Cruising, #Covid & The Climate Crisis

The 130th Kirkwall Regatta 2019 and the cruise ship Costa Mediterranean Sea. Image credit Kenny Armet

On 18th of February a joint statement was issued by Orkney Islands Council and NHS Orkney due to the high numbers of positive Covid cases in Orkney. Readers of The Orkney News are well aware of these concerning numbers because of our Monday to Friday updates on the virus in the islands.

Numbers of Covid cases throughout the UK are high, especially in England. When numbers are high in places like Orkney it puts even more stress on local services with some being ‘right on the edge’.

Public services across the county – including care, schools and waste services – are being impacted as staff are required to isolate, or need to stay home with young members of their family who have tested positive.

Joint Statement

Independent SAGE is a group of scientists who are working together to provide independent scientific advice to the UK government and public on how to minimise deaths and support Britain’s recovery from the COVID-19 crisis.

Every Friday at 1.30pm Independent SAGE holds a public live-streamed briefing giving UK COVID-19 updates and answering questions from the public and the press.It has condemned the reported decision by the UK Government to stop free COVID-19 tests and payments to support self-isolation in England.


Our concerns about removing access to free tests include:  

a) increased risk of spread of Omicron and any subsequent variants, leading to more illness, death and burden on the NHS and more risk of new variants emerging; 

b) a disproportionate impact on many of the most disadvantaged and vulnerable in society, especially those in public facing jobs that bring them into frequent contact with large numbers of people and those who cannot choose to isolate; 

c) loss of the reassurance provided by lateral flow tests to those considering the safety of meeting with others, especially isolated elderly friends and relatives; 

d) loss of ability to determine if you have Covid and then voluntarily self-isolate;  

e) loss of ability to determine when you are no longer infectious if you do fall ill with Covid;

f) reduced ability to make the early diagnosis needed to enable those who might benefit from the new antivirals to receive them rapidly, when they are most effective; 

g) reduced access to care for long covid if no proof from a positive test; 

h) reduced volumes of samples sent for genetic sequencing, thereby limiting our ability to detect and track newly emerging variants; 

i) loss of intelligence on the continuing course of the pandemic; 

j) widening inequalities, as those able to afford tests will continue to get them while people on low incomes will not. 

k) A disproportionate and adverse effect upon the ability of clinically vulnerable people to safely engage with society.

Independent SAGE calls on the Government to publish, immediately, the scientific evidence and risk assessments on which it has based this decision. It further calls on the devolved administrations not to follow this path until they have seen convincing evidence that it is safe. 

Weekend updates on Covid are no longer being published but the figures for the last 7 days are deeply concerning.

The numbers of people who have died in the UK is appalling.

And as this public health crisis continues into its third year Orkney is set to welcome a possible 207 cruise ships with the first one due to arrive, MS Gann, on 24th of March.

Last year when cruise ship visits restarted there were cases of Covid on board those ships. The Orkney News also reported that Public Health Scotland (PHS) does not know when Covid occurs on cruise ships unless it is alerted by local health teams. The cases and the onward transmission is not tracked by PHS. Indeed it is extremely difficult to find out the numbers of cases on cruise ships which have sailed into UK ports.

Last year all independent travellers to Orkney were encouraged to take 2 tests before travelling to the islands. At that point there had been very few cases in Orkney. It was wonderful to see visitors arriving again in the islands, staying in holiday accommodation and spending money in local shops and businesses.

On July 30th 2021 when the first cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Anthem of the Seas, berthed in Orkney, the cumulative total for the islands was 150 and had been like that for about a week. On 18th of February 2022 when local figures were last published the cumulative total was 2,719. For the week beginning 9th February up to 15th, there were 301 new covid cases recorded in Orkney.

This graph illustrates the numbers testing positive in Orkney since 30th of July 2021 when Orkney ‘opened up’ to mass tourism and many more people travelled both to and from the islands.

Taking 2 tests before travelling to and from Orkney, ensuring you are not transmitting the virus is still really important. It is good to be able to welcome again the independent visitors to Orkney who stay here and enjoy local services and hospitality.

207 potential visits by cruise ships are a whole different case – this is mass tourism and whilst a very few cruise ship companies are being conscious of the need to limit their carbon foot print, most do not.

An article by James Ellsmoor published in Forbes in 2019 states:

“A passenger’s carbon footprint triples in size when taking a cruise and the emissions produced can contribute to serious health issues. On top of the pollution caused by their exhaust fumes, cruise ships have been caught discarding trash, fuel, and sewage directly into the ocean.”

This current pandemic is the result of the loss of biodiversity in the world. It is because of the climate emergency that Covid 19 has crippled economic systems across the world and resulted in 5.87million deaths (likely under reported) so far.

The most recent UN’s Frontiers Report : ‘Noise, Blazes and Mismatches: Emerging Issues of Environmental Concern’ has laid out what governments (at all levels) need to do to address the climate emergency.

We cannot have a healthy society without a healthy environment.

Climate change is affecting our health (most recently with the Covid pandemic) and our food production. Crucially for Orkney that’s farming and fishing.

The headline of this article ‘Cruising, #Covid & The Climate Crisis’ is chosen because these three issues are interlinked. Ironically Orkney Islands Council which has just pleaded ‘ for local people to increase their efforts around limiting the spread of the virus around the community’ is gearing up to welcome vessels amongst the worst for contributing towards the climate emergency.

You do have to wonder at where the intellectual rigour is in the council chambers. Short term financial greed is driving policy whilst doing long term harm to our environment, our public health and to the smaller tourist businesses who rely on the spending power of the independent traveller.

Happy Days by Martin Laird

Fiona Grahame

1 reply »

  1. A well-reasoned, factual article – says it all – but are folk paying attention? Those in charge, and those who put them there.

    I’m going to say it – the cartoon lets it down – this appears to be pointing the finger at Americans. Possibly a lot of – maybe most of – the cruise liner passengers are American, but whatever country the passengers are from, they couldn’t come to Orkney if the Council said no.

    Are folk from Orkney intending to go on holiday to other people’s countries? Would they like to see themselves represented like that in the local press?

    “Hoots, ye ken our first car bonnie lassie? I had trouble gettin’ intae it in ma’ kilt, carrying ma bagpipes .” – Cartoon of people with flame-red hair, and ‘see you Jimmy’ bonnets.

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