The April issue of Loch a Tuath News is out now; however, owing to the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions, it is only available for sale in Gordon's shop in Back and the Co-op (Macaulay Road) this month (subscriber copies will be posted as normal). 

As we know a lot of our readers will not be able to get out and about just now, we would be very grateful if those doing shopping and messages for our regular readers could pop a copy in their shopping bag.

The price remains £2 as usual and there are eight lovely colour pages this month to cheer us all up a bit, says Jayne MacArthur who is Editor of Loch a Tuath News.

 

Although we are classed as a food business, we will stay closed.

You can order online or over the phone and get your tea shipped with Royal Mail

We will ship on Tuesday and Friday

Pickup from the shop is possible on Saturdays between 10am and 3pm only.

We will pack your tea in a paperbag and will hand it over contactless. The pickup area as will be regularly

sanitized as will the rest of our packing and selling area.

Thank you all for your understanding.

We will get through this!!!!

 

How to order online

Please go to our website www.hebrideanteastore.scot during the checkout you can choose "local pickup" which is of course free of charge. If you can't come to the shop in person, we will post your items as long as the Royal Mail is working

How to order over the phone
Please use our FREEphone number 0800 228 9294 If I can't pick it up directly, then please leave your name and a contact number so that I can phone back. The answering machine on this number is great and I will always be notified.
Once I have taken your order you can choose local pickup or posting with Royal Mail

Whatever you do, please do not come to the shop when there is a chance that yourself or anyone close to you is infected or might be infected.
Please keep me safe, as I am one of the people at risk. Thank you!
21/03/2020 Sabine Weiten

Two individuals in the Western Isles have tested positive for COVID-19.

Both are based on the Isle of Lewis.

This was publicly announced today (14.34, Tuesday March 31) by NHS Western Isles Chief Executive Gordon Jamieson.

"To protect patient confidentiality, we will not be providing any further details of the individuals," the statement continued.

NHS Western Isles is now taking steps to identify the possible routes of infection. 

Mr Jamieson, and NHS Western Isles Chair, Ian Burgess, released the following statement: “Whilst we are clearly disappointed that we now have confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the Western Isles, we would reassure members of the public that we have been preparing for this situation over a number of weeks and we are heartened by the fact that so many people across our islands have been following the government guidelines to stay at home, to help us prevent any further spread of cases.

“We cannot emphasise enough the importance of staying at home and social distancing at this time.”

A Comhairle nan Eilean Siar spokesperson, said: “Whilst disappointing, this is not unexpected and for several weeks now the Comhairle has been preparing, along with Public Health and other partner agencies, for such an eventuality.

“It is now more important than ever before that everyone follows the Scottish Government advice - particularly to stay at home unless absolutely essential - and to observe physical distancing.”

SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan said:“The news that two people on the Isle of Lewis have tested positive for coronavirus is concerning.  My thoughts are with the individuals involved and their families, and I hope they make a full and speedy recovery.

“This news shows that no corner of Scotland is safe from the virus. I know that health and other essential services in the islands are doing an exceptional job. We now need to help them now by trying to contain the spread of the virus within the islands and across Scotland. I would urge all islanders to help save lives and please stay at home.”

Earlier Mr Jamieson - in a broadcast on Twitter (https://twitter.com/nhswi/status/1244724025873530880?s=21) said preparations on the Islands now include the basing of two military officers at NHSWI headquarters on South Beach.  He emphasised the need to maintain the highest possible vigilance and to maintain the lockdown as tightly as possible.

These Island cases have not been reported yet in the national figures. Neither have the first cases from Orkney which became known last night.  These cases mean that Covid19 cases are known to be present in every health board area in Scotland.

A total of 60 patients in Scotland who tested positive for coronavirus have now died, it was stated by the Scottish Government today, Tuesday March 31.

That is 13 more than yesterday.

There are now 135 people in intensive care, a rise of 27 overnight.

The total for Highland Region was 51 - seven up on yesterday

There are 29 cases shown for Shetland - an increase of two from the previous day.

A total of 15,895 Scottish tests have been concluded so far. Of these:

  • 1993 tests were positive. That's up 430 from yesterday, a rise of 27.5%.
  • In all, 1050 of the cases were in the Greater Glasgow, Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian areas - an increase of 166 since yesterday, up 19.5%

The latest national coronavirus figures were confirmed at 2pm today.

Please note: delays to reporting over the weekend have contributed to the increase in total test figures and deaths confirmed today, the Scottish Government says.

Meanwhile Western Isles police warned on Twitter: "Due to #Coronavirus criminals are targeting the vulnerable. Don’t give people money, bank details or cards if they offer to do shopping on your behalf if you don’t know them. Never be afraid to say ‘No, thank you’ & close the door."

 

The biggest annual gathering of Gaeldom in the islands has become the latest casualty of Coronavirus, with the announcement today (Tuesday 31 March) that South Uist’s Ceòlas summer school has been cancelled.

It was to be the 25th anniversary year for the festival of Gaelic music, dance and language, which annually attracts traditional musicians from Scotland and Canada to participate in tuition, house cèilidhs and village-hall dances in the strongest Gaelic- speaking community in the world.

The festival’s success also contributed to the driving forces behind a planned centre of excellence for Gaelic music, culture and education. Cnoc Soilleir is due to be built at Dalabrog in South Uist.

In today’s statement organisers said: “In light of the current guidance issued during the coronavirus outbreak, Ceòlas has cancelled the remainder of our summer programme, including the summer school (5-10 July), community symposium (26-28 July) and the July immersion courses (27-30 July).

“Ceòlas will issue full refunds to all students who have booked to attend and will honour contracts with booked tutors. The 25th anniversary celebrations will be moved to next year’s school which will take place from the 4-9 July 2021.

“Discussions are ongoing with tutors who are booked to return next year. The theme of the community symposium on early Christianity in Uist in likely to also be moved to 2021, during the planned Colmcille 1500 celebrations.”

All events until June had already been cancelled, postponed, or moved online, with Gaelic classes online via Zoom since Wednesday last week (25 March).

Already cancelled from the islands’ cultural calendar has been the Uist district Mòd, due to take place at the end of May, as have all regional and district Mòds.

Benbecula’s 5th anniversary Eilean Dorcha Festival (EDF) in July has also been cancelled – it was due to feature bands including Mànran, Trail West and Peat & Diesel.

Ceòlas board and staff say they are drawing up plans to maintain a profile online, including by bringing aspects of the postponed summer school to digital fruition in a few months’ time.

A hill fire which burnt through most of the night last night (Monday 30 March) appears to have been deliberately set, despite a recent warning to suspend muirburn during the COVID-19 epidemic.

The hill at Bogach, near Bruernish in north Barra, was seen to be burning from about 10pm last night and is this morning blackened and smoking.

Scottish Land and Estates last week (25 March) issued an appeal to land managers not to undertake muirburn (controlled burning of heather) during the Covid-19 pandemic, to help ensure there is no chance for any additional strain on public services.

The coming fortnight, leading up to end of the season on 15 April, is usually the busiest time for muirburn. But even careful risk assessment is not enough to prevent a fire getting out of control and needing emergency services to be called out.

Tim Baynes, director of moorland at Scottish Land and Estates said: “We are urging land managers not to undertake any more muirburn for the rest of this season.

“Even though the risk of the fire getting out of control is very small, we want to be absolutely 100% certain that there is no additional call on the fire or ambulance service and the NHS during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Muirburn is a strictly regulated and essential tool to manage moorland and has many benefits including enhancing biodiversity and conservation. Putting back a muirburn programme will have consequences, so I urge land managers to keep a record of muirburn foregone because of the current situation, and any impact that has on wildlife and biodiversity.”

Muirburn is the traditional way to manage moorland and has been practised for centuries, resulting in the Scotland’s renowned purple heather landscape.

Barra residents acknowledged that last night’s fire did burn itself out and did not put any property at risk, but still questioned the sense of setting fire during the current emergency.

One resident commented: “No need for it in this year’s climate. Hopefully it puts itself out and doesn’t need the intervention of volunteers that should be able to stay at home like the rest.”

Another said: “We are in the middle of an emergency – think we should be prioritising as a society.”

Pictures show the fire last night (Barrabuddie NonMac) and the hill this morning (Katie Mairi Mackinnon).

NHS Western Isles are urging people not to request unnecessary prescriptions.

GPs and Pharmacists across the Outer Hebrides have faced a high demand for prescriptions since the COVID-19 outbreak began.

NHS Western Isles is urging patients to not request or fill unnecessary repeat prescriptions. GP practices and community pharmacies continue to operate.

Patients are asked to phone in the first instance for any queries that are not coronavirus-related.

Gordon Jamieson, NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, said: “A huge thank you to all GP practice and community pharmacy teams who continue to care for patients in extremely challenging circumstances.

“But they are facing an unnecessary strain because individuals are requesting and filling prescriptions when they do not need to.

“That’s why we’re asking the public to please help us and not order unnecessary prescriptions. We’re all in this together.”

Patients are reminded that there is a free NHS 24 helpline for people without coronavirus symptoms who are looking for general information on coronavirus - 0800 028 2816.​ Patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms are asked to dial NHS 24 on 111, day or night, if they are unable to manage their symptoms or if their symptoms do not improve after seven days.

And NHS Western Isles is also reminding patients that they must bring their own regular/repeat medication with them when they come into hospital.

The hospital can supply medication, but it is patients’ own responsibility to supply regular repeat medications.

It is essential that patients manage their repeat prescriptions effectively, ordering from their GP/ Community Pharmacy and not running out.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has set up a dedicated service to help direct support to those who need it most urgently during the Coronavirus crisis.
The Care for People Group will gather information about who needs support and work alongside community groups to both coordinate and provide local support across the Western Isles.
Group chair Kirsty Street (pictured) said: “The helpline was set up for those who require to be shielded, but it’s available for anyone who is considered vulnerable, whether it’s through age, health or just being socially isolated.
“The volunteers are able to provide practical assistance with things such as shopping, picking up prescriptions, walking pets or just a friendly phone call.”
If anyone feels that they, or a relative, needs to have this help, they should call the helpline on 01851 600501.

An image taken from the Butt of Lewis has won a major photography award for the visitor who took the picture.
The picture, titled Three Rocks, has been announced today (Tuesday 31 March) as the overall winner in the Scottish Nature Photography Awards.
It was taken by Norfolk photographer Ruth Grindrod on a windy day last summer.
Ruth said: "I am more than delighted to win Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year 2019. It is a great honour to be selected and I thank all the judges for their time and effort particularly during this most difficult time of the Coronavirus pandemic.
"My particular love in terms of photography has always been the sea and coast, regardless of the weather and the conditions. My journey to Scotland is always a long one as I live in Norfolk, but I never fail to be excited by some of the best landscapes and seascapes in the world. When life returns to normal I will certainly be back shooting in Scotland.
"Three Rocks was taken on an extremely windy day at the Butt of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Rather than shoot the lighthouse, I chose the formation of these three rocks from a slightly elevated position to capture their shape and form as well as the
churning seas. The conditions were tough but persistence paid off with this final capture."
Judge Niall Irvine said: "Ruth's image has beautifully captured the drama and power of the sea. The light, composition and depth of detail in the image is remarkable, particularly the movement caught in the water."
Also featured among the competition winners was Maya Reid of the University of the Highlands and Islands, who was placed second in the student class of the awards with a portfolio of beach images taken at the tidal islet of Baleshare in North Uist.

Owners of self-catering businesses have got back in touch with Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, Rhoda Grant, to say they are still not eligible for the business support grant.

This comes despite positive announcements from the Scottish Government’s Finance Secretary on Friday 27 March that the £10,000 and £25,000 business grant would support self-catering businesses, depending on their turn-over, through the COVID-19 crisis, but Mrs Grant is still concerned that many will go without support.

The MSP has had many constituents contact her raising concerns that they do not fit the criteria to qualify for a grant because their self-catering business is not their primary source of earnings and they depend on several small income streams rather than one main source.

Mrs Grant has therefore written to the Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, and Fiona Hyslop, Economy, Fair Work and Culture Secretary, again.

She is asking for the Scottish Government to look into an individual’s income as a whole and provide a percentage of the relevant business support grant depending on the proportion that self-catering makes towards someone’s complete income.

Mrs Grant said: “I welcome this move by the Scottish Government to extend this support to self-catering businesses however, it would appear that this does not go far enough to support everyone.

“This move overlooks individuals within the Highlands and Islands and beyond who depend on several small streams of income to make a decent living. For example crofters who manage their croft and then make up their living by renting out a cottage.”

Mrs Grant continued: “This strict criteria will mean that some people who deserve support are still going to fall through the cracks and it will put people out of business. I have therefore asked the Scottish Government to look at this again and I hope that they adjust this support accordingly.”

A respiratory assessment and Covid-19 treatment resource will be set up in Castlebay School and Leisure Centre.

At present, no Covid-19 cases have been identified in the Western Isles.

However, the precautionary measure has been taken given the the limited resources on Barra and Vatersay, and the distance from the hospital.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will work with the community to establish a local Shielding and support resource to coordinate all Local Authority and Community resources.

 

 

Lews Castle College, a constituent college of the University of the Highlands and Islands, has announced the formation of an Education Hub to bring together teaching, research, and scholarship.

Based at the Stornoway campus, the new unit will dovetail current teaching activities in the delivery of the online Masters degrees in Education (M.Ed.) and in Digital Pedagogy, along with teacher training awards and supervision on doctoral research. The success of the M.Ed. programme, which is led from Stornoway, demonstrates a growing interest from education professionals in schools, colleges and universities to enhance their skills. This has encouraged demands for progression to advanced postgraduate degrees such as the taught doctorate (Ed.D.) and doctoral studies by research (Ph.D.)

Announcing the initiative, Principal Iain MacMillan said, “There is a clearly a demand out there that is ideally satisfied by part-time and online study. The demands of modern lifestyles and careers mean that busy professionals need to keep up to date but are finding less space to do that through ‘conventional’ routes. We are pleased to see registrations for our degree modules being recognised across the globe as well as in the national educational sectors.”

Although research projects and Ph.D. supervision have been undertaken at Lews Castle College UHI for more than two decades, this new initiative will lead to the discipline of Education being recognised in its own right. Previously, education was studied as part of another main disciplinary area. The new unit will provide a consistent and continuous platform for learners to progress in their studies and will further enhance the role of Lews Castle College as a key provider in the University of the Highlands and Islands.

UHI Programme Leader of the Masters in Education, Dr Gareth Davies, added, “This is a natural progression in the education awards that we already offer. Increasingly we are seeing teachers and lecturers asking to be upskilled in the theory and practice of using technology to improve educational opportunities. One of the benefits of the new Education Hub is that we will be able to respond incredibly flexibly to the needs of individual learners, both in the content that they want and the manner of delivery that they require.”

The Education Hub will work with the UHI Learning and Teaching Academy and continue to expand in the activities that are delivered from the Stornoway campus, as well as the productive partnerships with other staff throughout the UHI and in other university networks.

UHI Vice-Principal of research, Professor Neil Simco, welcomed the initiative and said, “This is another significant step in the university developing its regional strengths to the benefit of the university as a whole. The critical mass of our recent achievements in the delivery of education awards is now attracting educationalists from across the world and we hope to reach out even more students with this new Education Hub.”  

Planning applications, the Uists, March 27

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

New agricultural building, North Uist

Roderick Macdonald of Glebe, 12 Hogha Gearraidh has applied for planning permission to build an agricultural building at 6 Balranald, Bayhead, Isle of North Uist. The building is to be 30.48 metres long, 12.192 metres wide and 4.8 metres tall. It is to be constructed of box profile sheeting and concrete panels, with a fibre cement roof.

Change of use of building, Isle of North Uist

Philip Johnson of 5 Rosedale Mews, Ravenshead, Nottingham, has applied for planning permission to change the use of the former Church of Scotland from mission hall to residential.  

Proposed telecommunications installation, Isle of North Uist

Arqiva Ltd has applied for planning permission to create a new telecoms site with associated ancillary works.

 

 

Planning applications, Barra, March 27

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

 Donald Maclean of 153 Skallary has applied for planning permission to create a two-storey extension at the rear of the house at 153 Skallary. The extension will consist of two bedrooms, a study and a bathroom.

Planning applications, Lewis, March 27

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

 

New Fence, Stornoway

Douglas Shaw of 17 Perceval Road, Stornoway, has applied for planning permission to erect a two-metre-high timber post and rail boundary fence around the private dwelling at 17 Perceval Road, Stornoway.

Renovation works, Callanish

Has applied for planning permission to renovate the house at 18 Callanish. Work is to include removal of the existing room structure, internal partitions and fittings, removal of concrete lintel over kitchen, and the replacement of timber lintels at doors/windows with doors and windows made secure.

New house, Tong

Daniel Duffy has applied for planning permission to erect a house at 13A Tong.

New polycrub, Uig

Sarah Taylor-Gerloch of 3A Aird Uig has applied for planning permission to erect a polycrub at 1 Enaclete, Uig. The polycrub is to be twelve metres long and four metres wide and is to be constructed of polycarbonate sheeting.

 

Planning applications, Harris, March 27

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

New storage warehouses, Ardhasaig

Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd has applied for planning permission to construct three new storage warehouses at 8 Ardhasaig. Work is to include creating parking spaces for twelve more cars, bringing the total number of spaces to sixteen.   

Uist Cat Rescue have issued an urgent plea for kitten food.

The kitten food would greatly help a pregnant stray cat from Berneray.  

The heavily-pregnant cat remains unclaimed, despite Uist Cat Rescue describing her as very affectionate and friendly. 

The organisation say: "This cat will be cared for by a fosterer in a home until she has her kittens and they are at least 8 weeks old.

"We will then get her spayed and once recovered, if no one has claimed her in the meantime, we will find her a good home.

"While pregnant and nursing her babies, she needs to be fed kitten food, not ordinary cat food, so we are asking whether you could look in your local shops for kitten food and donate some so that we can give her the nourishment she needs.

"She will need a supply in the meantime and also for the 8 weeks she is nursing.

"We will add it to the Amazon wishlist also. We'd be so grateful for your help.

"If this is not a missing cat who is loved and wanted back home, she could have been abandoned in her hour of need."

 

from Taylor Edgar in Hanoi

8am update: The government has in the last hour announced a 10pm curfew effective immediately. Anyone breaking the curfew will be arrested

A 10-year-old boy in Ho Chi Minh City has become the 204th coronavirus case in Vietnam, as the government declares a national epidemic and prepares to lockdown the country’s two largest cities, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

The last few days have seen a spike in Covid19 cases despite the country’s early interventions as soon as the epidemic emerged in Wuhan, some 840 miles north of the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

The sudden rise in cases can be attributed to outbreaks in Bach Mai Hospital in Hanoi, one of Vietnam’s largest hospitals, a company supplying the hospital’s food, and a bar in Ho Chi Minh City.

There have been orders issued for all businesses to close except essential services and food shops. Most people are now working from home as the streets empty, and bus services are suspended until April 15. Fines are also being imposed on people who are not wearing face masks while outside.

As of Sunday, all international passenger flights to Vietnam were suspended and flights between Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and other localities limited in the coming two weeks.

Three months in and there are still no deaths attributed to Covid19. In fact, yesterday 55 people were discharged from hospital after fully recovering.

Prime Minister, Nguyen Xuan Phuc said yesterday that now is “a decisive time in Vietnam’s fight against Covid-19” and called on everyone to “stay at home and work online,” except for special cases or visits to hospitals, stores, supermarkets, and manufacturing facilities.

"We cannot be neglectful. We have rolled out many strong measures but on the streets, on the beaches, there are still many people and in some places, the policy of not gathering more than 20 people is not strictly implemented," he said, adding that social distancing was a must at this time.

"People should stay in their own province, their own district and their home for at least 15 days," he said.

People in Hanoi are now making shopping trips for food in the expectation of an imminent lockdown comparable to that in the West.

 

Thomas Taylor Edgar

NHS Western Isles has shown images on Twitter of emergency equipment arriving at Western Isles Hospital - and Woody's Express Parcels also posted photographs on Facebook of large deliveries under way.

This came as "serious concerns" were raised by Labour MSPs David Stewart and Rhoda Grant that the Highlands and Islands are facing a drought of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for those working on the frontline during the Covid 19 crisis.

They say that NHS workers across the region are having to ration out their PPE equipment, such as masks, or use equipment which is seriously out of date, leaving NHS workers having to conduct face-to-face appointments with no masks.  David Stewart MSP lodged a Parliamentary Questions asking that the Scottish Government examined whether rural health boards had adequate supplies of personal protection equipment and what advice it was giving to NHS Boards about when such equipment should be worn.

David Stewart said: “I have been told that 28% of staff are off in one Health board area and I expect that this will be reflected across the boards. It is a matter of urgency that those on the COVID 19 frontline are protected, not least because many of them are vulnerable and they are working continuously in potentially hazardous situations.

“I am concerned that because numbers in the Highlands and Islands are relatively low at the moment, with the exception of Shetland which has the highest percentage of cases, these areas are being forgotten about and not adequately provided for. But these are areas that, when the virus does hit, the effects could be catastrophic. There are less resources, less ICU’s, less intensive care trained staff and a high proportion of the population has underlying health conditions or are elderly.”

Rhoda Grant MSP backed Mr Stewart’s call, saying: “I have heard reports of staff being provided with out-of-date protective equipment when they are being provided anything at all. Obviously every area is clamouring for more PPE but it is vitally important that the Highlands and Islands are not left out.”

Meanwhile Highland & Islands Divisional Commander Chief Superintendent George Macdonald would also like to extend his thanks to communities and businesses across the region for their support so far during this unprecedented time following the introduction of emergency powers.

He said: “High-visibility patrols have been in place right across the Highland and Islands since enforcement powers were introduced and it is clear that the vast majority of people are complying with the measures. Where our officers have encountered people outside, they’ve been able to engage with them or educate them on why it’s so important to follow the guidance from our public health experts in order to save lives. Whilst we obviously have powers to issue penalty notices, this is very much a last resort and thankfully to date my officers have not had to resort to this measure. 

“As echoed by my colleagues across Scotland, we all recognise that the current situation is a significant change to the way people live their lives and we all need to adjust to that. The clear message is to stay at home, and by and large, people are doing that.”

He added: “We have been given extraordinary powers in an extraordinary situation, powers Police would not normally wish to have, but I’d like to thank the communities across the Highland and Islands for helping and supporting us. It is likely that these restrictions will continue and we need this support, understanding and self-discipline to continue.”

Personal belongings and laundry – patients at Western Isles Hospital

Families and friends of any patients admitted to Western Isles Hospital in Stornoway are being advised of the following new arrangements, which are in place with immediate effect:

  • I​n terms of dropping off personal belongings for patients, families should liaise with the ward about an appropriate time. They will be met at the front door by ward staff. No bags should be dropped off for patients without prior agreement.
  • P​atients' laundry will be done in the hospital until further notice.

With the confirmation – after the appearance of the official figures yesterday (Monday March 30 ) – of a coronavirus case in Orkney, the Outer Hebrides is now the only area in Scotland with no officially confirmed coronavirus cases.

