The number of north-east police officers off work due to Covid-19 rose last month – sparking calls for more robust testing.
New figures obtained by the Evening Express under Freedom of Information legislation show there were 41 coronavirus-related absences in the region in October.
That marks a significant rise since the low point of July, where just seven officers in A Division – which covers Aberdeen, Aberdeenshire and Moray – were off due to the virus.
In August, when a local outbreak forced Aberdeen into lockdown, there were 45 police off work due to the virus, reducing to 33 in September.
North-east MSP Liam Kerr, the Scottish Conservatives’ shadow justice secretary, has urged ministers to prioritise testing for police.
He said: “It’s worrying to see an increase in absences in recent months due to Covid, particularly as officers head into the festive season when the demand on them is even greater than normal.
“The recent rise in Covid absences, coupled with other winter-related illnesses and holidays, means it’s even more imperative that the Scottish Government realises the strain officers are under this Christmas.”
Mr Kerr added: “The police have been on the front line of the Covid-19 response, protecting communities at great personal risk.
“Officers in the north-east are plainly following the self-isolation rules when they find out they have been in contact with someone with the virus.
“However, the number of positive tests seems very low in comparison.
“This begs the question of whether sufficient tests are being made available to local police, where a negative test would give them certainty.
“The upshot is that local officer numbers are stretched – and the SNP government must make additional resources available to cope with issues such as staff absences from coronavirus.”
Since the pandemic took hold in the north-east in March, a total of 538 police officers have had to take time off due to coronavirus, and another 195 were forced to isolate.
Labour MSP Lewis Macdonald said: “Labour moved an amendment in the Scottish Parliament this week calling for the introduction of mass testing and improvements to Test and Protect, both of which are essential if Covid-19 is to be detected and contained.
“Emergency workers including police officers should clearly be at the front of the queue, whenever the Scottish Government finally put routine, regular testing of asymptomatic people in place.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said measures have been put in place to keep officers safe, and to allow the force to cope with significant absences due to the pandemic.
She said: “Police Scotland is following Scottish Government and health guidance and where cases of coronavirus are identified, we work with the local health board and adhere to Test and Protect procedures.
“We have sufficient capacity and as a national service Police Scotland can flex resources should there be a requirement to do so.”
Justice Secretary Humza Yousaf said: “Police officers and staff have played a critical role on the frontline of keeping our communities safe during this pandemic and I’ve seen directly how hard Police Scotland’s leadership has worked to support them in making that possible and the steps taken to safeguard their workforce.
“While the welfare and wellbeing of police officers and staff is the responsibility of the Chief Constable, we support initiatives being undertaken by Police Scotland to create a safe, positive and healthy working environment. Police Scotland has access to asymptomatic testing for officers who believe they’ve been exposed to someone with the virus on the job.
“We are providing some £60 million additional funding for Police Scotland in 2020-21 – taking its annual budget to more than £1.2 billion – with more funding for revenue spending and extra cash for capital projects.”