Worry for Barra residents after CalMac vessel has to be sent for a deep clean
Residents of Barra were shocked to learn that a lifeline island transport service was unable to take passengers to Oban last week after it was revealed crew members had tested positive for Covid-19.
This follows the announcement that three staff members from a Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) ferry, the main link between the mainland and the Western Isles, have tested positive for coronavirus and under current guidelines are having to self isolate.
Residents took to social media to voice their concerns at the risk of Covid-19 being brought onto the island, with one commentator saying they hoped “it hasn’t reached here.”
This comes just a week after the first major outbreak in the Western Isles was declared over by NHS Western Isles - during which more than 50 people became infected, one elderly resident in a care home died and more than 280 were asked to self isolate to halt the spread of the virus.
Alasdair Allan, MSP for Na h-Eileanan an lar, commented that the decision to deep clean the MV Isle of Lewis ferry was taken to protect staff and island residents alike.
“The move is clearly going to cause disruption to a lifeline ferry service for Barra,” he said.
“There is little alternative at the moment, given the need to ensure not just the safety of passengers and crew, but to prevent further spread of the virus into the islands.
“However, I will be seeking assurances from CalMac that there are now contingency plans in place, both for this route and others.
“The situation underlines the need for more vessels in the CalMac fleet, to cope with these eventualities in future.” he said.
The vessel was returned to Oban without any passengers whose journeys were cancelled in order that the boat could be put through a deep clean.
Robert Morrison, Operations Director for CalMac, said: “In line with strict procedures, the vessel was returned from Barra to Oban without passengers and will undergo a deep clean by a specialist company.
“A relief crew is being brought in to operate the vessel once it returns to service.
“CalMac crew work in strict bubbles in order to protect passengers and colleagues but anyone concerned about potential symptoms should check the NHS Inform website.”
CalMac’s website has full guidelines for passengers wishing to travel on their ferries and states: “Don’t travel on the ferry, and stay at home if you feel unwell or, if anyone in your household is experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
“If you require to be tested for Covid-19 and live on an island, please request a home testing kit or visit the local island testing facility, if this is available.
If you live on the mainland, please arrange to visit a mainland testing centre or alternatively request a home testing kit.
“Please also remember that on public transport, you must by law wear a face covering, unless you are exempt.”
The Scottish Government are promoting a new scheme of ID cards for exempt persons in order to cut down on the number of requests being made to GPs for letters, or, in some cases, people being refused entry to premises for not wearing a mask.
A spokesperson for NHS Western Isles said: “Unfortunately, a small cluster of 3 three positive cases has been identified: one of whom is self isolating in Lewis, the other two are self isolating outwith the Western Isles.
“Test & Protect is well underway and health protection staff are very busy undertaking contact tracing.
“Please remember to immediately self isolate and book a test if you develop symptoms, regardless of how mild they may be.
The Western Isles are currently under Tier One restrictions, prompting worries that this new outbreak could potentially put that status at risk.
The Scottish Government currently advises those living under Tier One restrictions to avoid in-home socialising, with some very limited exceptions.
Groups of six from two households can meet outdoors and alcohol can be sold in indoor and outdoor venues, although a 10.30pm curfew is in place.
Face coverings must be worn on all public transport and car sharing is advised against.
The Gazette reached out to Barra-based island MP Angus MacNeil for comment, but at the time of going to press there had been no response.