NHSWI chief executive Gordon Jamieson - in a broadcast on Twitter (https://twitter.com/nhswi/status/1244724025873530880?s=21) said preparations on the Islands now included the basing of two military officers at NHSWI headquarters on South Beach.  He emphasised the need to maintain the highest possible vigilance and to maintain the lockdown as tightly as possible.

Following a request by NHS Western Isles to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar — and given the limited resources on Barra and Vatersay and its distance from hospital resources — it has been agreed, as a precautionary measure, to set up a COVID19 resource in Castlebay School and Leisure Centre.
Called a Respiratory Assessment and COVID-19 Treatment Resource, this is part of a nationwide network of such centres in Scotland which aim to separate Coronavirus assessment and treatment from the standard hospital service. While initial contacts will take place via an on-line advice serice, anyone requiring a face-to-dace assessment will be seen at a Covid-19 centre. Those in need of immediate intervention will be sent directly to hospital for inpatient treatment.
In addition, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar will work with the community to establish a local Shielding and Support Resource to coordinate all Local Authority and Community resources.
At this stage these actions are all precautionary and will be implemented as a resilience measure to ensure resources, service protocols and training are in place should they be required, says NHS Western Isles.
 
 

The boss of Loganair, now the UK’s largest regional airline, has said his firm plans to ask for government help to get through the coronavirus pandemic.

After Flybe’s collapse, Loganair is one of only two sizeable British airlines which run mostly domestic routes.

Jonathan Hinkles told the BBC that any airline saying it could survive without government help “would probably be lying”.

Mr Hinkles warned that the connectivity of remote Scottish islands and rural communities across the UK “cannot be maintained without air services”, arguing that government support for his airline is “essential”.

Responding to the concerns raised by Loganair over the future of the airline industry as a consequence of the impacts of coronavirus, and calls for financial support for airlines, Councillor Uisdean Robertson, Chairman of the Comhairle’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said: “Clearly this is a matter of deep concern and we would strongly support the call for assistance to what is a lifeline service for the Islands.

"As well as supporting the businesses, economy and social connectivity of the islands, Loganair services provide vital medical and other supplies. We will be relaying our concerns to Government”.

Loganair is still running a higher proportion of its flights than other airlines because some travel to the most remote parts of the UK is considered essential. The airline is still ferrying people, mail and essential goods, such as pharmaceutical products, out to about 15 island airports.

Nevertheless, the Scottish carrier has had to ground half of its fleet and dramatically slash its flying schedule. This has put its entire operation in jeopardy. “We can’t just shut down”, Mr Hinkles told the BBC. “Morally, we have to fly.”

However, without government intervention, Jonathan Hinkles warned that there would come a time when the airline simply doesn’t have enough income to cover its costs.

Loganair has not yet applied to HM Treasury for emergency support. Chancellor Rishi Sunak has instructed airlines to exhaust all other avenues before they make an official application.

Aside from the immediate problem of keeping the operation going, which Mr Hinkles believes is “in the national interest”, the longer-term problem is how quickly airlines like his can recover from the crisis – whenever travel restrictions are lifted.  He says that predictions within the industry about when airlines will fully recover are bleak.

The industry group Airlines UK and the Airport Operators Association have asked the government to cover air traffic control charges and payments to the Civil Aviation Authority until the end of this year. Mr Hinkles says this amounts to a “significant element” of an airline’s cost base.

Airlines also want a six-month suspension of the Air Passenger Duty, which brings in £3bn every year to the Treasury.

A spokesperson for the Department for Transport said that the aviation sector is “important to the UK economy”.  “We are willing to consider the situation of individual firms, so long as all other government schemes have been explored and all commercial options exhausted, including raising capital from existing investors.”

Helicopter support from the Royal Air Force has been put in place to help with emergency transport and medical evacuations across the Highlands and Islands during the Coronavirus emergency.

Three RAF Puma HC Mk2 craft were deployed to RAF Kinloss on Friday to help provide additional cover to the north of Scotland. The aviation support is in addition to a team of Army medical, logistics, supply and humanitarian relief planners who joined the Scottish Government’s Emergency Co-ordination Centre team in Edinburgh last week.

The RAF Puma can carry up to 16 passengers or up to two tonnes of freight. Their deployment follows last weekend’s use of an RAF A400M transport, working with the Scottish Ambulance Service, to evacuate a critically-ill patient from Shetland to Aberdeen to intensive care.

This activity comes under heading of MACA - Military Aid to the Civilian Authorities – which allows the armed forces to give help and support to authorities like the Police, NHS or local authorities. The government can call on the military to assist at times of need, to share the burden on civil organisations, or to help with urgent work of national importance such as responding to emergencies, maintaining supplies and essential services.

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “The creation of these helicopter hubs is the next step in our Armed Forces’ contribution to tackling the coronavirus outbreak whenever it appears throughout the United Kingdom.

"Our aircraft are ready to support emergency services and local communities wherever needed across the highlands and islands of Scotland – the Armed Forces have always got your back.”

Picture shows staff at RAF Kinloss receiving briefing after the landing of the RAF Puma aircraft on Friday (RAF).

 

A cargo vessel which grounded on rocks, mid-Minch between Lewis and Skye, has brought unexpected business benefits to Lewis and Harris, but it also poses a threat of potential pollution.

The Norwegian-owned general cargo vessel MV Kaami ran aground on rocks known locally as Sgeir Graidach or Eugenie Rocks, in storm winds and high seas in the early hours of last Monday 23 March.

Eight Russian crew members were winched to safety from the pitching deck of the vessel by Stornoway’s Coastguard helicopter, R948, immediately after the initial impact. They were returned to Stornoway, where they were kept in isolation at a town hotel before seven of them returned to Kaliningrad on Friday (27 March).

Although the ship is expected to remain in position for some considerable time, local resources are being called into play to complete survey work and plan cargo salvage ahead of any future retrieval of the vessel herself.

The ship’s chief engineer has remained in Stornoway, from where he is helping a specialist team of salvors from salvage company Resolve Marine Group. A series of air and sea-level surveys have been carried out by the Maritime and Coastguard Authority (MCA) to assess the condition of the vessel and to help put together a salvage plan.

Resolve’s team of seven specialist salvors and other support staff have based their operation in Uig, Skye, but the resources to support the operation are not readily available there.

And the operation has been made more challenging because of movement and proximity restrictions in force during the Coronavirus epidemic.

As a result, businesses in Lewis and Harris, with experience based on the 2016 salvage operation for the grounded drilling platform Transocean Winner, are helping to locate the materials and resources needed and to transport them to the site.

Among those helping out with the operation are Stornoway Shipping Services, Tarbert-based Kilda Cruises and Seatrek of Miavaig, who have provided the dive vessel enabling inspection of the damage to the grounded ship.

The MCA today (Monday 30 March) released an updated bulletin on the progress of the operation.

It said: “A specialist salvage team, supported by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, began removal of fuel and contaminated seawater from the tank on Friday (March 27). The removed fuel and oily waste is to be taken to Uig in Skye for onward disposal.  

“It is believed that around 28 cubic metres of diesel has escaped from the ship. The Scottish Environment Group is aware and has assessed the impact of the pollution as low and nonpersistent.

“Plans are being developed for the safe removal of the vessel’s cargo, including the hire of suitable barges.

“A seabed topography survey was completed at the weekend. The survey results will be used to accurately assess the grounding conditions of MV Kaami and to develop plans for removing the ship from the rocks once the cargo has been discharged.

“A temporary exclusion zone of 500 metres remains in place around MV Kaami to all but those vessels directly involved in supporting the response. The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch is carrying out an investigation remotely with assistance from the salvors. A fixed wing aircraft, provided by the MCA, continues to provide pollution surveillance patrols.”

The 90-metre general cargo vessel has reportedly been damaged in several places, not only by the initial impact onto the rocks, but by additional movement over two days of stormy seas immediately after the incident. An exclusion zone of 500 metres is being patrolled around the ship.

It’s expected to be some weeks before the operation to repair, refloat and tow the ship away can be successfully completed under the supervision of maritime authorities including the UK’s chief authority on salvage and wreck, the Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Intervention and Salvage (SOSRep) Stephan Hennig.

Pictures show the MV Kaami aground on the rocks (MCA) and the Seatrek dive boat Venturer, which has been operating around the casualty vessel

Over 1,000 bottles of essential hand sanitiser have now been delivered across the islands of Lewis and Harris by Tarbert-based Essence of Harris, after the company re-purposed its entire operation to provide emergency supplies to island people.

Business-owner Jamie McGowan put on his thinking cap as soon as the crisis began and saw an urgent need that could be met locally – the need for hand sanitiser to protect front-line workers from the spread of infection.

The company immediately switched equipment, staff and some existing supplies to manufacture alcohol-based gel and rub, both designed to clean hands quickly for busy workers who still need to be in contact with others.

Jamie collaborated with Simon Erlanger at the Isle of Harris Distillery to use their alcohol. He also had support from Graphite Signs, who printed the labels, additional glycerine supplied by Stag Bakeries and extra bottles from the Hebridean Soap Company.

The recipe was one recommended by the World Health Organisation and the result, Spirit of the Hebrides hand sanitiser, was coming off the production line within a week.

It’s been described as ‘truly an island project’ and is already in use by organisations from Western Isles Police and island care homes to the families of vulnerable people living at home.

Jamie said: “In the first week we distributed over 1,000 bottles, including to police, fire crews, coastguards, the hospital and to Post Offices. Some organisations have also had 5 litre, 10 litre and 12.5 litre top-up cannisters delivered and we are hoping to operate a weekly refill service in Stornoway for all the major organisations.

“On Friday and Saturday (27 and 28 March) we individually delivered bottles to more than 100 elderly and vulnerable people throughout the island, and we hope to continue providing that service.

“As we’re prioritising our front-line services and essential workers, we are giving out the sanitiser for free – a gesture we hope can improve the safety and well-being of our wonderful key workers throughout the Hebrides.

“This is not a project for financial gain. It’s something we want to do for the Highlands and Islands, which have supported us with our business for so long. It is so important that we look out for each other and support one another through what can seem like very uncertain times.”

Simon Erlanger, managing director of Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd, said: “The Harris Distillery team is very pleased to support this important local initiative which requires high-strength alcohol as a key ingredient.

“It is vital we all keep working together to protect our community at this critical time, and we hope this donation of our spirit will play a small part in keeping our key workers and wider family safe while we face the challenges which lie ahead.”

The initiative has been warmly welcomed by the general public as a whole, and by na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil, who said: “Both companies are to be commended for this further example of the community working together to enable
everyone to follow the guidelines about hand washing and social distancing. This hand gel will be available to public facing workers whether in shops, care settings or other places where it is needed.”

You can contact Essence of Harris at info@essenceofharris or 01859 502768.

A new ‘Scotland Cares’ campaign has been launched to encourage people to volunteer.

While the most important ask for the public remains to stay at home and follow the essential public health guidance, people who are healthy and not at risk can volunteer to provide practical or emotional help to those most in need.

Those wanting to volunteer to support their communities have three options which are signposted from the Ready Scotland website:

• returning NHS workers will be directed to existing voluntary arrangements in NHS Scotland
• people wishing to offer their support to our public services, including the NHS and local authorities, will be directed to a site co-ordinated by the British Red Cross
• those looking for opportunities with other charities or community groups in their area will be directed to Volunteer Scotland for information

SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan commented: “The weeks and months ahead are going to be difficult, but I have been heartened by the number of people across the islands who are looking to make a difference in their communities.

“While not everyone will be able to volunteer, this new Scottish Government campaign will help people to make a real difference.

“The Scottish Government is working closely with local government and a range of partners to co-ordinate the volunteering effort across Scotland.

“Through the readyscotland.org website, people can be connected to where their contribution is most needed in their community. For some, that may involve roles responding to specific needs in health and social care. For others, it may be that we draw on their skills, enthusiasm and energy in the weeks and months to come.

“It is important to remember that the most helpful thing many of us can continue to do to help the NHS is to stay at home and follow all COVID-19 guidance.”

Support Helpline

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has established a dedicated service to collect details of individuals throughout the Western Isles who are looking for support during Covid-19.

Those seeking help are being asked to complete the Request for Support Form to provide their contact details and the type of support they require. For those who cannot access online services please call the Council on 01851 600 501

Enquiries can also be channeled to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Comhairle will gather the information about who needs support and work alongside community groups to both coordinate and provide local support across the Western Isles. 

 

Customers of Veggie Box are being warned to get their orders in today (Monday March 30) because of changes with deliveries on the mainland, ferry times and the like.
They are telling customers this morning: "I think the vast majority of our orders for last week went through OK but we did have a few hiccups along the way and I just want to apologise to anyone affected by this.
"We were caught out by the demand and the systems that we have in place to deal with our regular customers were somewhat overwhelmed and as a consequence we did struggle, we have had a think about this and have looked to change a couple of things to try and make sure the same things don't happen again.
"The main change is that our supplier has asked for our orders to be in with him by Monday afternoons each week.
"I appreciate this is short notice for yourselves but we only just found out. Consequently we will deliver and have pick-ups ready, probably on a Thursday but we will confirm this nearer the time.
"If we can ask that all orders are received by either email, text or telephone, we will the reply to you with a 4 digit order reference such as A001, if you have placed an order and haven't received the reference number within a day, then please do get back in touch."

Police Scotland has thanked members of the public and businesses for complying with a new law designed to slow the spread of coronavirus.
Officers were given the power on Friday 27 March, to fine people who refuse to stay at home and only go outside if they have a ‘reasonable excuse.'
Police Scotland is still compiling data from the weekend, but initial indications show that officers had to issue penalty notices on only 25 occasions across the country.
Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: “We’ve had high visibility patrols in place right across the country since we were given these enforcement powers.
“But it’s clear that the vast majority of people are complying with the measures. They know the message is to stay at home, and by and large, they’re doing that.
“Where our officers have encountered people outside, they’ve been able to engage with them or educate them on why it’s so important to follow the guidance from our public health experts in order to save lives and protect the NHS.
“There will always be people who refuse to comply, but the low number of penalty notices shows they are in the minority and in those cases we’ve had to use enforcement as a last resort. This is a big change to the way people live their lives and they need to adjust to that.
"There were issues with people driving to some outdoor spaces such as parks and we will address this, working with our partners in local authorities where appropriate.
“We have been given extraordinary powers in an extraordinary situation, powers we would not normally wish to have, but I’d like to thank the public for helping and supporting us. We police with the consent of the communities we serve, so a positive relationship with those communities is of huge importance to us.”
To enforce social distancing, people in Scotland are being asked to stay at home and only go outside if they have a ‘reasonable excuse’. These include shopping for necessary food, household and medical supplies, travelling to and from work where working from home is not an option, and daily exercise that adheres to social distancing guidance.
Police Scotland can issue penalty notices of £30, rising to £60 if not paid within 28 days, where they have reason to believe there has been an offence under the regulations. These penalties are doubled for each repeat offence up to a £960 cap, with no reduction for early payment. Due to the exceptional nature of these powers, the regulations will be reviewed at least every 21 days to ensure they are still necessary.

Staff from the NHS within Stornoway have been put in front of the camera to drum home key messages on staying safe during the Coronavirus pandemic.

New pictures released on social media show staff in the kitchens and on one of the wards at Western Isles Hospital, and at Stornoway’s Group Practice at Springfield Road health centre, carrying the important messages we all need to remember.

The key health messages remind people to keep self-isolated, wash hands regularly and keeping to the social distancing two metre rule between individuals.

Gordon Jamieson, NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, said: "We understand that this is a difficult time, but every person has a role to play and we need to remind everyone that our islands need to buy as much time as they possibly can in the fight
against Coronavirus."

For further information, please click here.

Castlebay and Vatersay Community Council have been asked to report to the Scottish Government about the measures taken in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

Anyone with concerns about the government's current approach or those who have suggestions are asked to fill in the form, which can be found here.

The Community Council have said: "We have been asked to feedback every day before 6pm so please keep coming back to this form of you have any concerns, as if there no response it is assumed there is no new relevant information concerning a priority issue in the islands."

Priority issues to give feedback on are:

  • Community resilience
  • Agriculture/crofting and payments
  • Business support
  • Health
  • Benefits and SSP
  • Tourism
  • Education

 

With face-to-face life dwindling daily, islanders have been quick to turn technology to social advantage.
Live-streaming, Skype and other applications became the marketplace for concerts, classes and social interaction within just a few days as impacts from Coronavirus began to make themselves felt.
Leading the change to tech was Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes of South Uist, who reacted to the increasing number of cancellations in her summer diary by suggesting online singing lessons.
Her example was followed by Carloway’s Norrie Tago Maciver, lead singer of the popular band Skipinnish, who is now delivering four online Gaelic classes a week and also performing live online, taking requests via his Facebook page.


He’s not the only singer to stream live to music-deprived fans – Lewis boys Willie Campbell and Charlie Clark, also known as the band Astrid, were on air for a living room performance which netted £1,055 in online donations for Eilean Siar Foodbank.
Meanwhile Lewis musician Paul Martin was not only offering piano and guitar lessons online, but making the technology work for a #CovidCeilidh on YouTube, where friends Jane Hepburn Macmillan and Stephen Drummond were among those to join him for a tune. They may have been in their own homes, but the music is in perfect harmony.
Some of the first casualties as the cancellation of activities started to mount were exercise classes, but once again those who conduct them were quick to re-group and find a new way to keep in touch with their customers.
Hebrides Dance and Wellbeing’s Kirstie Anderson has taken her classes online, and despite being unfamiliar with the technology she’s now running a full week of sessions, from gentle yoga to full-on Zumba, some live and some pre-recorded.


Kirstie said: “Live ones are great for getting some much-needed human interaction, pre-recorded means you can set your own schedule. I know some of you are keen to try something new during this time, so I've included bits of beginners that will help
you learn and manage the full classes. And I'll hopefully team up with some others to bring you some different faces and keep it fresh!”
Pictures show Norrie Maciver adjusting the picture before a performance, musicians Jane Hepburn Macmillan (with daughter Florence on percussion), Paul Martin, Stephen Drummond and Abigail Pryde during the #CovidCeilidh and Kirstie Anderson getting camera ready for an exercise class.

A campaign to help businesses in the north tackle financial fears during the coronavirus outbreak has been launched.

Highlands and Islands Labour MSP, David Stewart, contacted fellow north MSP, Kate Forbes, Scotland’s new Cabinet Secretary for Finance, asking her to suggest to banks to alter their charges for commercial borrowers during the time of the outbreak. 

Mr Stewart has asked the Cabinet Secretary to ask Scottish banks to charge their commercial borrowers the Bank of England rate of 0.1% for a period of 3-6 months.

David Stewart said: “I have received representation from commercial outlets who are seeking help to weather the unprecedented financial storm of the coronavirus outbreak.

“What I am being told is that they want to see Scottish banks charge their commercial borrowers the Bank of England rate of 0.1% for 3 months initially then month to month as the government sees fit. This would take a huge strain off businesses and yes, the banks would lose out on their profit margin for the period but it would help an untold amount of hotels, restaurants and other businesses survive this crisis.”

The call has come from the Chair of Inverness Caledonian Thistle Football Club, Ross Morrison, who said: “At the moment the banks are offering to defer capital payments on commercial loans. This is all well and good and helpful but what does this cost the banks? Very little. The banks will still charge the lenders the rates over base rate as this margin is where their profit lies.

“With this current situation set to continue to deepen this measure would help businesses survive the crisis and there would be a lot less liquidations at the end of this outbreak.”

David Stewart continued: “This makes good commercial sense to me and I have contacted the Finance Secretary to seek her backing for this. This could be absolutely critical in keeping businesses alive and could make the difference between survival and failure for businesses throughout the Highlands and Islands, and indeed the whole of Scotland.

“The state bailed the banks out when they needed it. We are all in this together and it’s only fair now that the banks should return that favour to ensure the viability of hundreds of businesses in the north and tens of thousands in the rest of Scotland.”

With island organisations still trying to keep up with fast-changing lockdown regulations, some organisations and customers have taken time out to thank employees for their continuing dedication.

Among those putting their appreciation into the public domain was Donald McIntosh, manager of Blar Buidhe care home in Stornoway, who said: “I just wanted to take a moment to thank all of my staff here at The Blar. Despite the current climate and uncertainty, you have shown up every day to provide care and support for our most vulnerable. 

“You are all here, doing everything to put on a happy face and maintain some sense of normality. We are nursing and caring in an ever-changing environment and I know you are all 100% committed to doing your very best for our residents, their friends and loved ones.  On behalf of your residents and their families, thank you!”

Staff at Charlie Barley’s butchers on Ropework Street were sent home with a bundle of goodies on Saturday by manager Rona Macdonald and her staff were quick to show their appreciation.

They posted on social media: “Wow what a week!  All the gang here want to say a massive Thank you to Rona MacDonald! She’s been everything we have needed and more from an employer these past few weeks. She has supported us, kept us informed, most of all done her very best to keep us safe during these strange times and also found time to made us all weekend care packages! (pictured).”

And supermarkets are coming in for their share of plaudits, too, with many Tesco’s customers appreciating the distancing, sanitising and queueing systems in place in the Stornoway store, as well as dedicated time set aside for NHS and care staff and for vulnerable customers.

One customer said: “Although I had to queue for an hour, once inside it was the most relaxed atmosphere. A huge well done to all the staff for keeping it so well-organised. I do not envy a single one of you. Well done.”

Picture shows the staff ‘care package’ distributed by Charlie Barleys to their employees.

 

Virtual isolation across the Western Isles comes into force from midnight tonight (Sunday 29 March) as island airports move to a new emergency service.

As of tomorrow (Monday) Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd has agreed a skeleton schedule with Transport Scotland and Loganair to provide lifeline, emergency and essential services.  

A HIAL spokesman said: “This will ensure that vital flights, including NHS passenger transfer, the Royal Mail, oil and gas, and any required emergency flights can be accommodated.”

From tomorrow opening hours at Stornoway Airport to accommodate the skeleton schedule will be from 7am to 8.05am six days a week, from 3.15pm to 4.30pm Monday to Friday and at variable times across lunchtime Monday to Saturday, with a Saturday opening for just 45 minutes between 2.45pm and 3.30pm and a single hour’s opening on Sunday from 2.15pm. Full details are here https://www.hial.co.uk/stornoway-airport/airport-information/

Barra airport is to open for just 75 minutes a day to support a skeleton lifeline service (see https://www.hial.co.uk/barra-airport/airport-information/ for full details).

Benbecula will have a 30-minute morning opening from 8am, six days a week, and a limited but varying timetable through the rest of the day (https://www.hial.co.uk/benbecula-airport/airport-information/).

The HIAL spokesman said: “We also have contingency arrangements in place to accommodate emergency flights outwith these times. We do not know how long these essential measures will remain in place but will update the website with any further changes to opening times.”

Meanwhile CalMac’s emergency timetable has already begun, coming effect on Friday (27 March) instead of the normal summer timetable due to be introduced as the clocks went forward this weekend.

There’s now a single, daily service between Stornoway and Ullapool and a three-day-a-week service between Castlebay and Oban. The service between Tarbert and Uig and between Lochmaddy and Uig has also been greatly reduced.

