MCC Comments on Scottish Government Framework

Mull Community Council comments on Scottish Government Framework

Mull Community Council (MCC) strongly supports the approach and principles laid down by the Scottish Government (SG) in its Coronavirus Framework:
SG’s approach will combine: virus suppression, care and support for those who need it, recovery to a ‘new normal’, protection including testing, tracing and isolation, and renewal towards a more sustainable economy and society.

SG’s principles are: to be safe, evidence-based and fair and ethical (upholding dignity, autonomy, respect and equality), respect for rule of law, clarity, realism and collective action (e.g., across the four nations)

MCC recognises and agrees with the SG’s description of the harms, namely:

  • The pandemic is a health crisis, a social crisis and an economic crisis that is causing harm on an unprecedented scale.
  • Difficult decisions are required to balance these various, inter-related harms so as to minimise overall harm.
  • The harms caused do not impact everyone equally.

We [SG] will protect those most at risk and protect human rights.

MCC supports the Scottish Government’s (SG) desire to ease restrictions when conditions permit this to be done safely and recognises that they may need to be reimposed as well as lifted.

Further, the MCC welcomes the opportunity provided the Scottish Government for both individuals and organisations to contribute to its thinking regarding easing of the coronavirus lockdown. To that end, MCC is engaging with the community to address key questions and seek ideas about how Mull could move to a ‘new normality’. This document presents the initial thoughts of the Mull Community Council but these thoughts will develop further as the consultation proceeds.

Mull Context
Whilst being an integral part of Scotland, Mull has characteristics which give it different challenges and opportunities:

Suppression of virus: As an island – and with controls on the use of ferries – Mull has been able to be very effective in suppressing the virus; however this does mean that there has been less exposure to the virus and hence it is likely that there is less immunity in the population with a consequential higher risk of disease spread when lockdown is eased or lifted.

Health services: Mull – and NHS Highland – has had significant challenges delivering health care to its resident community in recent years; in the current crisis, all parts of Mull’s health service have risen admirably to the challenge. Additional challenges if large numbers of the visitor population became ill could overwhelm the islands’ health services with additional costs and challenges if patients need transferring elsewhere or if visitors need to isolate or quarantine.

Age profile: Mull has a significantly more aged population than many parts of Scotland; age appears to be a risk factor for more severe Covid-19 disease

Tourism: A large part of the island’s economy is based, directly and indirectly, on tourism. Much of the discussion about coronavirus has highlighted the effect of long-distance travel on disease spread; the tourist industry depends on long-distance travel. This immediately raises a huge conflict between health & disease spread and the economic well-being of the community. The ferries, under current regulations, require passengers to vacate vehicles and hence spend time in passenger spaces where physical distancing is difficult to achieve; similarly passengers in the past have been in close proximity when moving to and from the car decks. Tourism is an industry which is difficult to turn on and off since accommodation needs to be booked ahead of time, seasonal staff recruited, etc.

Cost and availability of Food: Many people on the island have used shops in Oban for a significant proportion of their shopping; this option has not been possible during the lockdown period. Discount stores, such as ALDI and LIDL, are simply not accessible. Tesco Click & Collect slots are almost impossible to obtain and also attract a significant delivery cost from the 3rd party delivery company. The island has a limited number of food stores – 4 SPAR stores and a Coop – these stores are doing a great job but deliveries to them often do not include items that they had expected; additionally some of the higher prices seen in these stores stem from delivery lorries attracting the commercial ferry rates which are excluded from the ‘Road Equivalent Tariff’ (RET)

Integrated cross-Scotland Approach: We are about to consult regarding the residents’ views about whether Mull should be treated as any other part of Scotland or as a special case. The principle of an integrated approach is supported by the MCC but it is recognised that the criteria for easing lockdown may be achieved in different places at different times.

Mobile phone coverage: Due to the geography of Mull, many parts of the island have little or no mobile phone coverage so much of the discussion about coronavirus apps is likely to have limited relevance on Mull.

Broadband: Broadband coverage on Mull is variable with some areas having very poor coverage which could impede the delivery of services (e.g. education) over the Internet

Iona: Iona is an island off the West end of the Ross of Mull with no direct ferry services and hence is dependent on deliveries to it passing along the Mull road network. Iona Community Council (ICC) has separately communicated its own concerns to the Scottish Government; MCC is supportive of the concerns expressed by ICC.

Suggestions

Due to various reasons including population density and mixing, the numbers of Covid-19 cases are higher in cities and other urban areas than here on Mull; small remote communities have a much lower penetration of the virus and should be allowed to benefit from this advantage. This is particularly true of Islands such as Mull. The easing of the lockdown restrictions should not be seen as a trade off between saving lives and the economy, rather it should be about saving lives now and saving lives in the future by preventing a second spike.

The Isle of Mull is a geographically defined area under one health board and is believed to have no current cases of Covid-19. This could make it a perfect candidate for full population testing similar to the scheme on the Isle of Wight. Any active cases identified could be properly controlled and treated allowing the Island to return to some sort of normality and allow a gradual opening of businesses such as building, fishing and small retail outlets as well as schools. A second easing of restrictions at a later stage to allow identified persons who have tested negatively to travel to the Island on holiday could then be implemented.

It seems possible that restrictions on long-distance travel will need to be retained for a significant period after the first easing of lockdown; financial support for tourism and related businesses will need to be extended until a free flow of tourists is again possible.

Application of Road Equivalent Tariff to commercial vehicles (without removing specific concessions for agriculture and other key industries) might allow lower food costs on the island as well as helping other island businesses.

We are aware that the government is already in discussions with Tesco about Click & Collect slots for island residents although we are yet to see a change in solt availability; please could this situation be progressed as a priority.

The government could consider ways in which social distancing on ferries could be achieved, particularly whether passengers could remain in vehicles.

Hopefully, our community engagement process will yield further ideas which we will also pass on to you.