Summary of MCM group members views on exiting lock-down
The MCM group are really pleased to see the debate has been opened up on how to exit lock-down. This is the most important decision facing us all today. As an advisory group we cannot speak for the Island but recently our members were asked to respond individually to the Scottish Government request for feedback.
The views were relatively long, however based on the work we have been doing it is absolutely right for you all to see a summary how we view this very difficult decision.
SUMMARY OF OUR RESPONSES TO THE BEST OF OUR ABILITY
The overwhelming feeling in the group was that Scotland’s Island communities have their own very special set of concerns which need careful consideration before establishing a “new normal”. Foremost of these on Mull is a large percentage of vulnerable people contained within a population that makes the majority of it’s income from occupations with a high risk of multiple covid-19 infections.
We all agreed that any relaxation in ferry travel restrictions needs very careful assessment as most visitors attracted to the islands are from high risk urban environments. Any relaxation lifting of ferry travel restrictions should be co-ordinated with our medical capabilities, our containment and tracking facilities, our shielding of the vulnerable and the maintenance of physical distancing.
Mull has one of the highest number of self employed people in the United Kingdom. Businesses tend to be small and compact with a historic requirement to get the maximum number of customers through the door during the limited seasonal opportunity. These present unique challenges when introducing physical distancing. If the island population expands significantly, as travel and access to the ferry is allowed, and social distancing requirements stay mainly in place, we must continue to find innovative solutions to social distancing in retail areas (Co-op, Salen Spar and other small retail outlets etc) We currently have no online “click and collect” options, shielding of employees is limited (and the employees are spread thin). We are dependent on either our own shopping or having our wonderful volunteers physically go to the shops. If travel restrictions to our island are lifted while physical distancing remains in place (as seems likely ) then without new solutions, queues at essential shops will increase and our fantastic current arrangements for feeding ourselves and those who must isolate may not be workable.
Mull has limited seasonal opportunity for income. This is already significantly reduced by the present restrictions and even more so as many of our existing businesses have already been identified as probably being banned or restricted for some time to come. It would be a high risk, low return, strategy to open the Island for a significantly reduced season.
Because of our low populations there is an opportunity on the Scottish Islands to tailor an option. This could be to introduce testing, enhanced surveillance and restricted community contact with external infections. Mull should be one of the first places with a comprehensive testing, tracing and isolating system in place, not an afterthought. With these in place the lock-down on an Island community could be lifted. The easing of external restriction could be then made much later depending on National progress against the virus.
This could be achieved by clever and targeted use of financial support. For example subsidise food and essential supplies so island populations don’t feel financially disadvantaged.
The above is an approach that could be undertaken with communities that are well informed on the crisis and understand the control measures expected of them. It would also mean schools could open and life adapt and progress.
There was a real feeling in the Group that this terrible situation must be turned into something positive. It is an opportunity to fully explore, develop and realise the value of the Scottish Islands in preparation for resumption of visitors in whatever form that may take.
Please remember these are a combination of our own personal thoughts and the MCM group will continue to encourage us all to follow Government guidelines and supply the best advice we can to keep us all safe.