Introducing the revised timetable last week, a CalMac spokesman said: “The new reduced timetable, which will run for an initial three-week period, comes amidst a lockdown on all but essential travel across the whole of the UK. It will be subject to continual review in a rapidly changing environment, but we believe it is sustainable with current crews.

“All islands will receive a regular lifeline service ensuring essential goods and services are delivered. In the last few days passengers on the entire service were down by 85%, cars by 75% and commercial traffic by 45%. CalMac has also seen 8,000 bookings cancelled, compared to just 300 in the same period last year.”

Other islands around the UK are implementing a ‘closed borders’ policy. The Isle of Man stopped incoming passengers by boat and plane on Thursday last week and the Channel Islands of Sark and Herm have also stopped passenger sailings. Condor ferries to Guernsey and Northlink ferries to Orkney and Shetland are also operating freight-only services.

Salvors are continuing to bring personnel and resources to the grounded cargo vessel MV Kaami, which remains high and dry on rocks between the Isles of Skye and Lewis.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency are supporting a specialist salvage team of seven people, who began work on the vessel on Wednesday (March 25).

Today (Sunday March 29) there has been activity around the vessel including from the dive vessel Venture, operating between Tarbert, Scalpay and Uig in Skye. The tug Multratug 3 is now on guard duty maintaining an exclusion zone of 500 metres around the vessel, and Coatsguard emergency towing vessel (ETV) Ievoli Black is in port in Stornoway ready to take over duties when required.

A detailed damage assessment established that around 28 cubic metres of diesel had escaped from the ship by Friday. The Scottish Environmental Group is aware of this and have assessed the impact of the pollution as low and non-persistent.

The Maritime Accident Investigation Branch is carrying out an investigation remotely with assistance from the salvors. A fixed-wing aircraft, provided by the MCA, has been making flights over the vessel to make observations.

Secretary of State’s Representative Maritime Salvage and Intervention (SOSREP) Stephan Hennig has set up a Salvage Control Unit (SCU) which last met on Friday.

A salvage plan is expected to be submitted by the salvors to the SOSREP for review and approval. Measures are being put in place to deal with any pollution from the ship.

Drift modelling for any potential release of cargo from the ship is being carried out to assess extent and impact on the marine environment and the shoreline, though the cargo, which is described as non-hazardous and biodegradable, is currently safely in the hold. 

 The picture shows MV Kaami aground on the rocks south-east of Lewis (Maritime and Coastguard Agency).

Leis an t-suidheachadh a thaobh Covid-19, tha Comhairle nan Eilean Siar air goireasan a chur ri chèile dha pàrantan - gu h-àraid pàrantan aig nach eil Gàidhlig - airson taic a thoirt seachad a thaobh ionnsachadh na Gàidhlig.  Seo liosta de ghoireasan a dh’fhaodadh a bhith feumail:

Gaelic Resources for Nursery and Primary School Children

Given the current Covid-19 crisis, the Comhairle has put together some useful links to provide parents - particularly those who do not speak Gaelic themselves - with Gaelic learning and support materials. Here are some useful links to online resources:

Acair

Am Faclair Beag

BBC Alba Foghlam

E-sgoil

Fios air Fuaimean

Gàidhlig gu leòrg

Gaelic4Parents

Gaelic4Parents Storyworlds Series One

Go! Gaelic

Go! Gaelic Games

Lasadh

Learn Gaelic

Leugh & Seinn le Linda (0-5 bliadhna)

Òrain na Cloinne Bige

Òrain na Cloinne Bige 2

Stòrlann

Speech Therapy and Gaelic

Scottish Book Trust – Gaelic Bookbug

Stòr-dàta

Twinkl

 

The charity Marie Curie is geared up to care for hundreds of additional patients requiring end of life care, in order to relieve the unprecedented pressure on the NHS during the Coronavirus crisis.

Marie Curie in Scotland needs to raise over £250,000 a week to continue to run its essential frontline services, at a time when its ability to generate this money has been seriously compromised.

Given the choice, people overwhelmingly say they would prefer to die in their own home, or in a hospice, rather than a hospital. People who are dying are able to leave hospital quickly, if the right package of care is in place and it is safe to do so. Marie Curie are experts in providing that care.

Now more than ever, dying people who do not want to be in hospital need to be moved to a more appropriate setting, as precious beds in critical care units are urgently required for patients who need lifesaving treatment for Coronavirus.

Marie Curie can help, but only if it continues to raise the donations it needs to fund its vital work.

Debbie Mooney, Marie Curie's Head of Community Fundraising in Scotland,  said, “This is a stark warning that Marie Curie desperately needs more donations if it is to continue caring for dying people and help the NHS cope with the Coronavirus crisis. 

“The people of Scotland are known for our generosity and kindness, which we’ve seen in abundance over the last few difficult weeks. We need the public to rally around our hospices and nurses now and give whatever they can. It has never been more critical.”

Marie Curie’s Chief Executive Matthew Reed said: “At this time of national emergency, Marie Curie Nurses and frontline staff are needed more than ever as the NHS is put under ever greater strain. We’re ready and geared up to help, with hospice beds and nurses on standby.     

“Sadly, some people’s lives will be shortened by Coronavirus, so the need for end of life care will be greater. Marie Curie can meet this need, and in doing so will help free up intensive care beds needed for Coronavirus patients. 

“But just as we want to help, our income has been decimated.  We need donations urgently to keep our Nurses and Hospice staff on the frontline.

“Unlike other healthcare providers, Marie Curie is reliant on donations from the public to survive. Every week the charity needs to raise £2.5million to care for the tens of thousands of people who require nursing and hospice care.  

"At the moment, our ability to fundraise is seriously compromised. Events are being cancelled, and we’ve had to close our Shops.  That is why we have launched an emergency appeal to make up the shortfall, and ensure the charity can care for more dying patients, support the NHS and ultimately save lives in the weeks and months ahead.”

Matthew added: “We are all in this crisis together and already we are seeing how the public in this country is rising to support each other and the most vulnerable.  Please donate now.” 

  • Text NURSE to 70633 to help us reach the families who need us. Texts cost £5 plus 1 standard rate message. 98% is received by Marie Curie. To unsub text OUT to 78866. Thank you.

If you, or someone you know, is affected by a terminal illness and concerned about Coronavirus, our Support Line team are ready to help with the information you need when you need it. Call free 0800 090 2309*. You can also find more information on our website: mariecurie.org.uk/coronavirus  

 

It has been decided, with very heavy hearts, to cancel this year's Lochs Show, says the local organising committee.

"We hope everyone will understand that we can't take any chances with the health and wellbeing of everyone in our community.

"Take care and look after each other - Stay Home."

From all on the Lochs Show Committee

This is part of the monthly series of articles looking at the work of the Linda Norgrove Foundation in Afghanistan which is published in EVENTS newspaper.  We include it here as part of our international coverage of the Covid-19 crisis…this article is contributed by Lorna Norgrove.

It’s an inescapable fact of life that, whatever your situation, there will always be someone doing better than you and many doing worse.

As I write this, we’re ‘locked down’ in our house in Uig. We remain within the spirit of the new rules although not exactly following the detail as, unlikely to be within two metres of another when we go outside, we can roam the cliffs and moors at will. City dwellers are more constrained. We have a health service which is struggling but will probably cope imperfectly. Food is available.

In Afghanistan things are not the same. Many Afghans work or have refugee status in Iran which has experienced 0ne of the most extensive outbreaks of Covid-19 yet. Every day now, thousands of returnees are pouring across the common border with Afghanistan and a severe outbreak can’t be avoided.

There’s no NHS. Hospitals are small and only in the main cities, which isn’t where most Afghans live. We have 28 doctors per 10,000 people; they have 2.7. Nurses are rarer than hen’s teeth and so are respirators.

It seems certain that many more will die than in UK. It’s crass to think that this is acceptable because it’s the ‘third world’. The death of a parent or grandparent is a very similar experience to us all and isn’t dependent upon our wealth or nationality. Family bonds are closer there than in UK.

We know that it isn’t unusual that some of our students regularly go hungry because they can’t afford basic food necessities – many exist with a food budget significantly less than £1 a day. We have some shortages but, so far, very few are suffering in the same way as those in Afghanistan where shortages have led to food prices rising rapidly, around 30% in the last month.

So LNF Trustees have agreed that we will help our students over the next few months with their dayt-o-day living expenses. The details have to ironed out but will probably take the form of a crude cash grant of maybe $100 to see them over the worst of the crisis and we are confident that, in current circumstances, it will ease the burden of poverty for many families.

That’s what LNF was set up for and it’s great that we have the funds available to be able to act without delay.

Many will think that charity should be directed close to home and we have no problem with this because it’s up to each individual to make their own judgement.

But we do hope that the tremendous response we’ve received from donors in the past doesn’t drop off now, when help for those in need becomes ever more desperate.

To read more about LNF see our website: www.lindanorgrovefoundation.org

 

Creative Scotland has launched three funding programmes designed to provide further support to sustain the country’s creative community during the COVID-19 outbreak:

Government support

The Creative Scotland and Screen Scotland Bridging Bursaries will aim to support those most in need at this time, particularly those who are least likely to benefit from the recently announced Job Retention Scheme and Self Employment Income Support scheme.

We advise everyone to check the most up-to-date information and advice from the UK Government on their support programmes for the self-employed and freelancers before making a request to this programme.

The three new funds

The Creative Scotland Bridging Bursary Fund will provide financial support for individual creative practitioners and/or freelancers who are most deeply impacted and disadvantaged by the cancellation of work due to the COVID-19 emergency to sustain their creative practice in Scotland.

The £2 million fund will offer one-off bursary payments of between £500 and £2,500 to help support the immediate needs. Applications to the fund will open on Monday 30 March, 2020.

A £1.5million Screen Scotland Bridging Bursary programme will provide one-off bursaries of £500 to £2,500 to freelance PAYE and self-employed screen sector workers who are experiencing immediate financial difficulty due to loss of income as a result of the Covid-19. Applications will be open on Monday 30 March 2020.

The Open Funding: Sustaining Creative Development (a revised approach to the organisation’s Open Project Fund) will support creative practitioners to continue to develop work. Applicants will be encouraged to use funding to explore how best to sustain their practice, and reimagine their work, during the current climate and in the months to come. Funds may also be used for the development and presentation of work. The £7.5m fund will support up to 12 months of activity with a maximum award of £50,000. Applications to the fund will open on Friday 3 April, 2020.

Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop said:“The impact of coronavirus is being felt everywhere. But the closure of cinemas, theatres, music venues and the many other places, combined with the high numbers of freelance and self-employed workers in the sector means the effects are particularly acute. It is vital we act now to help those whose income streams have been reduced to zero without warning. This new Bridging Bursaries Fund will support those workers through this unprecedented time.

“To help protect jobs, prevent business closures and promote economic recovery the Scottish Government has announced a £2.2 billion package of support for businesses including a year of non-domestic rates relief and one-off grants. The recent announcement from the UK Government on support for those who are self-employed is welcome, and is particularly crucial to this sector, but June is simply too late and we will continue to press for more immediate support.

“Along with Creative Scotland and Screen Scotland, we continue to work urgently to use existing and new funds to support the sector, including the £20 million Third Sector Resilience Fund for Scotland-based charities, social enterprises or voluntary organisation, or organisations delivering community services and activities. The National Performing Companies are making various arrangements to safeguard their staff, artists and creative personnel during the current pandemic.

“I would encourage everyone to keep up to date with the latest information and support on the Creative Scotland, Scottish Enterprise and Scottish Government websites. Scotland’s Culture Strategy makes it clear that the arts and creativity are essential to our wellbeing, and we are working to support activity that will help the people of Scotland through these difficult times.”

Iain Munro, Chief Executive, Creative Scotland said: "These are extremely challenging times that have brought serious personal and professional impacts to artists, creative practitioners and organisations and the work they do with communities across Scotland.

"At Creative Scotland our focus is to keep funding flowing. These funds direct our resources to those in need of immediate support and help to safeguard and sustain the sector and its work at this time.

"When we all emerge from this crisis, it will undoubtedly be to a changed world, but one I hope where culture and creativity remain at the heart of the life of the nation."

EMPLOYMENT LAW BLOG: Understanding latest Covid-19 Employment Measures

BACKGROUND

On 17 March 2020, Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, announced a package of £330bn in loan guarantees and a £20bn fiscal intervention including further business rate relief for companies to support businesses affected by the novel coronavirus COVID-19.

These measures, which are unprecedented in scale, includes, for example:

  • the new temporary Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (“CBILS”) for small and medium-sized businesses;
  • a Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme;
  • deferring VAT and Income Tax payments;
  • a Statutory Sick Pay relief package for SMEs;
  • 100% rates relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses in Scotland;
  • small business grant funding of £10,000 for all business in receipt of small business rate relief or rural rate relief;
  • grant funding of £25,000 for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with property with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000;
  • the HMRC Time To Pay Scheme.

The following is to provide guidance if you are not aware of the above schemes or are not sure how to access them.

IF YOU ARE A BUSINESS:

Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS)

https://www.british-business-bank.co.uk/ourpartners/coronavirus-business-interruption-loan-scheme-cbils/for-businesses-and-advisors/

The CBILS will initially support up to £1.2bn of lending by associated lenders, including Lloyds Bank, HSBC, Barclays, Santander, etc. A list of the lenders associated with the CBILS is found here:

www.british-business-bank.co.uk/stay-ahead/#partners

It will replace the existing Enterprise Finance Guarantee (”EFG”) to facilitate the provision of business finance to smaller businesses affected by COVID-19. It will do this by, for example:

  1. providing a participating lender with a government-backed 80% guarantee against outstanding facility balances of between £1,000 and £5m (the original announcement suggested a maximum value of £1.2m); and
  2. covering the first 12 months of interest payments on CBILS-backed loans (the original announcement suggested a maximum interest free term of 6 months).

CBILS supports a wide range of business finance facilities, including:

  • Term loans
  • Overdrafts
  • Asset finance
  • Invoice finance

As stated above, it provides businesses with a loan that is 80% guaranteed by the government.  As with any loan the long-term liability remains 100% with the borrower.   To access this finance go to the partners directly via link above.

Statutory Sick Pay Relief

HM Government intends to bring forward legislation to allow SMEs and employers to reclaim Statutory Sick Pay paid for absences related to COVID-19, whether actual sickness absence or absence related to self-isolating in accordance with HM Government’s guidance.

The Statutory Sick Pay refund will cover up to 2 weeks’ Statutory Sick Pay per eligible employee who has been off work because of COVID-19. The framework for the scheme will be as follows:

  1. employers will be able to reclaim expenditure for any employee who has claimed Statutory Sick Pay under the new eligibility criteria as a result of COVID-19;
  2. employers will be required to maintain records of staff absences and payments of Statutory Sick Pay, but employees will not need to provide a GP fit note; and
  3. the eligible period for the scheme will commence the day after the regulations on the extension of Statutory Sick Pay to those staying at home comes into force

Please note that the relief applies to Statutory Sick Pay only and not to contractual sick pay. Accordingly, some companies may therefore be liable for the full contractual Statutory Sick Pay without being able to access the relief prior to the employee moving onto Statutory Sick Pay when the relief would be expected to be available.

Only employers with fewer than 250 employees will be eligible. The size of an employer will be determined by the number of people they employed as of 28 February 2020

Tax breaks - deferring VAT & Income Tax Payments

The VAT deferral applies to the next quarter of VAT payments due from 20 March to 30 June 2020.  It applies to ALL businesses across the UK and will occur automatically.  Businesses will have until 5 April 2021 to pay the deferred VAT. 

You do not need to inform HMRC if you wish to defer payment. You can opt in to the deferral simply by not making VAT payments due in this period. If you pay by Direct Debit you should cancel this with your bank. You should do so in sufficient time so that HMRC does not attempt to automatically collect on receipt of their VAT return.

Should you wish, you can continue to make payments as normal during the deferral period. HMRC will also continue to pay repayment claims as normal. You must continue to submit VAT returns as normal.

Similarly, any income tax self-assessment due to be paid by 31 July 2020 has been deferred until 31 January 2021. This is also automatic.  It is likely that if your main source of income is already taxed through employment and other smaller sources of income are declared then you may have already paid your tax bill in January.  In which case this will not affect you.  

In both cases no interest or penalties will be applied.  

 Business Rates Relief

In Scotland, there will be a 100% rates relief offered for retail, hospitality and leisure industries. 

All other non-domestic properties will get a 1.6% rates relief. This relief effectively reverses the change in poundage for 2020-21.  You do not need to apply for this relief and it will be applied to your bill by your local council.  These reliefs will apply from 1 April 2020 until 31 March 2021.

Small Business Grant Funding of £10,000

In Scotland, a one-off grant of £10,000 will also be available to small businesses who currently also get Small Business Bonus Scheme Relief or Rural Relief.  This is to be applied for through the council – at time of writing the process for dealing with these applications across local authorities across Scotland was still being implemented.

Retail, hospitality and leisure grant funding of £25,000

In Scotland, retail, hospitality and leisure businesses with a rateable value between £18,000 and up to and including £51,000 will be able to apply for a one-off grant of £25,000.  The funding will not be accessible, however, until April 2020. 

You can only apply for one grant even if you own multiple properties.

HMRC Time to Pay Scheme

A scale up of HMRC’s existing scheme, this scheme allows businesses and those that are self-employed to defer tax payments.

If you are self-employed and concerned about paying your tax due to coronavirus then you can apply for a ‘Time to Pay Arrangement’.  It is not automatic, it requires you to contact HMS and agree a pre-arranged time period to pay what you already owe.  HMRC have promised to waive late payment penalties and interest where a business experiences administrative difficulty contacting HMRC or paying taxes due to coronavirus.   Call the HMRC’s dedicated helpline: 0800 0159 559 to arrange payment period.

Other loan facilities

RBS (now NatWest Group) are allowing their business customers not to pay back the capital on loans for the next three months.  This means any RBS business customer will only be required to pay the interest during this time.

IF YOU ARE AN EMPLOYER:

Further to the business measures mentioned above, a crucial addition to the proposals announced was the provision of funding towards employee’s wages.  Details of this scheme and how you access it are below:

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

The introduction of a new Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (furlough leave) was announced by the government on 20 March 2020.

Under the scheme, all UK employers, regardless of size or sector, can claim a grant from HMRC to cover 80% of the wages costs of employees who are not working but kept on the payroll ("furloughed"), of up to £2,500 a calendar month for each employee. Employers can choose to top up the remaining 20% if they wish/can.

The scheme will be backdated to 1 March 2020, be open for at least three months and will be extended if necessary. HMRC are urgently working to set up the new system of reimbursement, but the government hopes that the first grants should be before the end of April at the latest.

Who is eligible?

The scheme applies to all employees on PAYE, including those on zero-hours contracts.  By definition this includes those also technically classified as ‘workers’ on payroll. 

It applies regardless of the size of the business they work for and it also includes charities and non-profit organisations.

It is intended to apply only to employers who cannot cover staff costs due to Covid-19.  The option is also there for employers to make up the remaining 20% so that the employees are still earning the same as they were prior to pandemic.  It is not clear currently whether HMRC will require evidence that the employer cannot meet staff costs.

How to ‘Furlough’ your employees

To furlough an employee means that you are in essence changing their status from employee to furloughed worker.  This means that employment rules apply and there are procedures which need to be followed in order to do this correctly.  To legally furlough workers employers will need to:

  • Decide which employees to designate as furloughed employees.
  • Notify those employees of the intended change. 
  • Consider whether you need to consult with employee representatives or trade unions. For example, where the employer intends to vary the contracts of 20 or more employees, and it intends to dismiss employees who do not consent to the change in their terms, for the purposes of section 188of TULRCA, those employees will be classed as dismissed by reason of redundancy.
  • The employer will therefore have a duty to inform and consult appropriate employee representatives and to notify the Secretary of State for Business Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) if the process affects more than 20 employees – this is done using a Form HR1 available here https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/redundancy-payments-form-hr1-advance-notification-of-redundancies.
  • Agree the change with the furloughed employees - if the employees do not agree to be furloughed then employers can dismiss by reason of redundancy if the redundancy definitions are met and the proper process is followed.
  • Confirm the employee’s new status in writing – employers may wish to put employees on furlough leave for an initial period subject to review, as it is difficult in the current climate to put a timeframe on required leave.
  • Finally, the information regarding agreed furlough of employees and their earnings should then be submitted to HMRC through their new online portal.

IF YOU ARE AN EMPLOYEE:

Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme

As above, your employer maybe in a position to put you onto ‘furloughed leave’ for a number of weeks rather than make you redundant/lay you off.

Alternatives to Redundancy

By law your employer should offer you alternatives to redundancy before furthering a redundancy process.  The risk that is run by not offering alternative employment is that if the employee is made redundant they may have grounds to claim that this redundancy amounted to an unfair dismissal. 

Alternatives which may be offered include:

  • Unpaid leave (which is now covered by the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme);
  • Notice to take paid holiday – whilst this doesn’t save employers money in the short term it ensures they have a full work force when the business reopens;
  • Reduced hours - Employees' working hours are usually viewed as a condition of the employment arrangements which can only be changed with an employee's agreement. However, if the business still has some work to do and the alternative is redundancy it is worth considering this option in the short term. 
  • Salary Sacrifices – again has to be by agreement but if offered is something to consider.

Whilst none of these options are ideal, they are worth considering if the short-term loss potentially means long term gain e.g. you have a job when we come out of the other side of this.

Statutory Sick Pay

You are now entitled to SSP from day 1.  It will also be applied retrospectively from March 13th however the legislation to authorise this has yet to be passed.  It includes time off for self-isolation.

IF YOU ARE SELF-EMPLOYED

As of 26 March 2020 further amendments were made to the emergency Coronavirus business measures to help make provisions for self-employed across the UK.

The Self-Employed Income Support Scheme announced by Chancellor Rishi Sunak, offers support to self-employed people who have been adversely affected by the Coronavirus.  It is a taxable grant worth 80% of your average monthly profits over the last three years, up to a limit of £2,500 per month.  The scheme is open to anyone with income based on profits up to £50,000 per annum as per the last tax year where the majority of their earnings comes from being self-employed. 

If you became self-employed since 31st January 2019 you will not be eligible for this scheme. 

The scheme requires tax filings for the tax year 2018/19 as submitted at the end of January 2019.  Your monthly grant income will then be based on an average of your profits recorded in that last tax assessment.

If you are eligible HMRC will contact you directly.

The scheme is proposed to run for at least three months and will be reviewed after this time.  It has been suggested however that self-employed people eligible for this scheme may not receive any money until the end of June.

If the following apply you may wish to consider if you are eligible for Universal Credit: 

  • You’re on a low income or out of work
  • You’re 18 or over (with some exceptions for 16 and 17 year olds – please check gov.uk website for details)
  • You’re under State Pension age (or your partner is)
  • You and your partner have £16,000 or less of savings between you
  • You live in the UK

If you live with your partner then their income and savings are considered even if they are not eligible for Universal Credit.

If you are concerned about your finances between now and then please also consider some of the options in the ‘If you are worried about your finances in general’ section.

