Dan McCarthy: The Islands are open again for business

Dan McCarthy: The Islands are open again for business

FINALLY. After four months of being closed off from the mainland, the islands have finally been given the all clear to open up again as of June 29. As there has been a huge improvement in national Covid-19 infections the date has been brought forward from August 10.

Not only could people from the mainland not visit the islands, whether for day trips or holidays, but the islanders could not visit the mainland, except in emergencies. The lockdown has affected the islanders for a longer period as several of the islands voted to close to non-islanders weeks in advance of the mid-March shutdown.

Sherkin Island
Sherkin Island

The growing uncertainty surrounding the opening up of the islands was ended last Thursday when the Government belatedly announced that travel restrictions were lifted from today. An announcement had been expected the week before. And the week before that. There were calls from Gaeltacht minister Sean Kyne for a staged reopening with holiday homeowners allowed access from today and other visitors allowed from July 20. However, the Government, advised by National Public Health Emergency Team, opted to open to all islands from June 29.

The move is sure to be a relief to the many businesses on the islands and ports dependant on a vibrant summer season: ferry companies; hotels and B&Bs; cafes, pubs and restaurants; tours and festivals of many descriptions; Irish colleges, and many more. However, opinion is divided, and dramatically divided in the case of Inisheer, Co Galway, where 92% of residents and businesses polled recently did not want the island to reopen until mid-August.

Many events and festivals on the islands have been cancelled and it is probably too late at this stage to get them up and running with such a short window of time. However, with careful social distancing measures, handwashing, cough etiquette, it is hoped that the vast majority of islands that are Covid-19 free, will remain so.

Ferries will not be able to carry the normal large numbers due to the 2mregulation and will have to operate at around 30% capacity. This has obvious financial implications for them.

Whiddy Island Ferry
Whiddy Island Ferry

The recently launched Department of Health website on the spread of Covid-19infections around the country allows for very detailed analysis by the electoral district. However, a close scrutiny of its map shows there are possible infections on several islands already, even before they open up. Or, that there may have been infections where the infected person recovered. The information is collated by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre and the HSE.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health could not address the specific island infections. “It is the policy of the department of Health not to comment on areas with cases of 5 people or less to protect the confidentiality of those concerned,” a statement read.

The statistics come with three provisos:

1) that the <5 figure refers to 0 to 4, and may mean that there are zero cases on a given island. Or it could mean four cases.

2) And the electoral division for that area includes the given island but does not specifically include it.

3) The HSE states that “for a proportion of notified Covid-19 cases, their location on the map may reflect their place of work rather than their home address”.

To reiterate: This is a statistical method of enumerating figures based on the spread of Covid-19 across electoral divisions. Starting from the southwest, these are the islands that may have, or have had, Covid-19 infections.

  • The red dot on Sherkin may refer to Cape Clear, Sherkin, or Ringarogy, as the electoral division is also formed by the other two islands.
  • Bere Island, Co Cork, carries a red dot. It is its own electoral division.
  • There is a red dot on Inishmore in the Aran Islands which may refer to Inishmore, Inishmaan, or Inisheer as the three islands form the electoral division of Ãrainn.
  • The red dot on Inishbofin, Co Galway refers to itself as it is an electoral division in its own right.
  • Clare Island, Co Mayo refers to itself as it is its own electoral division.
  • Arranmore, Co Donegal also has a red dot and is its own electoral area.
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