How coronavirus has affected island life on Coll

By Angie Brown
BBC Scotland News

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Image source, Getty Images
Image caption, Tourism and fishing are among the main industries on Coll

The small island of Coll sits in the Atlantic Ocean, a two-and-a-half hour ferry journey from Oban on the Scottish mainland. What impact has the coronavirus outbreak had on the island and its 200 inhabitants?

Former Scottish rugby captain Rob Wainwright has lived on Coll for the past 21 years with his wife and four children.

He says the island is "a great place to be" - but that its location could pose challenges if anyone developed an acute case of coronavirus.

Lambing season means it is a busy time of year for the 55-year-old, who has a mixed livestock farm.

Farming is one of the three main industries on the 13-mile long island, along with fishing and tourism.

Image source, Louise Bishop
Image caption, Rob Wainwright has farmed on Coll for more than 20 years

Rob explained how coronavirus, and the restrictions aimed at stopping its spread, have had an impact on many aspects of life.

"We have nothing as a unique selling point - but the nothing is our unique selling point," he said.

"We have empty beaches and lots of open space, but we are not currently open for business. We don't want holidaymakers here just now.

"Thankfully CalMac has been checking reasons for travel."

The ferry operator has introduced new rules to discourage travel on its routes during the pandemic. Anyone who wants to board a ferry must show that they are an island resident or have key worker status.

'A worrying period'

The ferry would normally run daily at this time of year, but CalMac is now operating a lifeline timetable which is aimed at keeping essential goods, services and people going to and from the islands.

"There was a worrying period a week ago where we were struggling to get food into the island," says Rob.

"The shop, which normally bulk buys, was not allowed to buy more than three of any item and you can't supply a whole island like that."

Image source, Getty Images

He said everyone on the island had been buying lots of prawns from a young local fisherman who had just bought a new fishing boat - and had now lost his customers.

"Normally prawns and lobster go out to Spain, but the shellfish market has collapsed during this outbreak and his trade has therefore disappeared.

"He has a new fishing boat to pay off so we have all been supporting him by buying his prawns on the island."

Rob said two people on the island had shown symptoms of the coronavirus since the start of the outbreak.

One of them self-isolated at home for 14 days. The other had mild symptoms, but was advised to catch the ferry to the mainland in case the condition became worse.

'A great place to be'

The islander was able to remain isolated during the ferry journey after regulations were relaxed to allow passengers to stay in their cars on certain ferry journeys.

But that journey would not be an option if someone was not well enough to drive themselves to the ferry.

"This is a great place to be if you don't have Covid-19 - but it's not a good place to be if you have a bad case of it," he added.

Rob said the helicopter which would usually evacuate inhabitants off the island was not equipped to carry Covid-19 patients.

However, the RAF has also announced that three RAF Puma helicopters will be stationed at Kinloss Barracks in Moray to handle any requests for assistance from NHS boards in Scotland.

The military has already been called in to help evacuate a critically ill patient from Shetland to Aberdeen to receive intensive care treatment.