IF YOU ARE WORRIED ABOUT YOUR FINANCES IN GENERAL

Some ways to make your money go further in the coming months if you have been affected by any of the above.

Take a mortgage holiday – three-month payment holidays are now available if you are concerned about cash flow in the coming month or months.  Contact your lender ASAP to get this arranged.  It will at least buy you some time.

Take a rent holiday – as with mortgages landlords are being asked to allow their tenants a three-month rent holiday if they are struggling due to the Covid-19 outbreak.  This may be added on to your lease at the end but it allows you a window of time to get to grips with the financial burdens you may now be facing.  Landlords will NOT be able to evict tenants during this period.

Take a loan payment holiday – many banks are offering a break on loan payments.  It is lender dependent but if you have a bank loan contact your lender immediately to discuss this option.

Credit Cards Repayment holiday – different credit card companies are offering different things so contact yours directly or look at their websites.  Many are also offering repayment holidays

Overdraft Facilities – almost all providers had or are moving to 40% APR. This is unlikely to change.  IF you are in the position of having an overdraft you need to seriously consider all of the above options in order to try and get out of it.  Banks may on an individual basis decide to offer a ‘buffer’ but it is unlikely to be significant. 

Written by Victoria Silver
 
Victoria will shortly qualify as a trainee solicitor. She works (now from home in Stornoway) for Rooney Nimmo - an Edinburgh based law firm who offer corporate and employment services.  If you are a company looking to for advice on significant restructuring they offer a comprehensive service and will be happy to advise.

d law firm who offer corporate and employment services.  If you are a company looking to for advice on significant restructuring they offer a comprehensive service and will be happy to advise.  

 

 

Self-catering accommodation will now be eligible for the Covid-19 Grant Funding Scheme launched earlier this week provided that the property is their primary source of earnings was let for 140 days or more in the last financial year.

SNP MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan welcomed the announcement yesterday (March 27) of grant support for the self-catering industry.

The islands MSP had written to Finance Secretary Kate Forbes regarding the exclusion of the sector from the Covid-19 Grant Funding Scheme launched earlier this week.

Alasdair Allan commented: “The non-domestic rates system is being used to distribute money to businesses as quickly and efficiently as possible. However, the problem with helping self catering businesses until now has been that ‘self-catering’ as a category also includes empty, second homes that may not be actively trading or working. There is a balance to be struck and we need to ensure that support goes to those businesses who need it the most.

“Over the last week, I have been contacted by many self-catering businesses in the islands who are facing perilous financial situations as a result of the blanket cancellations brought on by the coronavirus outbreak.

“I welcome today’s announcement from the Scottish Government and I hope this will help support many of the self-catering businesses we have in the islands over what will be an extremely difficult and challenging time for us all. I do not want to pretend it will compensate all businesses for all losses, but I believe it is a very useful step forward.”

 

 

The £30 limit for individual payments on contactless cards will rise to £45 from next Wednesday, April 1 2020, UK Finance has announced.

Isles MP Angus MacNeil said: "This is a change worth highlighting. I had a constituent come to me this week advocating that such a change should happen. It is good news that this will be happening, particularly in these times as contactless payment is preferable. It has come at an opportune moment and will hopefully help lessen virus vectors."

The spending limit is being raised following consultation between the retail sector and the finance and payments industry and follows similar increases in several other European countries.

Under current rules, contactless cards can only be used for payments up to £30; consumers need to use pin entry or contactless payment options available on smartphones for higher totals, such as Apple Pay and Google Pay.

While the contactless card changes were already under consideration by the industry, the process has been expedited as part of the industry’s response to the Covid-19 outbreak, with many retailers requiring the sole use of contactless payment in order to minimise the risk of spreading infection through the exchange and handling of cash.

From April 1 2020, consumers will begin to see an increasing number of retailers accepting contactless card payments up to the new £45 limit.  However, the new limits will take some time to be introduced across all retailers, including some of those facing additional pressure due to the Covid-19 outbreak.

The Comhairle’s Learning Disability Service will with immediate effect be closing Learning Disability Day Centres on advice from the Scottish Government.

A Comhairle spokesperson, said: “We realise this will have a significant impact on individuals and carers who have relied on this form of support, therefore we are exploring ways in which we can support a small number of service users in a different way, including at home.

"In any such arrangement, our staff will remain vigilant about their own health and will not visit clients if they feel unwell.

“We will prioritise individuals with the most complex of needs – those where we consider that there is significant carer strain, or risk of a caring situation unravelling."

People are being urged not to horse ride, mountain bike or hill walk in the countryside to avoid putting extra pressure on the emergency services.

Scottish Land & Estates, the rural business organisation, has issued the plea after its members have reported having to help people who are injured, often in remote areas, at a time when people should be social distancing.

Sarah-Jane Laing, Chief Executive of Scottish Land & Estates said:Our members’ land enables locals and visitors to enjoy Scotland’s beautiful countryside all year round – but we are pleading with people to take a break from their usual activities during the Covid-19 pandemic. This will allow our vital emergency services to keep their resource where it’s needed most.

“Even the most experienced and skilled mountain bikers, horse riders and hill walkers run the risk of being injured or lost. Usually they could easily call on the emergency services but currently they are under enormous pressure.

"That’s why we are asking the public to take a break from their activities at the moment. Scotland’s hills, forests and fields will still be there when we come out of this the other side.”

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Online Travel Agents are using technical loopholes to strip hoteliers, self-catering businesses and bed & breakfast providers of vital cash during the current crisis, claim tourist businesses on the Isle of Skye

Evidence gathered by Tourism Management Organisation, SkyeConnect, reveals that OTA’s are unilaterally refunding holidaymaker deposits regardless of the accommodation provider’s cancellation policy.

Accommodation providers are seeing cash disappear from the business as OTA’s use “Force Majeure” clauses to fully refund customer deposits, while allegedly retaining their own commission.

Many businesses who have invested money in improving the visitor experience ahead of the start of the season simply do not have the cash to offer these forced refunds.

Dave Till, the Chair of SkyeConnect, said: “We constantly hear the phrase ‘we are all in this together’, but that is certainly not the case where the Online Travel Agents are concerned. They are not operating in partnership with accommodation providers. They are profiteering at the expense of SME’s who were already facing a cash-flow crisis. I fully expect to start hearing of business failures any day now. It is a disgrace.”

In one case, a Skye-based self-catering operator had a lot of bookings for April and May on ‘non-refundable deposit’ terms. In good faith, the operator contacted each and every customer to offer credit notes to enable the booking to be honoured at a later date. The vast majority of customers – understanding the cashflow crisis facing the sector – agreed to accept credit notes and leave their deposits in place. But, without warning, Booking.com stepped in.

“…..and then this morning (25th March) I woke up and there were cancellations free of charge…and so, guests have agreed credit notes which meant we thought we had that funds (sic) to tide us through….... And then Booking.com sent out mass emails to everyone with a check-in date up to the 13th April and said you can now cancel free of charge…and of course Booking.com are still taking a fee.”

Another Skye Business offering Bed and Breakfast accommodation claims the behaviour of the OTA’s has had a devastating effect on the business and their family. “We just went from being financially stable to being on the breadline within a week. At the moment I have a small income but that doesn’t cover anywhere near our outgoings. So, we have got our mortgage holiday and we are putting all our food on to credit cards at the moment, but we only have a certain amount of credit. We reckon three months and then we are going to run out of credit avenues.”

SkyeConnect’s, Dave Till, is urging Government to step in and prevent further distress in the sector. “Small businesses are powerless against these global giants.  It needs governments to bring the OTAs into line and prevent thousands of small family businesses, as well as larger hotels, from running out of cash and going bust.

"SkyeConnect is working with VisitScotland, other industry-bodies, the Chamber of Commerce network and other business organisations to press the case for urgent action.”

Amanda Darling reports from Spain

Each day is worse than the previous one. An ice rink in Madrid has been turned into a makeshift mortuary, a grisly reminder of how unequipped we are to deal with rapid death on this scale. Bodies lie awaiting removal. Lockdown remains in force with stories of large fines being given to those who flout the laws.

We have not reached the peak of the curve yet although the media tries to tell us the peak is around the corner. The only good news being that hospital discharges are greater than the deaths. This week is the “Decisive Week” for Spain - the mortality figure stands at 4858 (Friday 27th March). [6528 is today’s (Sunday 29th) death figure for Spain. Madrid and Catalunya the worst hit areas.]rst hit areas.

Spain made provision for homeless and as soon as this was done, it was at full capacity.  I do not hear news of how the UK  homeless are being helped in this time of pandemic.  Spain thought the homeless were potentially the most vulnerable but figures show the elderly in residential homes are even more so. The Ministry of Defence sent in an Emergency Unit to disinfect many homes and found unskilled staff, without PPE, suffering from their own casualties and those already deceased, together in the same building. Corpses left in their beds until officials were able to collect and remove them safely.

In Madrid the IFEMA Fairground has been converted into a makeshift hospital which once finished will have capacity for 5000 who are not critical thus freeing up ITU beds for those who are. Hotels which cannot be converted to medical establishments are being used for medical personnel to live away from the danger of infecting their families.

Spain was slow to react to the threat of this virus. Thousands of football fans travelled to Italy and returned to Madrid. International Women’s Day was celebrated with crowds gathering everywhere. When Pedro Sanchez finally mentioned lockdown, thousands of students returned to their homes spending happy times with their friends in bars and restaurants doing what the Spanish love to do; socialising in close proximity. Now the bomb has exploded and the Spanish are dealing with the aftermath.

The UK is two weeks behind Spain and on a very similar trajectory. Exponentially the death rate is rising. Has the lockdown been imposed in time? Look to South Korea, look to Japan, both countries have successfully contained and reduced rates of infection and death. What actions did they take and can we emulate them? Look at Italy and Spain, what did they do wrong?

Spain has only recently crawled out from a recession and this crisis will hit the economy hard. The Spanish Government is throwing money at the problem in the form of a moratorium on mortgages and rents, guaranteed 700 euros a month for self employed, loans, grants and incentives for businesses and banks; the austerity of the previous ten years will not be tolerated now.

On a personal level this week I have been made redundant. How does this make me feel? Strangely elated. I feel free to self isolate along with my high-risk husband. I no longer worry about putting him at risk. I discovered the local shop in the village Cómpeta 5 km away is happy to take WhatsApp orders, we pay via bank transfer and within half an hour the shopping is delivered

I am very careful and ask for it to be placed on a table outside and wearing an apron and marigold gloves I take the groceries indoors and wipe each item with a hot soapy cloth before putting away. I have read the virus can live on surfaces like plastic for as long as five days, on paper two days. I cannot take any risks whatsoever. I have no intention of leaving the house for a further two weeks.

Now I have time to ponder, to wander the garden and think upon what is important in life. To be grateful for what I have and to hope the world will become a better place after this crisis is over.


Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay has spoken about the ongoing work being carried out by the Comhairle and other agencies across the Western Isles in response to the COVID-19 crisis.

“I am full of admiration for the ongoing response work being carried out by our staff and those in other agencies, including - but not limited to - Public Health, Department of Work and Pensions and Hebridean Housing Partnership.

“This is likely to be the most challenging set of circumstances that most of us have ever faced in our lives. However, by working together and following advice - particularly to stay at home unless absolutely essential - I am confident that we are well prepared and that we will come through this stronger as a community.

“No one is complacent, as no one knows to what extent we will be affected, but all our work last week, this week and next week is about effective preparation.

“My main message to each and every one of you, is that you look after yourselves, and look after each other.

“The following are just some of the key steps that we have undertaken in response to the crisis.”

Volunteers

We have launched an online form and Contact Centre 01851 822899 to collect details of individuals and community groups throughout the Western Isles looking to provide volunteering support during COVID-19.

The Contact Centre will operate Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and enable the Comhairle to match volunteers against the needs of individuals and families in our communities.

We would also urge anyone in need of help or support to contact our Customer Services team in the usual manner on 01851 600 501. We are anticipating a high number of calls, therefore we would ask for your patience

Education & Children’s Services

Education & Children’s Services are pleased to report that out of 313 teachers, 160 have volunteered to be deployed anywhere across Comhairle. The EIS have been - and continue to be - very supportive around this issue. There will be 268 pupils and staff in schools over the Easter break in order to support Key Workers.

Provision for Key Workers

It is currently expected that the period of closure announced by the Scottish Government will extend into term four. It is not clear at this time how long closure restrictions will last.

We will review how the hub approach to provision operated during the holidays and are likely to continue that approach in term four.  Where there is demand for it, we will open additional hubs, with provisional plans to do so at Daliburgh School and Sgoil an Rubha. Any changes will be communicated to key worker parents in good time

 Free School Meals

The Comhairle has made a commitment to make a payment of £154 to the parents of every child in P4-S6 who qualify for Free School Meals, covering the period from now to 30th June 2020. In P1-3, the same payment has been made to all those in receipt of School Clothing Grants.

 Education Maintenance Allowance

We recognise the importance of these payments to the young people who receive them and have made a commitment to make a single advance bulk payment to all eligible pupils to cover the time from now to 5th June. The situation will be reviewed after this date and a further payment up to 30th June 2020 may be made.

 Vulnerable Pupils

The Scottish Government has made provision to allow councils to continue to allow children and young people with complex ASN needs and other vulnerabilities to continue to attend schools and centres where their needs are best met.  Comhairle officers have worked with schools to identify and support vulnerable young people and make provision for them. Provision will be discussed with each individual family and confirmed by the HT or senior officer.  From Tuesday 14th April, identified vulnerable pupils who have been attending at their local school will be able to access provision at the hubs unless it’s been agreed with parents to provide bespoke provision elsewhere. The provisions for vulnerable pupils are the same as the ones described above for key workers.

Home Care

The Home Care Service has been indirectly affected by COVID-19, in that a number of staff have had to self-isolate due to underlying health issues. Remaining staff have assumed additional hours allowing the Service to continue much as before. We are also in the process of training additional, new staff who have responded to Mr Ron Culley’s public appeal. The response to Mr Culley’s public appeal has exceeded 100 applicants. We are in the process of examining each and every application, and prioritising those applicants with existing and valid PVG and/or those with relevant caring experience. In addition to this, a significant number of families have assumed caring responsibilities, both all or in part which has allowed Home Care staff to focus on covering service need arising out of staff absence.

Business Support Grants

The Comhairle has been accepting applications since Wednesday 25th and there has already been a significant number of applications received. Staff are working through these as quickly as possible and would request that applicants do not submit multiple emails seeking updates, we are dealing with these in the order we received them and will contact applicants as these are processed. The first payments under the scheme will be made today. This will provide support to 30 businesses. Queries about support for businesses that are not eligible for this scheme should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

An online form is now available for Council Tax Reduction applications. Members of the community who experience a reduction in income, and who have capital of less than £16k, can apply.

Partnership

The Comhairle and NHS Western Isles continue to work closely in a joint response to the Covid-19 crisis. The Pandemic Resilience Group, which is multi-agency, also continues to meet regularly and is attended by the Comhairle Chief Executive and chaired by the NHS Western Isles Chief Executive. In addition, all NHS Western Isles local news updates - as well as our own - are on the special section of the Comhairle website. Rest assured will continue to work in close partnership with a range of agencies across the Western Isles and particularly our colleagues in Public Health.

 

CalMac is to stop taking cash on its ferries and ports in response to concerns around the COVID-19 pandemic.

The World Health Organisation has advised against cash handling, and CalMac will stop taking cash payments from tomorrow (Saturday 28 March). Travellers, who should only be making essential journeys on the ferries in line with strict Government guidelines, can either pay by card, or Apple Pay or Google Pay where accepted.”

Managing Director Robbie Drummond said: “We have introduced this measure in response to concerns raised by our staff and passengers.

“We are asking customers, who still require to use our ferries for essential travel, to ensure they have a valid debit or credit card with them as we will no longer handle cash. This is in line with most other organisations who have also stopped taking cash.”

The South Uist Games have been cancelled for 2020.

Organisers commented: "It's not an easy decision but people's safety comes first."

The 2021 games are planned for Wednesday 21 July.

The roll-out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to frontline officers in local policing divisions across Scotland is expected to get under way next week.

The team coordinating the Police Scotland response to coronavirus (COVID-19) has been working round the clock to secure, order, receive and distribute the appropriate equipment.

More than 630 officers have already received the kit, including FFP3 masks, gloves, boot covers, coveralls and goggles.

Officers across Operational Support Units, Border Policing, custody and in some rural areas have already received the PPE.

The Flexible Response Unit is likely to be deployed across the country in possession of full kit to support operational officers at the weekend.

Now it is anticipated that an extended roll-out of fitting, training and issuing of kit will be under way next week across all local policing divisions as well as within specialist services on a 24/7 basis.

Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: “Our officers are playing a vital role in keeping people safe at this extraordinary time and we want them to have the right protective equipment to enable them to do their jobs with confidence.   

“We have had several teams working continuously on procuring and distributing vital supplies to staff and these are being issued across priority areas, with significant orders for more items, including masks, goggles and gloves, scheduled for delivery over the coming days and weeks.

"The procurement of available PPE is a key piece of work being undertaken in challenging circumstances due to exceptional levels of demand and we are streamlining and simplifying the process where possible.

“We are working with the Scottish Government and partners, and at a UK level, to ensure required PPE is delivered as quickly as possible."

 

​NHS Western Isles is reassuring patients needing to travel for essential hospital appointments on the mainland that every effort will be made to ensure they can attend appointments as planned.

Highlands and Islands Airports Limited (HIAL) has taken the decision to close all HIAL airports to scheduled and routine air traffic with effect from Sunday (March 29), in response to the strict measures announced by the UK and Scottish Governments on Monday.

However, in recognition of the unique role that it plays in providing lifeline services for local communities, HIAL has worked with Transport Scotland and Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule that will ensure that airports continue to provide essential services, including NHS passenger transfer and transport for essential key workers, such as visiting consultants. All other services will cease from 30 March until further notice.

A limited timetable will run for Glasgow-Benbecula, Glasgow-Stornoway and Stornoway-Benbecula. Royal Mail charter flights to the islands will continue.

In terms of travel by ferry, CalMac has introduced an Essential Lifeline Timetable for an initial three-week period.   Essential travel will continue, and this includes patients travelling to hospital on the mainland for appointments. With the suspension of the flight to Inverness, this ferry option will be vital for patients receiving essential treatment/attending urgent appointments in Raigmore Hospital in particular.

NHS Western Isles appreciates the ongoing support from these organisations to ensure essential and lifeline services are available.  "We also recognise some of these changes will be extremely disruptive and upsetting for our patients, in particular where ferry/taxi travel is the only option available for appointments in Inverness, but we would like to assure patients that we will endeavour to assist them in any way that we can at this very difficult time. Please contact your local patient travel office if you have any questions or concerns."

  • Lewis & Harris Patient Travel Office  Tel:  01851 708021     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Uist Patient Travel Office Tel: 01870 603606     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Barra Patient Travel Office Tel: 01871 810431    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Comhairle are looking for details of individuals and groups providing support during Covid-19.

An online form and contact centre have been launched to collect the details and can be found here.

Comhairle Leader, Roddie Mackay, said: “The Contact Centre will operate Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm and enable the Comhairle to match volunteers against the needs of individuals and families in our communities.”

Comhairle Convener, Norman A Macdonald, said: “The Comhairle would also urge anyone in need of help or support to contact our Customer Services team in the usual manner on 01851 600 501.

“We are anticipating a high number of calls, therefore we would ask for your patience.”

 

Passengers will be able to stay in their vehicles on the Sound of Harris crossing.

Due to the Covid-19 situation, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency have agreed to temporarily relax its rules on passengers being able to stay in their vehicles during some ferry journeys.

Any passengers wishing to travel this way on these routes should check CalMac's website for eligible sailings.

"There has been some demand from passengers wishing to remain isolated in their cars while travelling with us. This change allows us to open up two more routes to this option of travel," said CalMac's Director of Operations, Robert Morrison.

The change does not affect any of CalMac's larger vessels where passengers are not permitted to remain in their vehicles.

Additional patient areas have been created at Western Isles Hospital.

Two local firms supported NHS Western Isles in removing excess materials to make way for the patient areas.

NHS Western Isles commented: "DR Macleod kindly provided a trailer for use and has also offered to transport any stock or equipment associated with COVID-19 free of charge to hospitals within the Outer Hebrides.

"Meanwhile O'Mac provided vehicles and a group of employees to assist relocating equipment to be stored in a storage facility nearby. In addition, they have also offered NHS Western Isles use of their employees and vehicles to use in any way."

Mr. Lachlan Mac Pherson, NHS Western Isles Hospitals Manager, said: “We are most grateful for the support of both these local companies.

"We continue to be overwhelmed at the kindness and generosity offered from local businesses and individuals at this time, which we are most grateful for.”

UPDATE: March 27 from Taylor Edgar in Hanoi

An airline pilot two who lives two streets away has been taken to hospital with suspected COVID19.

By mid-afternoon the local police were visiting businesses and ordering them to close. The only businesses that are open today are food shops and pharmacies.

So far there’s no official lockdown, but the streets are much quieter than normal. The government yesterday banned meetings or events involving over 20 people as the number of coronavirus cases continues to grow.

Any gathering of over 10 people outside public offices, schools, and hospitals is also prohibited. On a brighter note, three more people have fully recovered and been discharged from hospital in Da Nang today, including two Britons in their sixties.

However, they have been transferred to centralized quarantine centres for a further 14 days quarantine as a precaution despite testing negative in three tests.

The two Britons were among 16 people who tested positive on a Vietnam Airlines’ flight from London to Hanoi on March 8.

As of yesterday, the total number of COVID19 cases in Vietnam stood at 153, with a total of 20 having now been successfully treated and discharged. There has so far been no deaths attributed to COVID19.

Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc has also ordered that local administrations nationwide should start closing non-essential services on Saturday such as massage parlours, discos, tourist sites, entertainment places, cinemas, beer parlours, and restaurants, as Vietnam steps up its fight against the virus.

Hanoi ordered the closure of these businesses on Wednesday.

Between deep silence and bright sunlight…Sophie Vaudoux, who worked for EVENTS newspaper in 2009-2011, looks at the coronavirus crisis in rural France and asks: « Will patients be dying of the greed + austerity cocktail or of coronavirus? » This is part of our series of articles looking through the eyes of local people throughout the world.

Not a soul in sight, not a child riding its bike, not a dog running after a cat, not a cow staring. Only birds and insects. There are cobwebs keeping the dew between newly sprung plants; primroses waking from the cold night.

Violets, dozens of timid little faces, huddling in the fresh grass, bring purple scents to the orange morning light.  The sun sends me my shadow back, oblique on the silent road.

I am walking alone through the deserted village of Menou, there is not even the sound of a plane, southbound. This is part of the Nièvre, an ancient district attached to Nevers, bordered by the Loire River in the recently created and somewhat resented Bourgogne-Franche-Comté region.  The sea of trees, mainly oak forests that provide casks for whisky, stretches for hundreds of square kilometres in a purple hued landscape.

