GLASGOW – There is no confirmed case of coronavirus in the Outer Hebrides, a remote island chain off the west coast of Scotland. But local leaders are concerned.
A picture shared by the legislator Angus MacNeil paints a somber picture of readiness there: a primitive row of camp beds, each with a thin red blanket and a blue pillow, sitting empty in a village house. No fans, no test kits.
MacNeil’s message and that of officials in Scotland’s highlands and islands tourist region is clear: don’t come.
But people weren’t listening. Arrivals at the world-famous places of natural beauty in Northern Scotland increased last weekend. Mountain trails were busy, campsites full and mobile home parks full.
Some fled from the boredom of self-isolation. Others seem to have taken more permanent measures to travel to remote second homes or to park campers.
Scotland now has at least 600 confirmed COVID-19 cases and, like the rest of the United Kingdom, is almost completely closed. All but essential travel is prohibited, with strict daily restrictions on outdoor exercise. Those who settled in the country were asked to go home.
For many, this means returning to one of the largest cities in Scotland, where the infection rate is higher. Edinburgh, the capital, has more than 70 cases. Glasgow, the country’s largest city, has more than 180 residents.
Many of these densely populated areas have made their way to Cairngorms National Park – a vast wilderness area in the northeast of the country that is larger than Rhode Island.
“This weekend [saw] An unprecedented increase in visitor numbers … especially in terms of beauty spots and communities as people disregarded government policies on important travel, “said Grant Moir, managing director of the park authority.
Outdoor exercise is still important, but only if it is done in accordance with government regulations: near an individual’s home and in accordance with the rules of social distance. “When you come to the Highlands, you are not isolated from COVID-19,” said Moir. “You can’t get away from it.”
It’s a feeling shared by the locals. In Ballater, a picturesque town on the eastern edge of the park, there are concerns that scarce food supplies could become scarcer if people who live elsewhere flood the area.
“We have limited resources in a small village like this,” said Cheryl Barr, who owns an ice cream parlor. “Not just us, in all small villages and small communities.”
Barr and a group of others are concerned about older and sick Ballaters and have started delivering food and recipes to those unable to leave their homes. Dozens of volunteers have offered to help, Barr said, illustrating the “community spirit” that connects the city in difficult times.
But in a pandemic, goodwill can only go that far. The nearest hospital – 11 miles away in Aboyne, a larger city – is only for minor injuries. To reach an intensive care unit, the locals would have to drive an hour to Aberdeen, Scotland’s third largest city.
“As a small village, we are not in the best position to be prepared for such an outbreak, for the immediate people who live here, much less for external characters who contribute,” added Barr.
Your concerns are at the top level of the Scottish government.
“Let me be crystal clear, people shouldn’t travel up close to rural and island communities. They endanger life, ”said Fergus Ewing, who is responsible for tourism and the rural economy.
“Panic buying will have a devastating impact on the livelihood of rural businesses and may put unwanted pressure on NHS services in our rural communities,” added Ewing, referring to the National Health Service.
Back in the Outer Hebrides, there is some welcome news. Ferries connecting the islands to the mainland only operate for residents and transport non-residents from the islands. Flights from and to Scotland’s major cities to the region’s tiny runways remain open.
Until all travel stops, many people in Scotland’s remote and rural communities – which are usually dependent on the elixir of tourism – will not feel safe.