How is life in the Scottish Hebrides during the coronavirus pandemic?


The attraction of the Scottish Hebrides is splendid isolation. In a world coronavirus pandemic, however, this is not a place for an idyllic retreat.

There are no intensive care unit (ICU) beds with ventilators on the islands, it’s a very long way to the nearest hospital, and any medical evacuation to the mainland may depend on conditions weather.

This week, the NHS Western Isles Health Board reported its first cases of Covid-19. Three elderly patients based on the Isle of Lewis – and apparently not connected – are now positive.

That’s not to say there aren’t more cases – people just aren’t tested on a meaningful scale on the islands.

The remoteness of the islands has been interpreted as a kind of force that could protect these communities from the worst of coronaviruses. Now the virus is, however, that the remoteness reveals weakness when it comes to treating patients.

The island of Barra, for example, uses a beach as an airport runway, making medical evacuations difficult. The school and village hall also had to be converted to makeshift Covid-19 hospitals, to ensure that the island’s main hospital is virus-free.

I spoke to the island’s doctor, Mark Willcox, who told me that the island was doing his best to prepare. He said, “Even in the best of times, getting medicine depends on the weather.

“So if we suddenly had a huge influx of people needing this type of assistance, then I can see how we would get stretched very thin, very quickly. “

On the neighboring island of Coll, the island has an elderly population and a single doctor working with extremely limited resources in terms of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Dr. Celine O’Neill de Coll posted an open letter to all residents last week explaining how exposed their island could be.

“There is currently no immediate MediVac capacity because the medical helicopter is not suitable, and although the fixed-wing air ambulance is an option for [other islands], this is not an option for Coll Airport due to its short runway, “she wrote.

“This message aims to inform you of the extreme fragility of our island community in relation to the coronavirus. “

Since then, Dr. O’Neill has worked tirelessly to improve the situation in her community. She told me that she had obtained more PPE and since then has been told that there is now an option for Coll to transport sick islanders to the mainland in the event of an emergency.

“We are now confident that a tailor-made solution is in place to facilitate the isolated transfer of critically ill or suspected Covid-19 patients from Coll Island to the receiving hospital,” she said. .

“The situation is constantly changing, but I am in regular communication with the Emergency Medical Recovery Service and the Scottish Ambulance Service who are committed to supporting our community. “

His efforts could save lives, and it certainly reassured the islanders to know that they were not cut.

Another area of ​​vulnerability on Coll is that the island has only one store.

However, having everyone on Coll going to the same place for essential supplies could be a hot spot for the infection. And so the community has adapted.

Photos of items on the store shelf are now posted on Facebook, residents’ shopping lists are emailed, and two merchants, Dougie and Paula, make orders. Then, during his downtime, island postman John delivers door-to-door shopping.

No one has to leave the house and everyone gets what they need. This is the island innovation for isolation.

Islanders are not as far removed from the global pandemic as it may seem. Ballyhaugh, on Coll, is home to the international charity Project Trust.

They had 200 volunteers in 19 countries and when the coronavirus started to implant – they all had to be repatriated.

It was a major global operation at best. The fact that it was coordinated from a locked Hebrew island with limited internet connectivity is a testament to the islanders’ ingenuity.

It’s the key to island life.

These are communities that can cope when supplies do not arrive on time, when harsh winters cut them off from the mainland for weeks and where the search for neighbors is not new.

Being resilient is just a way of life in the Hebrides.

In the months to come, it could make all the difference.

Coronavirus: everything you need to know


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