An old-fashioned perfume springs up. What old lady has been walking here? Were it later in the day, it might have been that old neighbour on the road (pictured above) to the nearby village of Menestreau, so pretty in her garden that is growing thick and wild with dandelions and fruit trees in bloom.  She worries that no one can cut her grass now. An archway and old white painted gates keep her from danger. Her picture should be taken. Her children would like that. Maybe tomorrow, if it is safe to knock at her door.

The walk is longer than allowed, more than 1km from my house, but at least there is no curfew here. I smuggle myself out early on little paths where no gendarmes will ever catch me.

During the Second World War, my ancestors from both sides of the Rhine must have done the same in a sunny, sleepy France. Strengthening their day from the earth right under their feet, endlessly reaping the « terroir » force that is always with us. [Terroir is the love of, and sense of belonging to, the land]

For « we are at war », so the President repeated and so the radio repeats. The enemy, supposedly invisible, has made the countryside more deserted and more remote... but from where?

We don't have to stay confined in overcrowded flats, and we don't have to queue up at supermarkets, wearing a mask, goggles and gloves. We don't have to resort to constant life-saving hyper-connection, to social networks, on-line games and annexes of wartime phone-in programmes. Because we have our gardens and our hens, bees, donkeys, because we have the remoteness, call it the price to pay for being forgotten by health politics. Local doctors complain here, as in any other countryside, about the sudden influx of townies that will maximise the spread of the virus. In all, 17% of Parisians left the city to spread away, it is claimed.  This is the big thing at the moment, tracking people going, staying, being ill, dying. More efficient than normality, when it is forbidden to attend your child's birth, or your dear one's funeral, or visit your gran stuck in an old folks home.

High-rise flats may explode with young lives deprived of schools and  sport, together with prisons where, again, there are no more visits. Compassion is no more, long live hyper-connection. Phone the people you love, Skype them, text them, write to them on paper - but do write on the envelope to iron it before opening.

The sun is rising again on a new day, in the absence of the sea, forbidden anyway, it will soon be time to smuggle myself out of my science-fiction daily routine.

The voice on the radio wonders: where are the masks? There were 1.4 billion of them in 2011. In 2013, the general secretary of the national defence did away with them: it was up to every employer to provide employees with them – if there is no one to tell, can someone locate the stocks of teargas?  There are not enough masks now, but we all have the time to make some, let's do our bit, now that the whole country has come to a halt.  Only those who look after the sick, pick up the dustbins, toil in supermarkets, work in prisons or check that pedestrians, cyclists or motorists have their authorisations duly dated and clocked, have to go to work. Like my fellow teachers, I must work at home from the internet if it is connectable, hence my walkies.

Far from being bored, there is so much to do starting by reading over « La Peste », as they do in Italy. Besides meditation and taking up knitting again, here is plenty of time to consider this health crisis like a tree that is hiding in the forest. The difficulties that Hospital France is facing at the moment are perfect illustrations of paradoxical injunctions that workers have to deal with: they have to save patients and prevent the epidemics from spreading but there aren't enough doctors, nurses, cleaners, spaces, beds, masks, sanitary liquids, gloves, breathing machines, or money! Costs had to be cut, didn't they?

For one year, hospital workers tried to attract attention by various strikes and demonstrations, and they got nothing but contempt. Will their patients be dying of the 'greed + austerity' cocktail or of coronavirus? At least, since the beginning of the crisis, hospital workers have been applauded at 8 o'clock each night from people's windows. They will even get a financial reward, and a promotion!

Gathering in the street has new rules: no handshakes, no kissing, a one metre distance at least, plus one-use gloves and masks if you have any. Wash your hands carefully with soap. Too bad if your skin becomes parched with the war effort. Wash your face, change your clothes. What about the homeless?  As the disease spread through China, shame on the beautiful pangolin, the number of people allowed to meet in France shrank, 19th-century-like, when the French people struggled to make everyone’s rights to education, expression and democracy accessible. Remember how the law on whistleblowers was toughened last year? Can one call it paranoia watching the slow motions of private interests on the French chessboard, openly restricting movement, soon to go for our bank accounts?

The ancient town of Auxerre on the Yonne river

A Lewis chessman smiles at me: « Get a grip, hen, and go for a walk» says he.

Outside leaves shoot green lace at the end of branches.  Butterflies and bees are busy in the early flowers. Birds delight. Soon the first swallow will spread the message that spring has sprung.  

But « An Toll Dubh » by Runrig will rhythm all my steps.

Returning home…

The forlorn queue of normally chatty Stornowegians standing two metres apart in a long winding windswept queue told the story.  Bustling Stornoway was no more. Lockdown was almost entire, paper notices flapping on door after door, in doorway after doorway.  Closed for the duration.

This was Thursday March 26th 2020. And like for any stressed-out population in the grip of a natural catastrophe, the various queues often led to only already empty shelves.  People wrote on welovestornoway.com’s Facebook page of the problems for the old, the disabled, even just for those whose health will not survive waiting for hours in the rain even if the coronavirus never touched them.

Meanwhile the umbilical cords that bind the Islands to the mainland were cut time after time.  The airport will shut on Sunday, ferry services were sliced back, and there will be no Hebceltfest this year, breaking a tradition lasting back a quarter of a century.

Isles MP Angus MacNeil says travel restrictions to the islands are the right course of action and encourages islanders who rely on bus services to contact Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

In response to the Covid19 outbreak, Calmac are maintaining essential lifeline timetables on ferry services and there are also changes to flight timetables from Stornoway and Benbecula. There are no changes to the Barra flight timetable.

All bus services around the islands have been suspended but vital transportation will still be available for some.  Affected island residents should contact the Comhairle’s Transport Office on 01851 600 501 as soon as possible.  Mr MacNeil said: “The changes to travel to and from the islands are absolutely necessary to address the current situation we find ourselves in.  Many island residents rely on the bus service so I would urge people to contact the Comhairle as soon as possible.

“We must be thankful more than ever for island life – although it is vital that public transport is available, we have to be realistic. We can’t assume Covid19 is not here so we must make sure we are all following the advice provided on social distancing.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar clarified its rules on Refuse Collections.  Householders who present their bins for collection as the collection vehicle approaches are reminded to keep their distance for collection staff and remain at least 2 metres from their bins until after the bins have been returned to the kerbside.  There should be no interaction with the collection crew.

Bennadrove Landfill Site; Amended opening hours from Monday 30th March 2020 for the acceptance of commercial and industrial wastes only; Mon – Thu 1100hrs to 1630hrs and Fri 1100hrs – 1600hrs.

Rueval Commercial Waste Reception Area; Amended opening hours from Monday 30th March 2020 for the acceptance of commercial and industrial wastes only. Mon 0830hrs – 1630hrs. Tues – Fri Closed.

Household Recycling Centres will remain closed.

CalMac is introducing an Essential Lifeline Timetable from tomorrow (Friday 27 March). The new reduced timetable, which will run for an initial three-week period, comes amidst a lockdown on all but essential travel across the whole of the UK. It will be subject to continual review in a rapidly changing environment, but they believe it is sustainable with their current crews.  The new timetable can be viewed at www.calmac.co.uk

Limitations in the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme is one of the chief concerns of rural companies during the COVID-19 crisis, Scottish Land & Estates said. The rural business organisation has conducted a survey of members across Scotland to find out what proactive measures are being put in place by companies - and what issues they are facing in the months ahead.

The three key requests expressed in the rural business survey are:

  • Greater flexibility in the job retention scheme to allow the ‘partial furlough’ of staff;
  • A relaxation of some regulation to allow essential business activities to continue where appropriate;
  • Reminders about people not travelling unnecessarily to rural areas to be continually pressed home by government.

Sarah-Jane Laing, chief executive of Scottish Land & Estates, said: “The nature of rural business means employees often undertake many roles, some of which are not currently required due to the measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

“We would like to see greater flexibility in the job retention scheme to allow the ‘partial furlough’ of staff which would afford businesses the financial support to reduce staff hours but keep ticking along, ready for eventual reopening.”

Isles MP Angus MacNeil also welcomed a decision by CalMac to hold off planned fare rises.  Fares are being temporarily frozen on the Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) network to help island residents and businesses during the outbreak of coronavirus.

 Angus MacNeil said: “This is a very welcome and correct move by Calmac who have listened to the concerns raised by me and my colleague Alasdair Allan MSP. This will be some relief to businesses who are like so many, under financial pressure.

Alasdair Allan said: “Freight and haulage companies are among the main users of island ferries, now that ferry timetables have been cut back and sailings have been restricted to essential travel only. Many local businesses face huge financial strains at the moment, while they carry out the essential task of providing food and medicines to island shops and health providers. 

“A number of businesses have approached me in recent days to ask what can be done to ensure the planned fair rises for this month are held back until after the present crisis, to ensure that we do not risk further pressures during a fragile situation.  These are issues I have been raising with Government.

“I was very pleased to hear the announcement from ferries minister Paul Wheelhouse that the fare rises planned have now been held back, an hope this provides some breathing space for businesses providing essential public services.”

Shadow Finance Secretary Donald Cameron has said that the Chancellor’s emergency measures to help the self-employed will be warmly welcomed across the Highlands and Islands.

Mr Cameron, a Highlands and Islands MSP: “I am delighted that Rishi Sunak is acting so boldly to protect the self-employed during this crisis.

“This is something that the Scottish Conservatives have been lobbying very hard for.  Many people in the Highlands and Islands work flexibly, and have more than one job, so these measures will be particularly welcome here.  It is only right that the UK Government has stepped in and, in the Prime Minister’s words, “put our arms around” everyone who needs help.”

Cameron has also highlighted the work of a charity in recruiting “kindness volunteers” to help vulnerable people.  Mr Cameron said: “This is a fantastic initiative by Chest, Heart and Stroke Scotland to which I wish to draw attention in my motion to Parliament. It is heart-warming how people are rising to the challenge by offering to volunteer in so many ways. Kindness has become a kind of watch-word as people reach out to help those most vulnerable. It is inspiring how our communities are coming together.”

 

COVID-19 has placed a great strain on our community with many frightened for their loved one’s safety and wellbeing. TIG are a community benefit society and everything we do must be for the benefit of our island communities. Here are the details of how we are continuing to serve our communities currently whilst helping to ensure the safety of the people we serve and our staff.

We have:

  • Closed our offices in Cothrom, Claddach Kirkibost and Stornoway and all staff now work from home;
  • Suspended all installation of insulation measures in homes immediately;
  • Suspended work on our rent to buy low cost home ownership sites;
  • Suspended energy advice and Care and Repair home visits.

Our staff are now able to support people whilst working from home. We will now:

  • Continue offering energy advice to those who need it;
  • Continue to offer wider advice about all services;
  • Offer such bespoke advice via media, online, and over the phone
  • We continue to support our Rent to Buy tenants, landlords and community clients

How to contact TIG:

  • If you wish to contact TIG please do – ring 01851 706 121 and leave a message;
  • Our receptionist will pick up messages remotely, pass them to the appropriate staff member and they will respond as soon as possible;
  • Or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Same system applies.

Our activities bring several millions of pounds of funding into our islands and we will do our utmost to keep these vital funds incoming. Mindful of our policy of supporting local contractors to deliver measures, adaptations for the disabled and other alterations to homes, we will start work again as soon as is practical and safe for all concerned.

We continue to work with our partners including through the Outer Hebrides Community Planning Partnership to provide services and are working behind the scenes to support community efforts. Any partner who has ideas about helping clients and want TIG to be involved, or ask for support should contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 07741652612. 

We look forward to continuing to support the community. Stay safe everyone.

Stewart Wilson             Brian Chaplin

Chief Executive             Chair

A free "Train at Home" workout package has been released.

The offer comes from the Comhairle, who are working with fitness equipment suppliers, Technogym.  

Train at Home will enable Sports Centre customers and the wider community to maintain their fitness levels at home for free. 

There are three workouts available each day - Easy, Medium and Pro. It is strongly recommended that you work at your own level and at your own pace and be conscious if you have any health conditions or underlying injuries that might make an activity not safe for you.

If you have a MyWellness account, all you will need to do is to open the app each day and choose the workout level that suits you. If you click on the enclosed link it will give you a quick guide on how to set up a free MyWellness account, if you don’t already have one.

Once you have installed the app, it looks slightly different on Android and IOS devices. Here are some screenshots that explain the step by step process. The key thing to look out for once you are ready to go is to look for the stopwatch symbol in the top right hand corner. This starts the built in countdown timer so that you don’t have to worry about timing. If you click on the image of each exercise, there is a demonstration video of how to do it safely.

The workouts last around 20 – 40 minutes and are great if you want to stay indoors and stay active.

If you have any problems using the app, e-mail Lisa Weir at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. who will be happy to help.

HIAL to close its airports to all but a skeleton air service, a decision which will affect Stornoway, Benbecula and Barra.

MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar, Alasdair Allan said: “I think people in the islands will understand why this decision by HIAL has been necessary. Although this is a drastic step - limiting connectivity in the islands in a way not seen for many decades -it is one that is needed in the present emergency.

“The news comes at the same time as CalMac publishes a ‘lifeline’ timetable with significantly fewer sailings to and from all islands, and transport limited to essential travellers.

“HIAL have announced that Loganair will run a skeleton service from Sunday, aimed at ensuring that health services continue to operate, people who are working in the oil industry get to work and the Royal Mail continues to function.

“These are very difficult times for Scotland, both in human and economic terms, and this will be felt in the islands. There is little alternative to today’s announcements, and I know that the Scottish Government is committed to making sure that full transport services are resumed whenever it is safe for that  to happen.”

Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) earlier said they would close their airports to scheduled flights and routine general aviation traffic from this Sunday.  "Our communities, in particular those on the islands, rely on our airports for vital services and we are currently working with Transport Scotland and Loganair to agree a skeleton schedule that will ensure our airports continue to provide lifeline and essential services, including NHS passenger transfer, the Royal Mail and the oil and gas industry."

The company operates and manages 11 airports across the country at Campbeltown, Dundee, Islay, Inverness, Kirkwall, Sumburgh, Tiree and Wick, as well as the three in the Outer Hebrides.

Managing director, Inglis Lyon, said:  “Our airports are unique in that their core role is to provide lifeline services for our communities in the Highlands and Islands.  They are essential to the continued delivery of medical and other critical supplies, the transport of key workers and also enable emergency flights for island communities.

“Now more than ever there is a need to safeguard those vital services.  I appreciate this crisis is unknown territory for all of us and at this time we do not know how long these essential measures will remain in place.

“We could not maintain these services for our communities without the extraordinary team spirit and commitment displayed by our staff right across the HIAL group and I am indebted to them for their continued flexibility and dedication during a very difficult time for us all.”

Michael Matheson, Cabinet Secretary for Transport, Infrastructure and Connectivity, said: “Our aviation sector is facing an unprecedented challenge in the face of the coronavirus outbreak, so the Scottish Government is working with industry partners to ensure our lifeline air links continue to operate for the remote communities that depend on them.

“These air routes are crucial for the transport of supplies and key workers, as well as providing a vital link when emergency transport to the mainland is required.  I also wish to thank all the HIAL staff for their efforts during this difficult time.”

Langabhat Medical Practice have community groups/individuals delivering their patient medication.

All medication for patients in the areas noted below will be delivered to ensure patient and staff safety and wellbeing and we need to keep people at home as much as possible.

See below:Galson Estate for the Upper Sarvas to Butt of Ness area;

  • Individual volunteers for the Lower Barvas & Brue area;
  • Horshader Group area for the Arnol - Dalmore area;
  • Carloway Community Associationfor the Carloway to Tolsta Chaolais area;
  • Breasclete Community Association for the Breasclete, Callanish, Garynahine, Linshader, Lochganvich area;
  • Bernera Community Association for road end all way in to Bernera area;
  • Uig CommunityforGisla to Breanish (all Uig) area;
  • Leurbost Community for Achmore, Cleascro Rd, Cameron Terrace, Leurbost, Grimshader, Crossbost and Ranish area;
  • Kinloch Community for Sova I down to Arivruaich (including Keose & Keose Glebe)area; and
  • Pairc Community for Shieldinish down to all of South Lochs area.
  • Individual volunteer for Stornoway area (from Parkend area incl Holm in east to Gleann Dubh, Newmarket in west);
  • Tong Recreation Association for Tong from Newmarket Road to end of Tong;
  • Back Community Association for Coll through to Gress;
  • Individual Volunteers for North Tolsta; and
  • Point Football Club for whole of Point. 

Langabhat Medical Practice are extremely grateful to the all the goodwill and kindness shown by our community at this difficult time. Many thanks.

  • We would like to reassure our customers that we are still open for business.
  • For those in the vulnerable groups and customers over 70 we are offering a free home delivery service
  • In addition we can offer a forecourt pick-up service for those that are able to collect.
  • We are operating a social distancing policy to protect the health of our staff and our customers.

SHOP RULES

We can only allow 4 customers into the shop at a time.

You must not come closer than 2 metres to other customers or staff.

PAYMENT

We request contactless payment where possible.

OPENING HOURS

7am to 9pm (these may change)

Closed on Sunday

HOT FOOD

There is a limited hot food service.

HOME DELIVERY

We are operating a phone service for groceries especially to those in the vulnerable groups. We will deliver within the town only at the moment, but we hope to link with country delivery services if possible.

Please phone 07498170195 or 701929 between the hours of 9am and 5pm.  Please have your

• Name and address

• Shopping List

• Credit card details ready.

**For safety reasons the person who delivers your shopping will knock or ring your bell and leave the shopping on your doorstep.

Please don’t open your door before they are well away from your door. This is for your safety and for the person delivering the goods.**

PHONE ORDERS

For those that wish to phone for an order, and collect at the forecourt that can be done using the same numbers as above.

I’d like to thank our customers for their patience and our great staff for all their help at this difficult time.

Stay safe

Allan and the Team at Manor Filling Station

Keep your care home visits essential only, the Comhairle are urging.

The new restriction will come into event from 7:30pm this evening (Thursday 26 March.)

Amongst those visitors who are deemed essential are immediate family members of service users receiving end-of-life care or service users who need substantial support because of dementia, a learning disability or autism, where not being present would cause the service user to be distressed. The Comhairle is also asking visitors to consider whether a visit is essential even in these circumstances.

The Comhairle is making this decision in order to help safeguard service users’ health and wellbeing.

Jack Libby, head of Community Care, said: “Managers and senior staff from each Care Home will make contact with affected family members at the earliest opportunity today.

"We understand that this may cause some upset, however, this is a very serious and developing situation and we need to respond to medical advice and Scottish Government guidance when issued.

“The decision will be reviewed within 3 weeks and we will keep families appraised of any further developments.”

HebCeltFest is to postpone its 25th anniversary festival until 2021.

They say:"Whilst it is hugely disappointing to make this announcement, we hope all will understand that we can’t take any chances with the health and wellbeing of everyone in our community, and the many visitors the festival attracts.

"By postponing our event, we still hope to bring this year’s outstanding programme forward and are in discussions with artists in order to gauge the possibilities in this regard.

"Everyone who has already bought a ticket for this year’s festival, can be rest assured that their ticket money is safe. 

"We will be contacting all ticket buyers in the next few days to arrange either rollover to 2021 or full refund of their order.

"We have been left with no choice but to make this heart-breaking decision, and we are well aware that it will have a serious effect on our community and everyone who works to stage a fantastic festival each year.

"However, as well as protecting the health of all involved, this decision now also makes it more possible for us to protect the future of HebCelt and ensure it is enjoyed for years to come.

"We are very sorry for the inconvenience and disappointment that this announcement will cause and we thank everyone for their understanding, love and support of the festival.

"We plan for our return next year, 14 – 17 July 2021. In the meantime, we wish everyone and their loved ones the very best."

Heb.net will continue to provide its broadband service for another month.

The service was due to end on Tuesday 31 March, leaving many customers trying to find replacement internet services as the shutdown was announced.

HIE asked Scot.net, who host the service, to retain Heb.net for a further month.

Commenting Angus B MacNeil, MP for Na H-Eileanan an Iar, said: “This is a welcome decision and for those who have not yet found a new provider this will be a lifeline during this crisis.

"It is up to individuals to contact Heb.net through their own account page to ask for the service to be maintained, it will not automatically carry on.

"If you have not found a new provider contact Heb.net as soon as you can to ensure your service continues.

“I had written to Paul Wheelhouse MP Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands to ask for an extension and am pleased that this is now happening. HIE are to be commended for this turnaround and for all the work they have done in helping people move to other providers.

“Given the current uncertainties it is good to note that there may be further extensions if needed. This will also be a chance to determine what continued demand exists for this service.”

A reduced ferry timetable will be introduced tomorrow (Friday 27 March.)

The timetable will run for an initial period of three weeks and will be subject to continual review.

The Essential Lifeline Timetable will ensure all islands receive regular deliveries of goods and services.

In the last few days passengers on the entire service were down by 85%, cars by 75% and commercial traffic by 45%.

In 2019 daily passenger numbers at the end of March were around 9,500, currently they are at 1,500 and these are expected to drop further. CalMac has also seen 8,000 bookings cancelled through their contact centre teams compared to just 300 in the same period last year.

This new timetable will see weekly sailings drop from 2419 to 948 against the normal winter timetable – a drop of almost 61%.

"We believe that this timetable will be able to maximise use of available crews for the vessels and continue to provide our vital lifeline service for communities," said CalMac's Managing Director, Robbie Drummond.

"These are extreme times for businesses across Scotland, the UK and indeed the world. As this virus spreads there is the chance that pressure on crewing may require us to make further changes. In this eventuality, we will work to our agreed Route Prioritisation Matrix to ensure that all Islands receive a service. We are in daily contact with the Scottish Government and Health Protection Scotland to ensure we are on top of all the latest advice and guidance.

"Given the lockdown from the Government that has made travel essential only, we think this new timetable is one that best suits the needs of the communities we support.

"It is important that we continue to provide ferries that can take vital goods and services to our island communities and transport people who have essential travel needs. Community groups and key hauliers have been consulted to ensure that the supply chains can be maintained."

The new timetable can be viewed here.

FREE CHURCH OF SCOTLAND (CONTINUING) Free Presbytery of the Outer Hebrides

Public Statement

The Presbytery met by teleconference earlier today (Tuesday March 24th) to consider the effect on public worship of the coronavirus.

Following discussion it was agreed that the Presbytery issue the following public statement:

“Presbytery, recognising the seriousness of the present health crisis and the legitimate remit of the civil government in matters of public health, unanimously commend the latest government guidance on public gatherings to the Kirk Sessions of our Presbytery, and therefore strongly recommend that Kirk Sessions suspend all public gatherings.

"Presbytery do so, conscious that public worship is properly a matter for the courts of Christ’s church.

"Our prayer is that the government would be given much wisdom and grace to deal with this pandemic, and we as a Presbytery will do all in our power to aid all in our congregations and the wider community at this most difficult time.”

[The publication of this release was delayed because of the technical difficulties caused by submission of media releases in pdf form.  This requires the use of special programs to free the text from the pdf to use on a website, or the rewriting of the text.  Both these require the allocation of additional time and resources and we are desperately short of both.  We plead with organisations to ignore their corporate wish to present information in a formatted way and just send us the words in an email or as a Word or Pages attachment.]

 

The Fishermen’s Mission would like to reassure the fishing community of their ongoing support at this time.

