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Islands Responses to #Covid – the advantages of being small

Increased restrictions have been reimposed in Scotland and across the UK as positive cases of Covid19 continue to rise.

You can find out more about the restrictions imposed in local areas here: Coronavirus (Covid19) local advice and measures.

For the whole of Scotland the rule of 6 now applies. People :

  • can meet socially, indoors or outdoors, in groups of up to 6 from no more than 2 households at a time
  • children under 12 from within the 2 households are not counted in the limit of 6 people, but the 2 household rule still applies
  • should meet no more than 4 other households a day
  • can stay overnight and use the toilet in someone else’s house
  • should stay 2 metres apart from anyone over 11 who is not part of your household

You can find out more about the updates here: Coronavirus (Covid-19) What you can and cannot do

The recent Virtual Islands Summit discussed how different islands around the world have responded to the challenges of the virus. The islands although having a variety of population sizes and located in different parts of the world, share the issues arising from the economic implications of the pandemic and the pressures of going into lockdown, so it is interesting to look at each case.

Tasmania

Tasmania is 240Km south of the Australian mainland. It has a population of about 524,000 and has lower rates of education than mainland Australia but higher rates of poverty.

light sea dawn landscape
Photo by Peter Robinson on Pexels.com

On the 2nd of March 2020 Tasmania recorded its first positive case of Covid19. Numbers increased rapidly. Cruise ships were banned and by the 19th of March a public emergency was declared. This was to become a State of Emergency on 19th of March.

5,000 Tasmanians in the North West territory were put into quarantine.

Ruth Forest, a member, of the Tasmanian Legislative Council, said that early and decisive action meant that there have been 230 positive cases of Covid19. Thirteen deaths have occurred due to the virus with 12 of those being in the North West territory. One of the deaths was in a care home for the elderly.

Really important in limiting the spread of Covid19, said Ruth Forest, was consistent and clear messaging using a whole variety of communication channels. She said the official government site had too much information and it became difficult for people to find what they needed to know. This was where social media played a crucial role in clear messaging.

Barbados

There has been no part of the world untouched by Covid19 and Chad Blackman, the Government of Barbados, looked at what could be learned from the crisis.

Barbados, in The Caribbean, has a population of 290,000. Chad Blackman explained that Covid had been a major disruptor of the economy and had resulted in a high rate of unemployment.

Photo credit Wikipedia

Tourism and financial services are the two main sectors for the economy and as travel restrictions were imposed worldwide tourism was stopped in its tracks. The restrictions, however, meant that Barbados has only had 70 cases of Covid19 and 5 deaths.

Chad Blackman said that we should “never waste a good crisis”, and that the opportunities of working in a virtual format have been highlighted by Covid19. Barbados has introduced a 12 month Barbados Welcome Stamp offering people the opportunity to locate to the islands but to work virtually anywhere in the world.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Western Isles)

Located off the western coast of Scotland Na h-Eileanan an Iar is the only health board area of Scotland where there have been no deaths from Covid19 . It has a population of 25,000 and 9 positive cases.

Stornoway

UK Parliament MP, Angus MacNeil, described the situation in the islands at the start of the pandemic when he said testing was a problem. They were aware of what was happening in The Faroes with their successful testing strategy but were unable to proceed with the support offered by the Faroese as that power was not granted to the local Health Board by the Scottish Government.

Angus MacNeil explained that because of this lack of local power that the response to Covid19 was not in their control. The low incidence of the virus in the islands has, however, made it attractive to people who would like to move there and this is bringing its own problems in a demand for housing.

He stressed the importance of islands having local control. He said:

“When you’re not the periphery of someone else’s world but the centre of your own, ” then you have the political control to take the necessary measures for where you live.

The Faroes

The Faroes have managed the effects of the Covid19 pandemic on their islands in their own way. The islands have a population of about 53,000 with a strong welfare state and health services.

The Faroes

Kristina Hafoss, a member of the Faroese Parliament, explained that the islands began preparing for Covid19 in January 2020. Veterinary Labs, used by the salmon fishing industry, were repurposed to be able to deal with Covid tests and by the end of February these were ready. This was before The Faroes had any cases.

The first positive case of Covid19 in The Faroes was the 3rd of March 2020 and they immediately chose a strategy of early intervention. By mid March they had 3 cases and they went into lockdown and closed their borders.

Although the restrictions imposed in The Faroes were strict, they did not put laws into place but adherence to them was based on Trust. This certainly worked because in 19 weeks the islands were Covid free.

The easing up of travel restrictions in mid June saw more visitors arriving but all travellers who arrive are tested – more than once.

So far The Faroes have tested 200% of the population. They were able to do this because of the repurposing of the existing labs which meant they had the capacity to do this.

The Faroes have had zero deaths due to Covid. Kristina Hafoss said that the success of the strategy was due to early lockdown followed by extensive testing and protecting their borders.

As with Ruth Forest from Tasmania, Kristina Hafoss, stressed the importance of communication and in the case of The Faroes – Trust.

She said:

“Being a small island nation has been an advantage” to be able to “think innovatively and be more flexible”. The Faroes used what they had and responded quickly taking their own independent decisions for their islands.

You can watch the session at the Virtual Islands Summit by clicking on this link:

Island Responses to the Covid19 Pandemic

Testing in Scotland

Scotland is part of a 4 nation UK testing regime. Tests are carried out by a combination of NHS Scotland Labs and UK Labs.

In her briefing on Monday 14th of September, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon voiced her concern about the slowness in getting results to people if they have had a test conducted by the UK Labs in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon said:

“It’s important that I am frank that we now have a very serious concern that the backlog of test results being faced by the UK lab network – which the Glasgow Lighthouse Lab is part of – is starting to impact on the timeous reporting of Scottish results.”

This was having a knock on effect to the UK mobile testing labs in Scotland. It also means that the numbers of those testing positive for Covid in Scotland and the UK are likely to be underestimated.

NHS Scotland’s Covid tracing App – Protect Scotland – was nearing the 1,000,000 download as this article was being published. The App is free and for people living in or visiting Scotland.

You can watch Coronavirus update from the First Minister: 14 September 2020 here

Reporter: Fiona Grahame

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