Until even a few days ago, we would never – we could never ! – have believed that anything like this could happen – other than in a Holywood disaster movie!
Starting a couple of days ago, Calmac aren’t accepting new bookings for sailings before July 15th, services operating until then on a turn-up-and-go basis. The ferries to and from Uist, including inter-island services, are operating to normal schedules, albeit with fewer passengers and vehicles wanting to travel.
Yesterday, however, the Scottish Government announced that ferries to the Outer Hebrides will, until further notice, be limited to carrying only persons who are permanent residents of the islands, or key service workers !
Flights to Uist have been combined with the Stornoway – Glasgow service, but flights are nonetheless operating on a daily basis. These are currently operating without restrictions, but it is reasonable to expect that, quite soon, restrictions similar to those imposed today on the ferry services, will be applied also to air travel to and from the Outer Hebrides.
At present, the islands are still free of any confirmed cases of Covid-19. The average age of the island population is well above the UK average, and is disproportionately male, both of which are risk factors. Moreover, the relative isolation of populations like ours results in a lower level, and narrower range of acquired resistance to infections, compared to metropolitan populations.
If Covid-19 gets out of control here, it could be very serious. There are not the resources here to deal with the consequences of such an invasion.
With no prospect of tourism visitors to the islands for the forseeable future, we’ve taken the decision to close the Hebridean Woolshed until further notice. [ J > I will be working on the website so that we can sell more of the handspun and other unique or ‘limited-edition’ items online.]
New bookings for the two holiday cottages has steadily dried up over the past few weeks. Over the past few days we’ve received a steady stream of cancellations for the bookings from mid March through to the end of the summer. For the most part we’ll be keeping the deposit payment, but without the balance payments and any new bookings, it’s unlikely that rental income this year will even cover the fixed costs.
Unless the epidemic is behind us by late summer and we then get a flurry of bookings and visitors to the islands – thanks to pent-up demand, we’re not going to earn enough to support ourselves through the long winter months. We shall have to use our savings, which are enough to diqualify us from hardship benefits, but not enough to survive on until the tourist season returns at Easter in 2021. It’s not going to be easy!
We’ll keep the two holiday open and available for bookings, because there may be medical, emergency and other essential workers seconded to work here in Uist, and in need of a place to stay. But, thinking about it, we hope it doesn’t come to that.