Superintendent William Macleod (Western Isles Area Officer) said: "Although restrictions mean our Stornoway office is not currently open to the public, we are still here to help and are only a phone call away.  

"In the current COVID-19 situation most of the Fishermen’s Mission staff are working electronically but are still able to provide the majority of normal services.’

For further information please visit www.fishermensmission.org.uk or contact us directly:

Western Isles Local Contact:

  • Spt. William Macleod.
  • Telephone: 01851 704424
  • Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Website: www.fishermensmission.org.uk

Police in Stornoway are appealing for any witnesses or information after a window of a vehicle was vandalised on Napier Hill in Stornoway at the weekend.

The white Vauxhall Corsa was left in perfect order around 7pm on Saturday 21 March and discovered around 3pm on Sunday 22 March with damage to the window.

Anyone with information or who may have seen or heard any disturbance is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 if they wish to remain anonymous.

The incident number for this is NH/343/20.

Efforts continue today (Wednesday 25 March) to get salvors to the cargo vessel Kaami, which remains aground on rocks in the Minch, between the Isles of Skye and Lewis.

A specialist salvage team from the Resolve Marine Group has been appointed and has arrived in Stornoway.

Resolve have their headquarters in America and offices in Rotterdam and London. They are specialists in salvage and wreck removal with their own team of divers, engineers and salvage masters.

The Norwegian-owned, 90-metre general cargo ship, which ran aground in the early hours of Monday morning, has damage to the port side of the vessel. She was carrying non-hazardous cargo of wood and paper pellets for use as fuel.

All eight Russian crew members were lifted from the vessel by Stornoway Coastguard helicopter R948, during an operation which also involved Portree RNLI lifeboat and the Northern Lighthouse Board service vessel Pharos.

The Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV), the Ievoli Black, continues to stand by the vessel. The Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCGA) said today that there is no reported pollution since the initial grounding and the small amount of oily pollution when it first grounded has dispersed in the rough seas.

The Secretary of State's Representative for Maritime Intervention and Salvage (SOSRep) along with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency's counter-pollution team continues to liaise with the ship's owners, holding regular conference call meetings to discuss next steps.

The picture of the grounded vessel during the crew rescue was taken from Portree RNLI lifeboat by Donald Budge and is used by permission of the RNLI.

 

Flights between Stornoway and Inverness have been cancelled with immediate effect from today (Wednesday 25 March).

News of the cut came to booked passengers last night with emails from Loganair cancelling their flight arrangements. There are no new bookings available on the online system until at least April 20th.

Cancellation of the three-times-a-day service comes on top of previously notified cuts of all Edinburgh flights and some flights to Glasgow.

It means that, from next week, the only air-bridge between the Western Isles and the mainland will be to Glasgow, with two flights a day shared between Stornoway and Benbecula, and the existing service to Barra maintained.

With non-essential travel already forbidden by UK and Scottish Government, those most affected by today’s changes will be hospital patients travelling to Raigmore Hospital for essential treatments and diagnostics. Raigmore is a regional hub serving the Highlands and Islands, with specialisms including oncology and coronary care. Treatments including radiotherapy for people with cancer are delivered at Raigmore to island patients.

Loganair announced today that staffing at their call centre was being reduced to allow for social distancing. Call centre hours are also being reduced.

A spokesman said: “Loganair’s call centre will continue to operate in order to help customers who still need to travel or need help with present or future bookings. The transport sector is seen as vital by the government and we intend to play our part where we safely can.

“We ask customers to be patient and bear with us at this time. Please do not phone our phonelines unless you are travelling within the next seven days as the reduced staffing will be unable to accommodate anything but the most urgent of cases.”

 

Going forward this Friday we will be operating a delivery/pick up service only, I've attached last weeks order form and price list, If the price goes down we will adjust on your order, if the price goes up, we will cover the increase, if you can just order in your usual manner, phone, email, text or Facebook, whatever is easier for yourselves that would be great, if anyone would like a phone call from ourselves on a Tuesday we are happy to do that. If we can have orders for 2.00pm on Tuesday that would be great.

For those that would like their order delivered we will look to follow guidelines and keep the two metre distance, if you have any specific instructions just let us know and we will follow them, please put your own safety before normal good manners, we perfectly understand.

For people who would like to pick up at Clintons Yard we are the first on the right after the metal gates, again we will look to observe the two metre rule, it would be great if everyone could pick up by 1.00PM but we can work round this if required. Also just to say we are more than happy to carry out additional pick ups etc from other local shops, for those having home delivery at no cost.

We are looking to organise a card payer but that might not be here for this Friday, for those that are able, on line payment is probably best.

Thats the plan for this week though everything seems to change quite quickly.

The best of produce from near and far

Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Or call 07771645238 to place your order, free delivery within the Town, Broadbay, Point Area. 

Vegetables

 

Price Each

 Quantity

Aubergine

 

£1.70

 

Butternut Squash   

 

£2.40

 

Green Cabbage

 

£1.95

 

Savoy Cabbage

 

£1.95

 

Cabbage (White UK)

 

£2.40

 

Cauliflower

 

£1.95

 

Celeriac (UK)

 

£2.40

 

Celery (UK)

 

£1.50

 

Fennel

 

£1.40

 

Garlic Large

 

£0.95

 

Kale 250g

 

£2.40

 

Turmeric (200g)

 

£2.95

 

 

 

Price Per KG

Quantity

Beetroot (UK)

 

£2.45

 

Broccoli (UK)

 

£3.95

 

Dirty Carrots

 

£1.95

 

Ginger

 

£6.00

 

Horseradish

 

£12.00

 

Leeks (UK)

 

£2.95

 

Mushrooms UK

 

£5.00

 

Onions (White)

 

£1.65

 

Onions (Red)

 

£1.75

 

Parsnips

 

£2.95

 

Cyprus

 

£2.40

 

Golden Wonder

 

£1.25

 

Jersey Royals

 

£7.40

 

Kerr’s Pink

 

£1.25

 

Roosters

 

£1.25

 

Shallots

 

£4.50

 

Swede (Scottish New Season)

 

£1.55

 

Sweet Potato

 

£2.95

 

White Turnip

 

£3.35

 

 

 

Price Each

Quantity

Little Gem (x2)

 

£1.50

 

Cos Lettuce

 

£1.50

 

Cucumber

 

£1.15

 

Spring Onions

 

£1.00

 

 

 

Price Per KG

Quantity

Peppers (Mixed Red, Green, and yellow)

 

£4.25

 

Tomato (Cherry on Vine)

 

£6.15

 

Plum Tomatoes

 

£3.95

 

Fruit

 

Price Each

Quantity

Fugi Apples

 

3 for £2.10

 

Gala Apples

 

4 for £1.50

 

Washington Red Delicious

 

3 for £1.80

 

Avocado

 

£1.50

 

Clementine’s

 

4 for £1.50

 

Grapefruit

 

£0.85

 

Kiwi Fruit

 

£0.50

 

Lemons

 

£0.50

 

Limes

 

£0.50

 

Yellow Melon

 

£2.20

 

Oranges Large

 

3 for £1.80

 

Blood Oranges

 

4 for £1.50

 

Pears (Conference)

 

4 for £1.50

 

Plums

 

4 for £1.50

 

Pomegranates

 

£1.50

 

 

 

Price per Kg

Quantity

Bananas

 

£1.70

 

Bramleys

 

£3.15

 

Chillies Red

 

£15.00

 

Courgettes

 

£3.15

 

Green Seedless Grapes

 

£4.95

 

Red Seedless Grapes

 

£4.95

 

Rhubarb

 

£5.50

 

Local Fresh Eggs

 

£2.00

 

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for social care workers is to be prioritised for the Western Isles, according to a statement today (Wednesday 25 March) by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s head of community care.

Jack Libby told councillors yesterday and has confirmed publicly today that the three island authorities (Western Isles, Orkney and Shetland councils) are being viewed by the Scottish Government as a special case for the distribution of PPE to social careworkers.

He said: "Following discussions with the Scottish Government earlier today, the Scottish Government have decided to view the three island authorities as having ‘unique environment status’, where we will now be provided with a quantity of PPE.

“The quantity will be dependent on the number of staff employed in the social care sector, whether local authority or our third sector partners. The PPE supplied will be face masks, gloves and aprons.

"We have identified three distribution locations throughout the Western Isles, – in Stornoway covering Lewis and Harris, Trianaid Tigh Ceilidh covering North and South Uist and St Brendans to cover Barra.

"I am expecting to receive the PPE before the end of this week. In the interim, we have a small supply ourselves and our colleagues in health will provide us with PPE should we require (it) between now and receipt of the delivery from the national distribution centre.

"The usage of PPE has to be very carefully managed. It is only to be used where there is suspected or proven COVID–19, otherwise the demand placed on supplies could potentially out-strip the supply.

“The situation is developing daily and at times throughout the day. I am thankful for the patience shown by staff. I understand their anxieties and their need for reassurance that should they have a need for PPE, it will be available to them."

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron is urging residents to support their local news providers, both paper and online.

“Our local media is indispensable, particularly during an emergency like the one we are experiencing, when up-to-date and reliable local news is at a premium, and many people are self-isolating at home.

“Our local newspapers and dedicated online news providers provide a vital public service not just by reporting local news but also by promoting social cohesion amongst our communities.

“We owe a debt of thanks to the editors, journalists and their support staff who have continued to produce topical and relevant information for our local communities.

“We have never needed our local media more than we do now.”

Western Isles fishermen have today (Wednesday 25 March) given a cautious welcome to the Scottish Government’s support funding during the Coronavirus crisis, announced this morning by fisheries secretary Fergus Ewing MSP.

An initial package of more than £5 million will be offered to seafood fishing companies, many of whom have lost their livelihoods with the collapse of export and hospitality markets for Scottish delicacies like langoustine, prawns and crab.

An initial payment of 50% of two months’ average earnings will be made to owners of all full time Scottish registered fishing vessels of 12 metres length and under – the vast majority of which are in the creel and dive sectors, operating in remote and island communities.

But a spokesman for the Western Isles fishing industry said this support would help less than a third of the Western Isles fleet, with over 1,000 jobs through the islands dependent on economic activity generated by the wider industry.

Duncan MacInnes of the Western Isles Fishermen’s Association said: “We have been in consultation with Marine Scotland over the past 10 days looking for some aid for the fishing industry and, although we welcome today’s announcement for the smaller vessels in the fleet, no more than 30% of them will be helped.

“Many vessels don’t qualify for this help and all sectors of the fishing industry need assistance in this unprecedented time.

“The markets for live produce on the continent have closed and markets for processed fresh and frozen fish are closing by the day. Most of our vessels will be tied up within days – indeed only a few are still going out.

“The local market is much too limited for the size of the fleet, with over 1,000 people employed in this industry, all of whom are suffering at the moment. Outside the public sector this is the largest sector in the Western Isles economy.

“Overall there has to be a fair and balanced approach to all vessels. Some have loans and fixed costs which have to be addressed, even if they are tied up.”

Mr MacInnes said there would be continuing discussions over the next days and weeks to find ways to help other parts of the industry.

The fisheries minister earlier said that support is also being developed for the onshore processing industry – one of the largest employers in Scotland’s coastal communities – and others in the shellfish growing sector which is being affected by the loss of trade and markets.

Mr Ewing said: “The economic impact of COVID-19 is global, and is reaching into the heart of our fragile coastal communities. I have spent the last week listening to and liaising with our fishing industry, and there are many who have lost their livelihoods with little prospect of an early recovery. The need for action is immediate.

“I am therefore announcing an initial package of support, and Scottish Government officials are working as hard as possible to get this money out of the door as fast as we can.

“We recognise that more needs to be done, particularly to try and create some alternative markets – at least in the short-term. I will be discussing with retailers how that might be achieved, and I would also encourage the public to play their part by buying Scottish seafood if they can.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil said: “An initial payment of 50% of two months’ average earnings will be made to owners of all full time Scottish registered fishing vessels of 12 metres length and under, many of whom operate in our island communities. I welcome this vital support and am also pleased that support is due to be developed for the onshore processing industry which is also widely affected due to the loss of trade and markets.

“I am pleased that there are plans to do more on this matter and particularly to try and create alternative markets.

“We can all assist with this by buying Scottish seafood and indeed buying locally for many essential things.

“Local businesses are already hugely supporting our communities by changing the way they operate and also offering delivery services.

“Working together we can get through this challenging period and I would urge everyone to buy locally when you can.”

Pictures: The Gratitude K is one of very few vessels under 12 metres fishing from the Western Isles (Gordon Macrae/Marine Traffic). Creel fishermen on smaller vessels will be helped with 50% grants.

Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) offices are now closed and staff are currently working from home.

HHP have advised that anyone wishing to is still able to contact them via email and phone.  

At present, only emergency repairs will be carried out.  HHP commented: "Non-emergency works that have been previously reported will be postponed. We will contact you about this and will carry out the work as soon as we can."

During emergency repairs, additional measures will be put in places to comply with distancing requirements.

HHP are seeking to make contact with as many of their tenants as possible to check on their wellbeing.  They can be reached on 0300 123 0773 or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Western Isles Hospital had a successful first day of remote consultations yesterday (Tuesday 24 March), with outpatients appointments operating using the NHS NearMe video system.
All GP Practices, hospitals and other care settings across Scotland have been asked to increase use of remote consultations by telephone or video. It will mean most people can receive urgent health care and advice from their own home – a crucial step to help reduce the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19).
NHS NearMe operates from your home, so there is no need to visit the surgery or hospital. NHS Western Isles Quality Improvement Coordinator, Elizabeth Fowler, said: "This scaling up of Near Me services, as part of the COVID-19 response, offers
our patients quick and easy access to health services without the need to leave home, so especially useful for parents and carers, or anyone who is self-isolating."
Our reporter Annie Delin was one of the first to have her appointment switched to the new system yesterday. She writes: “I already had an appointment fixed for the respiratory clinic on Tuesday and, as the date approached, I was convinced it would be cancelled because of the current situation. I even considered cancelling it myself, as I’ve already been in self-isolation for 10 days.
“Instead I was told that Dr David Ross would conduct the clinic using NearMe. I was told to follow the link from the NHS Western Isles home page (and here) to start my appointment.
“You need to be at a computer or with your tablet set up to face you. The software on your own computer asks permission to use the camera and microphone. Make sure the volume is on so that you can hear what is being said.
“At the appointment time, I clicked on the ‘start video call’ button. You fill in your name and date of birth and the name of the doctor you are expecting to see (it’s on your appointment letter) and then you wait, looking at your own face on the screen.
At least that gives you time to fix your hair and move the screen around to get a clear picture!
“After a short wait, a nurse/receptionist appears on the screen and checks who you are to see and at what time. She’s a real person and she is at the hospital in Stornoway. She puts you into a ‘virtual waiting room’ and some music is played with
a message on the screen to show that you are waiting.
“Dr Ross appeared on screen. To my relief my own picture disappeared into a small box in the corner, so I could stop feeling self-conscious. And luckily the first question he asked was ‘what do you do for a living?’.
“That allowed me to say that I was a journalist and hoped to write up this experience. I asked permission to take a picture and he agreed.
“The appointment was relaxed and easy, it worked just like a face-to-face meeting except that I saved a 20-mile return journey and didn’t break my self-isolation.  Overall it was completed in about 40 minutes, including waiting time.

“When the consultation ended and we had agreed what action was needed next, I clicked the ‘end call’ button. A short survey appeared on the screen asking how I had found the NearMe system.
“My only negative comments were around the uncertainty of how the whole thing would work. None of us are familiar and easy with remote technology and it’s reassuring, once you’ve done it, to know what will happen next time.
“That’s why I wanted to share how it worked with We Love Stornoway readers, so you know what to expect and how it will work. In these difficult times, we’re all going to have to learn new tricks. If I can do it, anyone can.”
The pictures show Dr Ross during his appointment with Annie yesterday and the opening screen which you will see when you follow the link to use NearMe for your appointment.

Prioritised testing for coronavirus (COVID-19) will allow key health and social care workers to return to work, the Scottish Government has announced.

NHS Western Isles has welcomed the newly published guidance for NHS Scotland to prioritise testing to enable health and social care staff to get back to work, based on the pressures Health Boards are already facing.

As testing capacity increases, this will be extended to other key workers.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “It is essential that front-line health and social care staff can remain at work. To help to save lives, we must continue to prioritise testing in hospitals. All remaining capacity must be used to ensure that critical staff can return to work as soon as possible.

“I am publishing guidance for the NHS to support use of the testing capacity in our laboratories, in so far as it is not needed for essential care, in order to enable health and social care staff to be back at work when that is safe.

“NHS boards will prioritise testing, based on where the pressure is felt most in their workforce and in social care.”

Boards are being asked to prioritise testing the symptomatic household members of health and social care staff – in cases where the staff have no symptoms but have to remain in isolation because a family member does.

This will mean that where the household member tests negative, the health or social care staff member will not have to isolate for 14 days, and this will have the greatest impact in reducing working days lost.

For example, if a nurse is symptomatic and receives a negative test result three days after the onset of symptoms, the number of working days could be reduced by four because they would not have to complete the full seven days of self-isolation.

However, if that nurse is in household isolation because their son has a fever and cough, they would normally be required to stay in household isolation for 14 days. If the son is tested and receives a negative test result three days after symptom onset, the number of working days lost would be reduced by 11.

Boards will prioritise in areas where staff are most needed. While one board may have pressures in their midwifery services and so prioritise testing in this group, for example, another may need to prioritise Intensive Care Units (ICU) consultants.

The Prince of Wales has tested positive for coronavirus, Clarence House has confirmed.

Prince Charles, who is aged 71, is displaying mild symptoms "but otherwise remains in good health".

The Duchess of Cornwall has also been tested but does not have the virus.

Clarence House said Charles and Camilla are now self-isolating at Balmoral Castle.

The Scottish Government is being urged to reverse planned cuts to the Highlands and Islands 

Shadow Finance Secretary, Donald Cameron, has asked for plans to be changed in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

In an exchange of letters with HIE chief executive Carrie Buxton, it was revealed that HIE proposes to balance its books by slashing the financial support it gives to business across the region. During the last financial quarter alone (Oct-Dec 2019) HIE provided financial awards to nearly 100 businesses and organisations in the region.

Mr Cameron, a Highlands and Islands MSP, said: “The Covid 19 emergency will require a profound rethink of many decisions, including budgetary decisions, that were made before the implications of the pandemic became clear.

“Clearly, It would be folly to slash support for businesses at a time when they are facing unprecedented challenges and wondering what the future may hold for them and their employees.

“The business community in the Highlands and Islands is characterised by small enterprises which simply lack the liquidity to sustain themselves for a prolonged period without income.

“They will naturally look towards Highlands and Islands Enterprise for support and advice, which it is uniquely placed to provide, because of its understanding of the distinctive nature of our economy and the enterprises which provide its backbone.

“I will be speaking to ministers, as well as HIE, to urge that this is looked at as urgently as possible so as to reassure everyone affected.”

David Stewart MSP has also asked the Scottish Government if it will reverse the 5% budget cut to HIE to support businesses and economic recovery following the crisis.  “The effects of the Coronavirus shutdown on businesses – including restaurants, shops and arts organisations – is going to be huge. We welcome the support that the UK and Scottish Governments has announced, but it may not be enough. Businesses must be reassured they will not come out of this crisis saddled with debt.

“The cuts being passed down to HIE for the coming financial year were always short-sighted, however, the impact that these cuts are going to have now due to the additional pressures being put on businesses across the region by the negative economic impact of Covid-19 bring this into even sharper relief.

“HIE play an essential role in strengthening local communities across the Highlands and Islands, which is one of Scotland’s most economically fragile areas. It is vital that the Scottish Government reverse the cuts and show a commitment to supporting businesses and economic recovery in the region once we are through this crisis.”

 

NHS Western Isles have issued a reminder to parents to make sure their children are immunised.

Dr. Maggie Watts, Director of Public Health and Screening Co-ordinator for NHS Western Isles, said: “Immunisation protects children against serious diseases. Once immunised, children’s bodies are better at fighting these diseases if they come into contact with them. Vaccines work by helping the body’s immune system to make antibodies (substances that fight off infection).

"If your child comes into contact with the infection, the antibodies recognise the infection and help protect your child.”

Before attending an appointment, please ensure both parent/carer and child are well and showing no symptoms of Coronavirus.

Parents will continue to be sent an appointment to bring their child in for their immunisations, which will be administered at their GP Practices.

The NHSWI School Nursing Team will be suspending the teenage booster and HPV vaccination programmes whilst schools remain closed.

For further information on routine immunisations currently offered to help protect children up to the age of 5 years from serious childhood diseases, please view the ‘Protect your child against serious diseases’ booklet.

Provided to parents by their family Health Visitor, the booklet describes these diseases and explains why young children need protection against them. It also answers some of the most common questions about immunisations. Alternatively, view the booklet online here.

Coronavirus information can be found here and details on immunisation can be found here.

Comhairle Leader, Roddie Mackay, has expressed his concern over the coronavirus' long-term effects on the community.

Mr Mackay has written to Finance Secretary, Kate Forbes, regarding the current lack of funding support for the Self-Catering Industry in the recently announced support packages.

Mr Mackay, said: “I believe that whatever direct damage COVID-19 causes to health and well-being, there may well be much longer and embedded effects from the impact on communities from the loss of business, industry and jobs. Therefore, it is vital that we do what we can to maintain key sectors so that they can bounce back quickly when this crisis is over.”

He added that: “Those who run self-catering and B&B businesses throughout the islands are a really significant contributor to the local economy, as I am sure they are in Ms Forbes own constituency, and they are deserving of similar levels of support to that on offer to retail and hospitality.

“I know that the First Minister, the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and indeed Fergus Ewing, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy, all value and understand the hugely important role of this sector in rural Scotland and particularly in the Highlands and Islands.

"I am sure that they will make every effort to support them in conjunction with the UK Government grants scheme. Whilst I do understand why they would seek to exclude empty holiday homes from this scheme, I think that asking for evidence of trading, such as submitting accounts to the Inland Revue and having a tax reference number, will sort that.”

Highlands and Islands, MSP Donald Cameron, commented: “We have many business providing self-catering accommodation across the Highlands and Islands and their owners stand to lose significant amounts of income during the pandemic.

“While the UK Government has included self-catering businesses as eligible for some support in England and Wales, we have not yet seen an equivalent measure announced by the Scottish Government, and this is causing confusion and concern across the region.

“We have raised the issue of self-catering accommodation directly with Scottish Ministers, to ensure that the right businesses are eligible for support from the Scottish Government in these difficult times.

“We have been assured that this is being looked at with urgency and I hope this provides some re-assurance to worried business-owners.”

A Belgian adventurer who has been living in his car for over two weeks is desperately appealing for accommodation.  

Pierre De Greef moved to Scotland last year and was living with friends.  

However, the recent coronavirus situation resulted in Pierre having to leave.  

Pierre comments: "Coronavirus has impacted everyone and recently, they had to take home in emergency, a family member out from the hospital to prevent him from catching the virus, which would definitely kill him.

"I obviously couldn't no longer stay there, that would multiply the risks for him.

