by Rhoda Twombly, Secretary ESIN
While it is true that there are differences in how European countries are handling the Covid-19 emergency, there are commonalities. All agree that, at least one day in the future, life will follow a “new normal” and will be forever changed both positively and negatively.
European Islands do have their own unique needs with regard to protection against the virus and the recovery of their communities and economies. Generally, many Island economies depend on tourism. Access is by ferries – be they traditional, hovercraft or RIB – and to a lesser degree airplane. Some Islands are under complete lockdown where none but permanent residents are allowed to travel to the Islands – others allow those with second homes on the Island to quarantine there. While Covid-19 protection roadmaps in some countries are beginning to lessen restrictions, some Islands will be protected from Covid-19 by keeping the Islands closed to visitors for another couple of months.
The economic effects of Covid-19 will obviously be traumatic everywhere, but especially in places that are tourist-dependent. It is generally felt that Islands that will open up to visitors in the next couple of months must insure that their residents will be protected by insisting that the relevant authorities ensure that all access points be equipped and trained in the use of protective equipment and clothing and that social distancing be enforced on all piers, ferries, busses and planes that serve the Islands.
ESIN Board members set down their thoughts on what is happening on their own Islands:
From Tiina Johansson in Finland: The small islands are affected dramatically: the ferries to the islands are not taking on any tourists, and the islanders have mainly tourist businesses. The situation on bigger islands (with car ferries) is brighter, since many people decide to work or spend their quarantine in their part time homes. This is ok, as long as they stay healthy – the smaller municipalities’ couldn’t handle a heavy load of corona patients.
From Anetté Larm Johansson in Sweden: Sweden has not shut down in the same way as in many other countries. Instead, we are directed to wash our hands, use common sense and social distancing, no unnecessary trips and those over 70 should not meet other people.
Sweden is also a long country where spring and early summer have come to the south and where the north is struggling with the ice neither carrying nor breaking. Now that the hovercraft can’t transport people, they drive food out to the islands.
A little further south you will notice that many events have been canceled, both commercial and those organized by associations. However, as islanders are generally inventive, events are conducted digitally or in smaller groups in accordance with our restrictions. The tourist season has not really started yet but we see that it can be big problems for companies this summer if there are fewer tourists, so we hope for domestic tourism.
More people have chosen to work from their summer houses, which means that grocery stores and restaurants have increased sales. Craftsmen have got more jobs and there are more trips by sea taxi. The commute between the city and the islands has been a problem in some places and the question of how sick transport of suspected Covid 19 cases should take place has not been solved in all places.
From John Walsh in Ireland: We are similar to France, our economy is based on tourism and now Islands are closed to only residents, so all summer events are cancelled, bars restaurants and activity providers are closed, ferries are only running basic schedules to get food supplies. We are afraid that this economic downturn will make people leave the Islands for work in the city and not return. And all this just when we were beginning to see populations stabilise.
From Denis Bredin on the îles du Ponant: Briefly, the health situation is under control and most of the islands are now (or remains) Covid free (let’s see what it twill be after the end of lock down ?). We had a conference yesterday with health authority to review.
The economy, it’s a disaster: the main activity is tourism, with lock-down, all restaurants, hôtels campsites, bike rental, guided tours etc. are closed. All summer festivals will not take place. Re-opening may not occur for several months – May or June or later. Many SMEs may not survive and the result could be a new « exodus » from small islands when most of them are just starting to stop population decline (after mid XXcentury exodus), or are making a slight recovery.
So the very first priority will be to help all SMEs survive.