and tested to ensure that the virus is not inadvertently spread through communities.    

An Incident Management Team (IMT) met on Tuesday and is working with Scottish Government, and Public Health Scotland to provide advice and support.

Meanwhile, the decision has been taken to close St Brendan’s Hospital and Care Home to visiting until further notice.  

What rules apply?

Protection Level 3 laws and restrictions are currently in place for the population of Barra.

That means residents must not meet anyone who is not in your household indoors in your home or in their home.

The exception to this is if you are required to go into another household to provide care and support for a vulnerable person. 

This can include providing emotional support for someone whose wellbeing is at risk, including for those who are isolated because of disability or a caring situation.  

In addition, residents must not travel into or out of the area unless your travel is essential.

Even if travel is classed as ‘essential’ under current government legislation, health officials have strongly urged that even travel which comes under this definition is carefully assessed at this time and that it is avoided or delayed where possible.

FACTS guidance should also be adhered to in all circumstances: 

F – Face coverings. These should be used in shops and on public transport (buses, trains and taxis)
A – Avoid crowded places.
C – Clean your hands frequently, using water & soap whenever possible.
T – Two metres – observe physical distancing.
S – Self-isolate and book a test if you are suffering from COVID-19 symptoms. 

NHS Western Isles also stressed that individuals who have been identified as close contacts and advised by the Test and Protect team to self isolate should complete their period of self isolation, even if they subsequently have a test for Covid-19 and test negative, as they may be asymptomatic and incubating the virus, and could still pass it on to others.