"So for me, I had to leave my accommodation.  And I know that it was a terrible dilemma for my friend to ask me to leave but he couldn't do otherwise."

Pierre is unable to return back to Belgium and all his best efforts to find accommodation have failed.  "I'm asking if anyone in the isle could let or rent, for a very modest amount, something like a caravan or a tourist hut," he appeals.  "I'm really facing an impossible situation.

"And I'm scared about vandalism because of my Belgium plate."

Pierre previously experienced vandalism after his tent and gear were damaged in the Castle Grounds in 2018.

Pierre can be reached on 07470 015640 at any time.  

Ferry operator CalMac has today (Wednesday 25 March) pleaded with customers to go online, after contact centres were swamped with almost 5000 phone calls yesterday.
The impact of Coronavirus means the company's contact centres are operating a reduced service, coinciding with unprecedented call volumes.
CalMac's Head of Customer Services, Alan Hood said: “Our staff are currently focused on protecting services for those who live on the islands, but have essential travel to and from the mainland, and for lifeline businesses and suppliers who
urgently need make these crossings.
“I understand customer concerns about their travel plans, but being inundated with calls is making it very difficult to deal with urgent and essential situations.
“Customers looking to cancel a booking and receive a refund can do so through our website and are urged to use this method.”
CalMac has cancelled all bookings up until July 16, and all travel before this date is for essential lifeline services only. A turn-up and go service which does not need pre-booking is being operated and only island residents and those with essential business in the islands are currently permitted to travel.  Full details on how to get a refund on a booked ticket here.

Patients with coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms are now asked to dial NHS 24 on 111, day or night, if they are unable to manage their symptoms or if their symptoms do not improve after seven days.

However, people are being urged not to call 111 with mild symptoms that they are able to manage at home – as the service is facing unprecedented demand, and it needs to be available for those who most need it.

NHS Western Isles are also urging local communities across the Western Isles: please do not call your GP or go to the surgery with regard to coronavirus.  

If you require a sick note due to coronavirus, you can get this from the NHS Inform website https://www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus.

This new system provides patients with a straightforward dedicated route to clinical advice and support, as well as freeing up GP practices to treat and care for all non-coronavirus health conditions.

Under the new arrangement introduced this week, callers to the 111 helpline will be assessed and, if necessary, transferred to a local community assessment hub.

There are assessment hubs, staffed by local clinicians, in Lewis, Uist and Barra, to ensure patients get the best possible advice at the right time.

Depending on their assessment, patients may be given advice over the telephone to help them continue self-isolating at home or be given an appointment to attend their local assessment centre for further treatment.

Where symptoms are managable and for people who have access to the internet, NHS Inform’s coronavirus webpage is still the fastest way for people to get the latest health advice and information.

There is also a free NHS 24 helpline for people without symptoms looking for general information on coronavirus - 0800 028 2816.

For patients who do not have any coronavirus symptoms (but need to see a doctor), they should continue to telephone their GP when open and not call NHS 24. In the out-of-hours period, when displaying symptoms other than coronavirus, you should only call 111 if you need urgent assessment and cannot wait until your GP is open.

Health Secretary Jeane Freeman said: “This change means that anyone who has coronavirus symptoms and needs additional help or advice can now call the same number any time, day or night, seven days a week.

“As the number of people presenting with symptoms continues to grow, we must adapt to manage the daily growth in demand. As well as ensuring people are getting the right help at the right time, this step will also help ensure GP capacity to provide care for people in the community is protected and that only those cases that need to be admitted to hospital are admitted.”

NHS 24’s Director of Service Delivery Steph Phillips said: “NHS 24 has been at the forefront of supporting Scotland’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, through the NHS Inform website, the special helpline and the 111 service. This change will make it easier for people who are concerned about their symptoms to get the help they need as quickly as possible. Please help us to help you.”

Background

NHS Inform’s coronavirus webpage is still the fastest way for people to get the latest health advice and information.

If you need a sick note due to coronavirus, don’t contact your GP or NHS 24. You can download an isolation note directly from NHS Inform.

Common symptoms of coronavirus include:

  • high temperature or fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

Patients should only call NHS 24 (on 111) if their symptoms:

  • have not improved after 7 days
  • are severe or they have shortness of breath
  • worsen during home isolation

For any other health related concerns, make NHS Inform your first point of contact or call your GP during opening hours. If your GP practice is closed and your query can’t wait you can still call NHS 24 (on 111).

If you don't have symptoms and are looking for general information on coronavirus, call NHS Inform’s free helpline: 0800 028 2816.

As part of our international series of articles, Taylor Edgar - formerly of the Stornoway Gazette and EVENTS newspaper - reports from Hanoi on the very different approach taken by the people and government of Vietnam

The response to Covid19 by the Vietnamese government has been world-class, if relatively overshadowed in the West by news of efforts to contain the rising curve of cases in Hong Kong, Singapore and South Korea.

With the Chinese border around 200 km from Vietnam's capital, Hanoi minds were firmly focused from the outset on how to keep the invisible killer at bay.

Early intervention kept the number of cases to a mere 16. All the victims, many of whom were in Wuhan on a training course, recovered and were subsequently discharged from hospital.  Each was shown on TV being presented with bouquets of flowers to take home. With no new cases for three weeks, the entire country was allowing itself a sigh of relief.

But that all changed on March 6 when a Vietnamese socialite flew home to Hanoi after visiting the UK, Italy and France. Within a day she was diagnosed with Covid19 and had infected several people, including her family and other airline passengers. By the time everyone was traced, the number of Covid19 cases had doubled. All the new cases since then have been Vietnamese or foreigners arriving here from Europe or Malaysia. So far, there have been no deaths. The latest figure is 123 confirmed cases, with 57,600 under quarantine, 30,000 of whom are at home.

The response from the government has been decisive from the beginning. Wearing masks in public places is now compulsory with very high levels of compliance. From personal observation, easily 97% are wearing masks. I am no virologist, but I would think wearing masks was a major factor in preventing the spread of the infection, given the incubation period before people display symptoms.

Trains and planes to and from China were quickly banned. Freight trucks from China are corralled and disinfected, the drivers put in quarantine while Vietnamese drivers take the lorries across the border, unload the containers and then return the truck back to their counterparts.

Meanwhile, Vietnam has suspended the issuing of visas to travellers. Those that arrived in Vietnam before the suspension were immediately shipped off to quarantine centres. Initially, there was temperature testing at airports, but this was abandoned as it was causing long queues and defeating social distancing.

Two days ago, it was announced that a further 20,000 quarantine places were ready for Vietnamese returning home from overseas.

Much of the success in combatting Covid19 is down to Vietnam moving quickly to lock down areas where Covid19 cases are detected which has until now avoided the need for a country-wide closure. In February, an entire town of 10,000 people was made off-limits and since then parts of the capital have been put in temporary quarantine as well as sections of Vietnam’s second city, Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). In common with many other countries, sporting events, including the debut Hanoi F1 Grand Prix in April, and other gatherings, have been outlawed. In the last 24 hours, Ho Chi Minh City has ordered businesses to close until at least the end of March.

Generally, people are staying home and only venturing forth to go to work or for food shopping. I haven’t been into the Old Quarter in weeks. In my neighbourhood, a number of businesses have closed due to the downturn in business. Many, especially those in this neighbourhood that rely on the custom of expats, may well never reopen. Only time will tell.

Schools here have been closed since Tet, the Lunar New Year holiday, in late January. With most foreigners being employed as English teachers, and usually paid on a per-class basis, life is getting increasingly tough. With little likelihood of schools reopening before the summer, most have taken to teaching online for various web companies or cut their losses and returned home.

But spare a thought for one particularly unlucky Vietnamese man in a country with a population of 91 million. He is now in his third 14-day spell of quarantine at home after a succession of neighbours in his Saigon apartment block have tested positive for Covid19.

Thomas Taylor Edgar

All current Stornoway Angling Association activities are suspended.

All 2020 competitions planned are cancelled until the situation eases.

The club announced this in the light of Government announcements regarding the escalating Coronavirus situation,

Trout boats should not be accessed.

Sportsworld is closed for the foreseeable future and no additional membership payments can be taken.

"Given the speed of change in this matter, the Committee will update members more fully as and when it is practical to do so, and we would ask for your patience in the meantime.

"Our primary concern right now is for the safety and wellbeing of all our members, their families and all those who support our activities in whatever way and would urge you all to follow the Government guidelines."

 

An Lanntair arts centre in Stornoway is facing major challenges as a result of the coronavirus shutdown.

"

The closure of the centre with a horizon of several weeks, potentially months, has forced us to cease trading in the café bar," members have been told. "This part of the business is run by our subsidiary company, An Lanntair Trading Ltd. 



"We are working with HR and legal professionals, as well as our stakeholders, including Creative Scotland, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and Highlands and Islands Enterprise, to secure the future of An Lanntair’s artistic and education programmes. 

"With their support, along with emergency measures announced by the government, we intend to continue to employ An Lanntair's staff and prepare to emerge from the current crisis, pick up where we left off and continue to provide a strong and vital service to our many audiences and participants, and to our community.  



"Sadly however, we cannot take the same approach with the commercial activity that is run through An Lanntair Trading Ltd. Staff who work for this company, that is, those who work in the café bar and kitchen, have been informed that the company has ceased trading and that they are at risk of redundancy.

"This is a very difficult time for all those affected and it is with deep regret that it has reached this point. 



"As reported to An Lanntair's AGM in November last year, An Lanntair Trading Ltd made a loss in the last financial year, and was projected to make a further loss in the financial year just finishing. 

"Work had been under way to review and revitalise the café bar business, however the sudden impact of the recent COVID-19 crisis shut-down has meant that this work is no longer viable.  


"An Lanntair's arts and education teams are working behind the scenes to identify ways to connect and engage with the community and artists throughout the shut-down period."

Don’t expand your permitted exercise plans by heading for the hills, urges Highland MSP.

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron urges hillwalkers to keep away from the mountains until the coronavirus pandemic is over, and not to regard a high-level trek as an option for exercising.

Mr Cameron said: “In recent days members of the Oban Mountain Rescue Team have been out in the hills assisting walkers who have got into difficulty.

“They have been supported by the police and the ambulance service as well as by helicopter crews.

“At a time like this when the emergency services are likely to find themselves at full stretch it is simply not acceptable for people to put themselves in a position where they require this level of assistance.

“There are other options for taking exercise outside which should, in any event, be taken close to home and without risk to themselves or others.

“I would plead with anyone thinking about heading for the hills to think again and heed the advice of Mountaineering Scotland: ‘Stay Local, Stay Safe’.“

Meanwhile Margo Paterson, Chief Executive of Hostelling Scotland, said: “It is with great sadness that we have had to temporarily close our Youth Hostel network until further notice. However, the health, safety and wellbeing of our people and guests along with protecting the communities in which we all live and work is our utmost priority at this time.

“The current situation is difficult for everyone and if ever there was a time for communicating with mutual understanding, this is it. We will keep in touch with you through our monthly e-newsletters and social media channels. You’ll find us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. Further information is always available on our website and you can also email us with any enquiries direct at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

We really appreciate the hard work being carried out by all healthcare workers and those on the front line, looking after people and keeping us safe. Although our hostels are closing, we shall be talking with the NHS and other public services to see how best our hostels can support essential services.

“Thank you for your continued support of Hostelling Scotland. It gives heart and hope to hear messages of support and to know that so many people have plans to explore this beautiful country of ours and to stay in our Youth Hostels in the future.

“When we all start travelling again, we will be here for you and ready to provide the warm welcome you’ve come to expect from our organisation. Please stay well and look after one another.

"We look forward to welcoming you again very soon.”

Following tonight’s introduction of new emergency measures aimed at stopping the spread of the coronavirus, Scottish Natural Heritage in conjunction with our partners at Carloway Estate Trust have decided to suspend this year’s greylag goose management scheme in Lewis and Harris.  

Shooting and all other activity associated with the scheme will now cease with immediate effect.

We will continue to review the position in line with Government guidance and would like to thank our volunteers for their efforts to date, and the wider community for your understanding.

Since 2014 the Lewis & Harris greylag goose management group have been carrying out management to sustainably control the local greylag goose management population, with the aim of reducing the impacts greylag geese have on crofting and farming.  

The management scheme is delivered by experienced volunteer hunters working in their local communities across the islands following established best practice. It is funded and licenced by Scottish Natural Heritage and delivered in partnership with Carloway Estate Trust.

The National Goose Management Review Group (NGMRG) ensures that all such management schemes in Scotland are guided by the same three objectives of national goose policy. This will meet the UK’s nature conservation obligations for geese within the context of wider biodiversity objectives; minimise economic losses experienced by farmers and crofters as a result of the presence of geese, and maximise the value for money of public expenditure.

Bethesda Nursing Home is now closed to all visitors.
There are visiting restriction in the Hospice, it has been announced
Bethesda Charity shop on Bayhead is also closed until further notice.  "
Please do not leave any items at the shop," they say

The UK Government today (Tuesday March 24) sent out a text to every mobile phone alerting people to the new clampdown on free movement. This came after a confusing day when the Government in Scotland pursued a policy, intimated yesterday, of shutting the construction industry while the Government in London took a a different view.  The time when the text arrived appeared to depend on which network users were on.

Bus services, public toilets and household recycling facilities are all closed, say Comhairle nan Eilean Siar

Having considered the extremely low number of bus users today and yesterday, and taking account of the number of businesses that have now closed – including most of the building trade – all bus services will cease from the end of today, Tuesday 24 March, says the Council.  

Key workers requiring transport to their work should contact the Comhairle’s Transport Office on 01851 600 501.

The Stornoway Bus Station will also close as of tonight.

All Comhairle related public toilets will be closed from tonight, Tuesday 24 March.

All Household Waste Recycling Centre are closed to the public.

Bennadrove Landfill Site is also closed to the public.

Only commercial and industrial waste collections are accepted at Bennadrove Landfill Site.

Through the use of technology, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s COVID-19 Planning Group, continues to, and will continue to, meet on a regular basis to discuss safeguarding and protecting clients, services, members and employees throughout the Western Isles.

The following are updates on other Comhairle run services.

Education: All schools are closed for pupils. However, they remain open for the children of Key Workers enabling them to continue in their employment. We would encourage Key Workers to fill in the online registration form https://bit.ly/2UjT6Ys so that we can continue to provide necessary support. Please note that online applications will close temporarily at 5.00pm tonight to allow us to prepare records for Wednesday. Registration will re-open tomorrow morning at 8.00am.

Residential Care: Local Authority Care Homes continue to operate as normal other than the revised visitation policy. Families have all understood and accepted the reasons for the one named visitor policy. There are no current plans to change this policy.

Home Care: Both the Lewis and Harris Home Care Service and the Uist and Barra Home Care Service continue to operate under these challenging times. A number of staff have had to self-isolate for various reasons, which has presented challenges in service delivery across the Western Isles.  A significant number of families have assumed caring responsibilities which has gone a large way in alleviating the pressure on the Home Care Service. We are most grateful to these families for stepping at this critical time.    In addition to this, the remaining Homecare Staff continue to work extremely hard in maintaining service delivery. We are also in the process of recruiting additional staff following a very positive response from the wider public in terms of our appeal to the public for help.

Refuse Collections: Residential and Commercial Refuse collections continue as per normal schedules.

 

Following the announcement yesterday (Monday 23) by the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon that building sites in Scotland should close, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has decided to suspend construction activity on the Stornoway Primary School (Early Years Provision) and Lochmaddy Pier Improvement projects.

In addition, in collaboration with the Hebridean Housing Partnership, the Comhairle has decided to suspend activity on the Lewis Residential Care and Affordable Housing projects at Goathill, Stornoway.

There will be a reducing amount of activity at all the sites over the next few days as the respective Contractors and their supply chain put in place measures to protect incomplete and temporary works on and adjacent to the sites and to make and keep the sites safe and secure for the duration of the suspension.

Scotland has again moved faster than England towards a total lockdown by stopping construction work. UK Minister for the Cabinet Office Michael Gove has said that construction work should continue in England for the “economic health” of the nation. 

 

All hospitals in the Western Isles are closed to visitors, NHS Western Isles says.

This follows yesterday’s Government announcement and instructions,

"This decision has been taken to protect our staff and patients, and to ensure we take every step possible to protect and preserve our hospitals and healthcare facilities at this time of very significant risk.  This new measure is in place with immediate effect.

NHS Western Isles Nurse and AHP Director/Chief Operating Officer, William Findlay, said: “Looking after our patients and staff is our main priority and every step we take is to support them. We understand that this advice will be upsetting and hugely challenging, however, I would like to thank all staff, patients and carers for their continued support during this time.”

What does this mean for you?

  • Regrettably, you will not be allowed to enter the hospital to visit friends or relatives.
  • If the clinical staff feel that the clinical condition of any patient warrants the presence of family members, they will make direct contact with you.
  • We appreciate your understanding at this very challenging time.

An exclusion zone has today (Tuesday 24 March) been placed around the stranded Norwegian cargo vessel Kaami, which remains hard aground on rocks midway between the Isles of Skye and Lewis.

A specialist salvage team from the Resolve Marine Group has been appointed by the vessel owners and insurers and is expected to arrive on-scene later this afternoon.

The ship grounded at 1.51am yesterday at the Eugenie rocks (Sgeir Graidach), north-west of Fladdah Dhauin and east of the Isle of Lewis. Eight crew members were later airlifted to safety in Stornoway by the Coastguard rescue helicopter R948.

The helicopter crew operated in severe storm conditions in the early hours of yesterday morning, with Portree RNLI Lifeboat and the Northern Lighthouse Board vessel Pharos standing by.

The Maritime and Coastguard Agency Emergency Towing Vessel (ETV) Ievoli Black remains on-scene today, patrolling around the vessel at a distance of between one and two miles. Observations from the ETV have reported damage to the port side of the vessel and a small amount of oily pollution which has reportedly dispersed quickly in the rough sea conditions.

Conditions in the area remain stormy, with winds gusting to gale force 8, occasionally severe gale force 9 and a rough to very rough sea state, with waves between two and six metres high.

The 90-metre general cargo vessel was en route to Sweden carrying refuse derived fuel (RDF) in the form of paper and wood-waste pellets. This is classified as a non-hazardous cargo and is produced from domestic and business waste, shredded and pelletised for use to generate energy.

The fixed-wing aircraft operated by HM Coastguard has today overflown the Kaami to complete aerial surveillance. Technical advice from the salvors is awaited following their initial inspection and both commercial and national response systems have been put on alert.

Stephan Hennig, the Secretary of State’s Representative (SOSREP) for Maritime Salvage and Intervention, is responsible for overseeing the response to accidents at sea. He has established a temporary exclusion zone around the vessel.

The SOSREP and the MCA’s Counter Pollution and Salvage team are in close liaison with the vessel owners and insurers, the Environmental Regulators for Scotland and with other pollution response agencies, including the national response contractors.

See We Love Stornoway’s Facebook page for a video of one of the crewmen being winched aboard Stornoway Coastguard helicopter.

As part of welovestornoway.com’s aim to give readers an insight into the impact of coronavirus in small communities across the world, Oliver Penrice, of Etoile St Cyrice, Hautes Alpes, Provence, tells how it has swept local traditions aside.

Orpierre’s last hurrah was its black pudding festival (fête du boudin) on March 14th.

That very evening social distancing measures were announced, schools and non-essential businesses ordered to close and the public clearly instructed to stay at home.

Trips to the shops are permitted only if they are made by a single person in possession of a signed and dated document stating the purpose of their trip.

A friend in St Tropez was challenged by a gendarme for carrying flowers, which he deemed inessential.  She protested that the flowers came from the same shop as the food she was also carrying, and reason prevailed.

Locally there is no visible increase in police presence, my wife reporting that the only obvious abnormality, today (Monday March 23) was that the pharmacy was dealing with sales and prescriptions from a table outside the premises.

On Monday March 23rd that great institution, the French open market, was also ordered to close, although mayors may over-ride this ruling if they deem their market to offer the closest access to essential foodstuffs.

Trivial puzzles and paradoxes appear: my car will shortly need to take its biennial MOT test, for which it needs new headlights. The garage has the parts but is not allowed to open. The MOT station is also closed but its helpful proprietor told me that the government has set back all deadlines for three months. He was concerned not only for his present loss of income but by the prospect of a life of 12- hour working days to clear the inevitable backlog in the future.

In terms of daily life it seems that the quiet of winter will extend into the summer. Orpierre is normally transformed when its tiny population is swamped by those staying on its expansive campsite and mobile home park. While its closure will badly affect the summer trade of its one convenience store, the owners say that their local trade has been boosted as people prefer to shop locally. Its shelves are full.

Accidenté is the word the French often use to describe the landscape in which I live. It might translate as battered or fragmented.  A series of pre-Alpine mountain ranges, running from east to west, lie between the vineyards of the Rhone valley and high peaks of the real Alps. Life has never been easy here. On the hillsides a sparse clay soil clings to folded or crumbled rock and vegetation has to cope with seasonal extremes of temperature falling between minus twenty and the scorching forties. Local communities are used to tightening their belts and carrying on.

Lavender is the main cash crop…here a sign promotes its natural qualities

Some 15 years ago the normally hardy lavender crop failed disastrously, sending family members in search of whatever town work they could find. So far, though, the Covid 19 outbreak seems to have had little effect on agricultural life here. The farms are small and family run and, of course, the nation needs to be fed. But what of the parallel tourist industry?

Too high for ‘winter sun,’ and yet not high enough for winter sports, the area has a short season running, for most providers, between Easter and All Saints on November 1st. Since this is an area in which the dusty charms of Provence are clinging by their fingernails to rising hillsides, the tourist industry cannot sit idly by awaiting a surfeit of eager visitors. It is, though, home to resourceful specialists offering holidays to hang gliding and paragliding enthusiasts, sailplane pilots, rock climbers, cyclists and mountain bikers and even amateur astronomers. With a small population and little industry, its roads and tracks are quiet and its sky clear and unpolluted. In the weeks, and many feel months, to come this entire industry will be closed down unconditionally.

Some of these businesses, notably the larger hotels and campsites, run on a business model involving very high volume in the season and, in effect, hibernation in winter. Those who have borrowed against the season they are now unlikely to enjoy will be worried.  The smaller providers, because the season is so short and their investments are fewer, will be able to survive the coming summer in the same way that they do the winter. They tend not to rely entirely on the season but are either semi-retired or have other income.

Of one thing we can be sure, though. None of us here, whether in agriculture or in tourism, would trade places with those forced to endure social distancing in city apartment blocks. Our hardy, back-country environment is, this time, making life very easy indeed for its inhabitants.

Castleview Dental Practice in Stornoway will close today (Tuesday 24 March)  in keeping with Scottish Government guidance.

This temporary measure helps with the social distancing vital to limiting the spread of Coronavirus.

Mr Kalvakuntla, the practice Principal, has taken this step with the safety of patients in mind.

The Practice will remain closed until Government advice changes.

Routine dental treatment is being suspended all across Scotland. 

Emergency care only will be provided. All patients in Lewis and Harris, including those from the Castleview Practice, should contact the Western Isles Dental Centre on 01851 707500.

