Protect remote H&I communities

We need to take great care in slackening movement restrictions, and small communities subject to high visitor pressure should be given some say in how this is done to control visitor numbers and behaviour, through, for example quota-setting, quarantining and testing. Many small, remote communities in the Highlands and Islands, like Coigach in Wester Ross, have benefitted from the lockdown through being isolated from centres of Covid-19 infection and remain, to the best of their knowledge, entirely disease-free. This has been achieved largely by local tourist accommodation providers closing their businesses, and doing so at high personal financial cost before lockdown was introduced and before there was any partial financial recompense to do so. Because these communities have been protected from Covid-19 there is no local herd immunity (not a good national policy, but beneficial at small scale) and the entire local population is susceptible to infection. We know there is immense pressure from outwith these communities for travel restrictions to be eased and for "the countryside to be re-opened", and we fear that we may be confronted with an overwhelming disease challenge should the lockdown be lifted without adequate control - be that by either the Westminster or Scottish Governments. We already know from experience that even with restrictions in place people are prepared to flout regulations and travel here. Our concern is heighted because of our extreme rurality, the consequences of that for Coigach (as a typical example) is that our nearest hospital ICU is 90 miles away, our nearest medical practice and ambulance is 25 miles away and our nearest full-time police station is 65 miles away. In addition, as is typical for such communities we have an aged demographic, rendering us particularly vulnerable.

Why the contribution is important

It is important to protect communities which are peculiarly vulnerable to Covid-19. It is important to establish control mechanisms that provide both community members and visitors alike with confidence that the best interests of all are recognised and served. It is important that NHS resources are not swamped by what will be the first wave of infection in the remote Highlands and Islands should movement control be lifted inappropriately. It is important to recognise and act on the fact that Scotland cannot be treated as homogeneous in this matter.

by CCDC on May 10, 2020 at 05:29PM

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Comments

  • Posted by JLMBD May 10, 2020 at 18:32

    100% agree.
  • Posted by LesleyEM May 10, 2020 at 20:57

    Totally agree.
  • Posted by CatK22 May 10, 2020 at 21:01

    Agree. Remote locations generally have an advantage during a pandemic and this must be supported by preventing nonessential travel from areas of high risk to areas of low risk. Many people living in badly-affected cities were outrageously selfish during this crisis. They recognised they were in a high risk area and also recognise they had connections in low risk areas so travelled with total disregard for their own relatives. I don't know of any who self-isolated on arrival, and I do know some who hospitalised their own parents.
  • Posted by Annalibeagmacleod May 11, 2020 at 08:46

    Writing on behalf of the Coigach Community Council whose members discussed the issue yesterday I can confirm that we fully endorse the statement by CCDC. We advocate an extremely cautious approach to easing the lock down and we expect to be consulted on how this can be implemented in remote areas like ours.The measures outlined by Boris Johnson yesterday if they were adopted in Scotland could lead to tourists driving long distances and we could find our population doubled or trebled in a short time, even if few facilities were reopened. Our Community has worked very well together to keep us virus free and all the effort will be wasted if restrictions are eased too fast. Ann Macleod ( Correspondence Secretary for Coigach Community Council )
  • Posted by Iainfs May 11, 2020 at 10:52

    Agree 100% with the above.
  • Posted by kezban May 11, 2020 at 13:17

    Agree 100%
  • Posted by IainG May 11, 2020 at 15:22

    The stats show there ARE cases in the highlands, and possibly remote area of the Highlands. I'm afraid all we can do is follow the best guidance to avoid contact and spread.
  • Posted by Bogmyrtle May 11, 2020 at 16:57

    I support this idea completely - small communities should be treated differently from cities. In these particular circumstances our remoteness and limited access (we are at the end of a long single-track road) have been to our advantage and has enabled us to isolate as a community and remain safe for now. While I'm only too aware that tourism is a major part of the local economy it also means lots of people from all over the country and beyond coming in and bringing with them a hugely increased risk of infection to the local community. There are many households here who derive some income from tourism, for many it's part of a mix various jobs and self-employment. There are also many second homes here, let as self-catering accommodation where the income goes out of the community. There are however a few households who depend entirely on tourism and I'd like to see some continued compensation or universal income for them. Many people I have spoken to have accepted their income has taken a hit, and many have more or less written off the whole year - citing this as a sacrifice they are willing to make in order to protect the health of the community, and themselves. Of those there are some who can afford it or will manage albeit in reduced circumstances: they are already retired, or have other employment, however there are people here who are seriously worried about next winter if they are unable to make any income this summer. If they were prioritised and could be guaranteed some form of income it would help - they don't want to lose their business or their homes, but neither do they want the virus. Under normal circumstances visitors are usually welcomed to Coigach - not just as a vital part of the local economy but with interest and affection: many return regularly, some are already friends and family and have a long association with the place. The summer increase in population is usually a happy thing - this year, people feel differently. Visitors mean risk and there would inevitably be tension and/or anxiety which isn't exactly conducive to a relaxing holiday anyway! I would be happy if Coigach was classed as a "restricted area" for an extended period, or serious thought given to how risk of infection from visitors can be managed.
  • Posted by cathym May 11, 2020 at 17:55

    Agree with CCDC and many of the other comments
  • Posted by miandl May 11, 2020 at 19:35

    This approach is probably sustainable for one season, and if the rest of Scotland remains under Curfew, so there is little traffic to police. But I doubt if it is feasible if Covid-19 turns into a longer-term problem (if the virus mutates regularly, if a vaccine can't be successfully developed, if there are regular "flare ups" over the years to come). It is also not feasible in the longer term to effectively turn such remote places into "gated communities", not just in terms of managing access -- their may only be one road in, but what about walkers or sailors? Is one going to install booms on the entry to every feasible anchorage? Is someone going to "sit guard" 24 hours on a gate? My experience of automatic gated systems elsewhere is that they "leak" -- vehicles can follow a resident through who opens the gates. It is also not manageable for those who are not permanently resident but visit regularly, simply in terms of managing their property and in terms of property rights. Have been supporting the community consensus thus far at cost of personal sacrifice, but this needs thinking through properly.
  • Posted by greylag May 11, 2020 at 20:26

    Agree with CCDC approch
  • Posted by RuthBradley May 11, 2020 at 21:48

    On behalf of: Coigach Covid Support Group Our remote rural community of Coigach has so far been spared the impact of community transmission of Covid-19. The timing of the national lockdown being before Easter was beneficial in preventing the spread of the virus in our area as it happened before this traditional start of the tourist season. We have rallied around to raise our capacity as a community to respond to a wave of infection and to the impact of lockdown itself with Mutual Aid schemes and the forming of this response group of local stakeholders. All of us willing to give up a measure of freedom and prosperity to protect the lives of the people who make this community what it is. We have been reminded of the measure of what’s important in our community...what connects us. As a group we represent different demographics and balancing the needs of the elderly, young families, Crofters, local businesses and accommodation providers is not easy. There are aspects of the lockdown restrictions that make no sense in a rural remote community, staying inside all day on a remote Croft protects no one. There are aspects of the full lifting of lockdown that also would not make sense in our community, exposing us to a deluge of urban visitors with cabin fever endangers everyone. We endorse the view in this post that remote rural communities need particular consultation around finding a middle ground when reopening to outside visitors.
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