In the Southern Isles calls should be directed to Liniclate Dental Clinic on 01870 602178.

With fewer staff available, appointments will be strictly limited to emergencies requiring urgent attention.

NHS Western Isles Dental Director, Colin Robertson, said: “The current pandemic is unlike anything our service has experienced before. 

"For the protection of our patients, some of whom are particularly vulnerable, limiting access is now crucial. Dental treatment involves close personal contact, which is now an unacceptable risk. The action taken by Castleview is welcome and timely.​

“This will be a difficult time, with reduced access to dental treatment. I would like to thank the public for their patience and understanding as we make our way through this period of uncertainty.” 

 

With effect from tomorrow (Wed 25/3/2020), the branch's opening hours will be as follows:

  • Monday to Friday - 9:30 - 14:30
  • Saturday and Sunday - CLOSED

Please accept our apologies for this reduction in hours, but it is essential we do what we can to minimise risk to our staff and the public.

Today’s Met Office weather warning of heavy rain throughout the Western Isles has been updated to reflect an earlier improvement in the conditions than first forecast.
Heavy rain and strong winds are forecast to continue through today (Tuesday 24 March) and into the first part of tomorrow, with the warning now expected to expire at 6am on Wednesday.
A SEPA flood alert also remains in force for the whole of the islands, with a risk of flooding to low-lying land and roads from rivers and surface water through Tuesday and into Wednesday.
Western Isles Weather also reported that the wettest place in the entire UK on Monday was Quidinish in the Isle of Harris, with 20mm of rainfall.
Picture shows: lovely weather for ducks, seabirds in Harris (Carolyn Leah).

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has taken steps to ensure the continuation of free school meals and Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA).
Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education, said: “We wanted to make sure that all the young people who qualify for EMA continue to receive support. We hope this action will provide some additional level of financial support in what is a difficult time for families.
For each qualifying student, the Comhairle has made an advanced payment of £30 per week up until the 5th of June 2020. This will be reviewed on the 8th of June and another advance payment will be issued to those eligible till the end of term on 26th of June 2020.
Mr Chisholm, continued: “All families with pupils in nursery and from P1 to S6 whose children qualify for Free School Meals will be paid £154 per child for the period between now and the 30th of June 2020. All families with pupils in P1 to P3 who qualify for Assistance with School Clothing will automatically qualify for this Free School Meal payment.”

Castlebay Co-op will be closing at 8pm this evening (Tuesday 24 March.)

Staffing levels have been cited as the reason for the early closure.

The shop will be back open tomorrow (Wednesday 25 March) at 7am.

With shop shelves emptying rapidly, food suppliers also today (Tuesday 24 March) have to deal with a second day of weather disruption to the ferry service.
The service between Oban and Castlebay has been cancelled and MV Loch Seaforth has tied up in Ullapool for the day after the early sailing from Stornoway.
She’s not due to return until 6.30pm and is operating as a freight only service.  The late running service after yesterday’s cancellations has left shops depleted of stock, at a time when unusual buying behaviour is already affecting what is on the shelves.
Co-op Stornoway’s store manager Steven Macaulay said the store were waiting for a return to normality in buying patterns.
He said: “Until we can get to a position of normality it is very challenging. With no ferry returning until this evening, on top of people’s current buying patterns, it is having a real impact on us.
“We are limiting people to two items per category of foodstuffs, but until we get the stock levels back to normal we’re not going to be managing to re-stock fully.”
The Co-op has introduced an ‘extra assistance’ hour for vulnerable shoppers between 8am and 9am daily, but Steven stressed that it was not possible to close the store to other shoppers, though older and vulnerable customers would be prioritised.
Meanwhile Tesco’s superstore in Stornoway this morning saw the first dedicated shopping hour for NHS staff and home carers, between 6am and 7am. The set-aside hour is to be in place every Tuesday morning.
A store spokesman said: “We all know how hard the NHS are working right now.  Many of them haven’t had the chance to shop for themselves.”
NHS shoppers who took advantage of this morning’s hour were presented with flowers on leaving the store and applauded by Tesco’s staff as they left the shop.
One NHS worker said: “Wow Tesco's. Not only did you open early for NHS staff you were lined up clapping us and gave us flowers when we left. You guys are amazing too!”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has taken steps to ensure the continuation of free school meals and Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA).

Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education, said: “We wanted to make sure that all the young people who qualify for EMA continue to receive support. We hope this action will provide some additional level of financial support in what is a difficult time for families.   

For each qualifying student, the Comhairle has made an advanced payment of £30 per week up until the 5th of June 2020.  This will be reviewed on the 8th of June and another advance payment will be issued to those eligible till the end of term on 26th of June 2020.

Mr Chisholm, continued: “All families with pupils in nursery and from P1 to S6 whose children qualify for Free School Meals will be paid £154 per child for the period between now and the 30th of June 2020.  All families with pupils in P1 to P3 who qualify for Assistance with School Clothing will automatically qualify for this Free School Meal payment.”

The Comhairle is now ready to accept applications for the Scottish Government’s Business Support Grants which are part of a range of measures to support businesses through the COVIS-19 crisis.

Eligible ratepayers of businesses located in a non-domestic property that, on 17 March 2020 were: in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme (SBBS); in receipt of Rural Relief; or eligible for SBBS but in receipt of Nursery Relief or Disabled Relief can apply for a one-off small business support grant of £10,000.

A separate one-off grant of £25,000 is available to the ratepayers of businesses in the Retail, Hospitality, Leisure sectors operating in a premises on 17 March 2020 with a rateable value of £18,001 or up to £50,999.

An electronic application form and detailed eligibility criteria and guidance is available to download on the Comhairle’s website at https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/coronavirus/coronavirus-business-support-fund/

Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay said “This is essential and welcome support for businesses at this difficult time. Our estimate is that these grants will support over 700 of the small businesses on which our economy depends and officers will be working hard to get the payments out as soon as we can.”

 

Pictures taken on the Isle of Harris have helped an Inverness doctor take the top slot in the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition.

Winner Dr Kenny Muir works at Raigmore Hospital in Inverness and has other things on his mind just now, so news of the win late last week (Thursday 19 March) came as a welcome diversion.

He said: ““As a hospital doctor I will be taking a break from photography to focus on current events, but really appreciate receiving the award.”

Dr Muir’s picture ‘Seilebost Gneiss’ was the overall winning image.

Photographer Bill Ward was also a winner, in the seascape category, with his image ‘Incoming Storm, Luskentyre’, while two other views of Luskentyre were named among the competition commendations.

The Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year – Collection 6 by Breeze Media is available to pre order at www.slpoty.com/ price £25.

Highlands and Islands Enterprise yesterday (Monday March 24) agreed to postpone the closure of the Connected Communities network.

This decision reflects the challenges that some users of the service have had in obtaining an alternative solution, compounded by corona virus restrictions.

Any current Hebrides.net customers who require an extension of service are asked to contact Scotnet as soon as possible on 0333 370 2222, or by e-mailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The extension has been agreed for one month initially, to be reviewed as the coronavirus situation evolves.

Commenting Angus B MacNeil, MP for Na H-Eileanan an Iar, said: “This is a welcome decision and for those who have not yet found a new provider this will be a lifeline during this crisis.

"It is up to individuals to contact Heb.net through their own account page to ask for the service to be maintained, it will not automatically carry on.

"If you have not found a new provider contact Heb.net as soon as you can to ensure your service continues.

“I had written to Paul Wheelhouse MP Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands to ask for an extension and am pleased that this is now happening. HIE are to be commended for this turnaround and for all the work they have done in helping people move to other providers.

“Given the current uncertainties it is good to note that there may be further extensions if needed. This will also be a chance to determine what continued demand exists for this service.

Police Scotland is going to clamp down on social movement in advance of the passing of the new laws designed to enforce the latest coronavirus restrictions.
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone QPM said: “We are fully behind the new measures announced by the UK and Scottish Governments to increase social distancing, and I urge and expect everyone to comply with them.
“We are aware of the proposed legislation in relation to coronavirus and are carefully considering the implications in this very fast moving situation, which presents the gravest of threats to the nation.
“In the meantime, Police Scotland has a clear, positive duty to both protect life and improve the safety and wellbeing of people across Scotland, while supporting the government and health agencies in our fight against this pandemic.
“Therefore, until the new legislation is in place, we will be increasing police patrols in key areas across the country to engage with and provide guidance to anyone in contravention of the measures.”
Earlier he said:” "I have always been clear that the Police Service of Scotland operates for the ultimate benefit of our fellow citizens and it is the consent of our communities from which we gain our authority and legitimacy.
"Your assistance, support and co-operation is vital during this critical period and I am grateful to the overwhelming majority who have complied with the significant sacrifices and changes to their lives that are needed to protect society.
"Our officers and staff are displaying great strength and resilience as they support the work of health professionals and wider society in what is a national effort.
"Yesterday, officers served emergency closure orders on the small number of licensed premises failing to comply with a Government request to close on the grounds of the threat posed to public safety.
"We are carefully monitoring the progress of emergency legislation relating to COVID-19 and we will continue to work with the Government about what is being asked of the public and the enforcement we will take where necessary.
"My priority, as always, is to ensure the people of Scotland are protected and policed effectively.
"Those breaking the law will be dealt with appropriately to ensure the public is kept safe from risk and harm.
"I urge you all to stay informed about developments and reflect on how you go about your lives during these difficult days.
"We, in Police Scotland, will continue to focus on public service and we must all work to support the national effort."

At the same time as Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron praised the UK Government for deferring VAT payments, HMRC sent out reminders that the next quarter’s payments were due, above.

Protecting the region’s businesses is a crucial part of the fight against the coronavirus virus said Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron.

Mr Cameron, the Conservative Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Finance, said: “While protecting the most vulnerable people in our communities must be the number one priority during this crisis, we should also take action to protect the economic health of the Highlands and Islands. 

“To do that we must get behind our small businesses and the self-employed who will be understandably very anxious about what the future may hold for them.

“I am therefore pleased that the Chancellor has outlined an extensive raft of measures of support, including scaling up the Business Interruption Loan Scheme, providing government grants which will cover 80 per cent of the salary of retained workers up to a total of £2,500 a month, and deferring the next three months of VAT.

“We are also pushing both the Scottish and UK Governments to consider further help for the self-employed.

“All this should help secure jobs and provide an injection of confidence, but I would really like feedback directly from local business-owners.

“Please drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Any information received will be treated in strict confidence.”

Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil is calling on the Chancellor to introduce measures to assist and protect the incomes of the self-employed during this unprecedented emergency. “I am hearing from many self-employed islanders who are obviously very concerned that they are facing financial hardship as a result of Covid-19.

"The SNP want the UK government to use the tax and welfare system to introduce a guaranteed income for everyone, raise UK Statutory Sick Pay to the EU average, and strengthen welfare protections by increasing Child Benefit and making Universal Credit more flexible.  I urge the Chancellor to make that happen so we can ensure no one is left behind."

A war of words broke out on Twitter yesterday (Monday March 23) after Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil publicly criticised councils across Scotland for keeping schools open and staffed.

He said on Twitter: “Councils across Scotland are demanding teachers turn up in near-empty schools tomorrow ...

“While FM & PM, rightly, say stay at home.  Is it pettiness in council education departments??

He was backed up by the leader of the Scottish Tories Jackson Carlaw who said: “Anyone second guessing national advice must STOP doing so. @NicolaSturgeon [is] clear, “life should not feel normal” & if we are to save lives & protect our NHS - we all must follow the @BorisJohnson advice & as far as possible stay at home.”

Neither Mr Carlaw nor Mr MacNeil explained how Key Workers' children should be cared for if the schools were not open.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar replied in a series of tweets. “We cannot speak for other councils. However, without teachers providing a resource in Western Isles schools, we would not be able to support @NHSWI, social care services, home care services, maintenance of utility infrastructure and transport.

“In the WI, we have 22 schools covering the same distance as Aberdeen-Glasgow & by using them as Humanitarian Resilience Centres, we maintain small populations geographically isolated. Our teaching workforce is limited & any service is directly to provide support to key workers.

“In light of the decisions taken tonight by both Governments, the Comhairle would wish to confirm that support remains in place, in nurseries, Primary and Secondary schools, for the children of all Key Workers.

“All our schools have provision today for key workers with no alternative childcare. PLEASE only send in pupils if you have absolutely no alternative care and your employer has confirmed that you are a key worker in SG categories. See here:

“We would encourage Key Workers to fill in the online registration form bit.ly/2UjT6Ys so that we can continue to provide necessary support.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar would like to thank parents and employers who supported us in following the guidance issued over the weekend about key workers self-identifying at schools today. We now have a good understanding of the likely demand that provisions will see.

Key Worker Registration

To help us to better shape the provision being made for key workers, we are introducing an online registration system for attendees from Wednesday 25th March and it is open now. 

Each registration will be screened and a confirmation issued to parents if their children are eligible to attend school from Wednesday onwards.

The registration form can be accessed here: https://bit.ly/2UjT6Ys

  • Registration is open now for Wednesday onwards but we ask that key workers continue to self-identify on Tuesday morning.
  • We ask that employers work with their employees to identify their key workers, as per the definitions issued by Scottish Government and then ask staff to complete this registration form. Who is a Key Worker?
  • Any employee completing the form MUST have had confirmation from their employer that they are considered a key worker.
  • Parents are asked to complete the form themselves for their children once their employer has agreed their status.
  • If both parents are key workers, both will need to submit an application
  • The service can only be used by key workers who have NO OTHER CHILDCARE AVAILABLE.
  • You only need to complete the form once to access provision.
  • Registration closes to new applicants at midnight daily to allow attendance from the next day.
  • From Wednesday 25th March, pupils will only be able to attend if a registration form has been received and approved.
  • Any parents without internet access to complete the registration should seek the support of their employer to do so in the first instance.
  • The Comhairle will share registration information with employers for verification purposes.

Churches which remained open for services yesterday (Sunday 22 March) are yielding to public and government pressure and revising their guidance after a stormy Sunday in Lewis.

Most churches in the Western Isles observed Government guidance on gatherings in public places, following the advice of denominational bodies including the Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland and Scotland’s Roman Catholic bishops and opting for online prayer and worship.

But some church bodies made the decision that guidance did not apply to their services and remained open for worship, including churches in Ness, Sandwick and on Scotland Street in Stornoway.

The discovery that some in the Christian community continued to allow gatherings when all other public buildings were closed led to calls for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and politicians to intervene to prevent such gatherings.

One islander said: “Church services simply cannot be taking place. I understand the spiritual need that is so important for some, but this needs changed as of now and most churches have put online options in place. The council leaders need to get involved and lead on this.”

And another commented: “Yes, it’s sad that we can’t meet together, but these are exceptional times and we all need to follow the advice given. Surely of all people we Christians should model this behaviour.”

Some chose to directly address the churches in question. One sent a private message to a church organisation saying: “I am in disbelief to hear there was a church service in Sandwick today. I assume you are all well aware of the Government’s advice.

“You are putting your congregation, your community, your island at risk. Please reconsider your actions. You do not have to congregate in a church to worship God.”

A guidance note issued by the Church Interests Committee of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland on Saturday said: “The importance of public worship is such that where possible, and adopting very stringent means of observing complete social distancing, this should continue.”

That decision has been revised today (Monday) with the same committee issuing a new guidance note. It said: “In this rapidly moving and distressing situation, the Church Interests Committee (CIC) has taken account of the strengthened language of the UK and Scottish Governments since it issued its advice at lunchtime on Saturday 21 March, and now updates its advice accordingly.

“It has become a key part of Government policy for slowing the spread of the virus among the population that everyone, not just the elderly and the vulnerable, should stay at home for all but essential reasons.

“The CIC recognises that the Scriptural sphere in which governments operate includes such lawful endeavours to safeguard the nation’s health.

“Therefore, whilst it does not wish to interfere with the rights of Biblical Church government, the CIC strongly urges Ministers and Church courts to close church buildings for a temporary period, and reiterates to all the people of the Church the government advice to stay at home except for essential reasons.”

The Free Church (Continuing) at Cross, Ness yesterday streamed two live services on YouTube, one on the theme of coping with isolation. The services are made available by the Free Church (Continuing) via their Twitter account.

The Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland offers audio content, including sermons by ministers from Leverburgh and Stornoway, at https://www.fpchurch.org.uk/sermon/

Picture shows Stornoway Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) at Sandwick during a gathering yesterday evening (Sunday).

 

Eight crew members from a Norwegian-owned bulk carrier vessel have been brought ashore in Stornoway, after their ship ran aground in stormy seas in the early hours of this morning (Monday 23 March).

The Russian crew were aboard the MV Kaami, a 90-metre long general cargo ship which was passing through the Minch on her way to the port of Slite in Sweden.

Her crew called for help from Stornoway Coastguard operations room after running aground by the cardinal buoy at the Eugenie rocks (Sgeir Graidach), north-west of Fladdah Dhauin and east of the Isle of Harris at around 1.50am today.

The crew were lifted from the vessel by Stornoway Coastguard helicopter R948 and brought to Stornoway, where they were passed into the care of the Fishermen’s Mission.

The Northern Lighthouse Board vessel Pharos and Portree RNLI lifeboat also stood by during the difficult rescue operation in stormy winds and high seas.

The un-manned vessel is still fast on the rocks mid-Minch, with the Coastguard tug Ievoli Black standing by. A pollution aircraft has overflown the site and reported no visible pollution. The aircraft also gathered visual data on the vessel’s structure, position and condition to help plan future salvage once the weather has improved.

Crewmen are now being accommodated at a Stornoway hotel, supported by Stornoway Shipping Services.

The picture shows the casualty vessel in her home port (Misje Rederi AS).

 

NHS Western Isles

  • Additional Visiting Restrictions
  • Dining Room closures to the public
  • Patient Travel Office – new arrangements

In response to Coronavirus, NHS Western Isles has taken some additional significant steps to protect patients, staff and visitors.

Additional Visiting Restrictions

Following Scottish Government guidance, we have, from today, Monday March 23, brought in stricter guidance for visiting patients in NHS Western Isles hospitals.

Dr Maggie Watts, Director of Public Health said “It is essential you do not visit a patient in hospital if you have a cough, flu like symptoms or a fever. We need to all work together to protect patients, families/carers and staff as much as we can.

“No children should be visiting hospital unless this is in exceptional circumstances and approved by the nurse or midwife-in-charge. We are also asking all visitors not to congregate outside wards or in corridors.”

From today – the guidance for people visiting patients in hospitals in the Western Isles is:

  • visiting is limited to one visitor per patient, between 7pm and 8pm
  • please contact the nurse in charge if there are exceptional circumstances – e.g. parent of a sick child, nominated person for a vulnerable adult or visiting a person receiving end of life care. 

 NHS Western Isles is urging people to use their health services wisely as it deals with the emerging situation.

NHS Western Isles Nurse and AHP Director/Chief Operating Officer, William Findlay, said: “Looking after our patients and staff is our main priority and every step we take is to support them. We understand that this advice will be challenging for you, however, I would like to thank all staff, patients and carers for their continued support during this time.”

Hospital Dining Rooms closed to the public

NHS Western Isles has also today taken the decision to temporarily close its hospital Dining Rooms to the public.

The Dining Rooms in Western Isles Hospital, Stornoway, and Uist and Barra Hospital, Benbecula, will remain open for staff only, until further notice.

This is to ensure traffic through our hospitals is kept to a minimum.

Patient Travel Offices – new arrangements

NHS Western Isles has taken the decision to close all three of its Patient Travel Offices to members of the public.

Members of the public requiring the services of Patient Travel are being advised to contact the offices by telephone or email. Staff will remain available to take calls and make travel bookings.

Telephone contact can be made from 9.00am-1.00pm/2.00pm-4.30pm, Monday to Friday.

Lewis & Harris Patient Travel Office 

Tel:  01851 708021     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 Uist Patient Travel Office

Tel: 01870 603606     This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Barra Patient Travel Office

Tel: 01871 810431    This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Travel documents can either be emailed or posted to patients.

Due to staff shortages, we advise patients that our Carloway surgery site is closing immediately this morning (Monday March 23) for the foreseeable future.

It will be open each weekday 3-4pm for Prescription Collection.

In addition, it will be open on Wednesday 8am-1pm for the Community Nurse clinic. 

If patients have  any questions then please contact us on 01851 860222 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We are posting regular updates on our website http://www.langabhatmedicalpractice.co.uk​ , Facebook and Twitter pages.

 

Once again, the carrion crows of humanity gather to feast on the hopes of the wretched.  Evading my spam filter this morning (Monday March 23) is this fine example of a fake offer…hoping to exploit the hopes and fears of those working so hard to keep their businesses intact. 

Click on the link…and lose the rest, is their plan. Keep an eye open folks, even in a pandemic the conmen are licking their fingers and hoping for rich pickings from the stressed and the distressed.

Meanwhile Police Scotland say that across the UK there is evidence fraudsters are increasingly targeting members of the public, as well as organisations of all sizes, with emails, texts, telephone calls and social media messages offering advice and treatments for coronavirus (COVID-19).

Scammers have set up fake websites to sell products and offer so-called cures or testing kits, as well as requesting donations to help victims. In some instances, cold callers have contacted organisations suggesting a legal requirement to have certain measures in place by a specific deadline.

Launching the campaign, Chief Superintendent David Duncan, Safer Communities Division said: “We are aware that community groups are being set up to help vulnerable members of our communities and we do not, in any way, want to impact on the good work being carried out.

“However, it is imperative that we are all aware that vulnerable people can be seen as easy targets by criminals seeking to take advantage of this unprecedented and dynamic situation.

“Anyone can be a victim of doorstep crime – it is nothing to be embarrassed about. Criminals can be very clever, and play on your emotions and insecurities. If someone comes to your door claiming to be from a legitimate organisation, always ask for identification.

“Don’t give people money or your bank details if they come to your door and offer to do shopping for you if you don’t know them. And never give your debit or credit card and PIN to anyone.

“If you are self-isolating, let friends and family know and if in doubt about anyone offering services at your door, step back and take a few minutes to contact them for advice. You can also visit the Police Scotland website for more information.”

Between April and September 2019, more than £600,000 has been taken from householders in 306 instances of doorstep and bogus crime.

Fiona Richardson, Chief Officer of Trading Standards Scotland said: “Trading Standards is at the forefront of tackling consumer related scams.

“Working in partnership with the police and other Shut out Scammers partners means that we are better able to protect our most vulnerable citizens from COVID related scams.”

Police Scotland is working with a number of partners on the Shut Out Scammers campaign to signpost the public to relevant prevention advice and support services. These include: Trading Standards Scotland; Advice Direct Scotland; Neighbourhood Watch Alert; Age Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service.

If you want to read more of our advice and guidance on preventing crime, visit our dedicated webpage at https://www.scotland.police.uk/keep-safe/personal-safety/Shut-Out-Scammers.

A video of Chief Superintendent David Duncan speaking about the campaign is available via this link:

https://we.tl/t-i53gCyIlS0

Community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust (PST) has today (Monday 23 March) announced that it is to set up a pandemic support fund for the local community.

Calum Macdonald, development manager for PST, said the trust would use all income not already committed to support the community effort needed to get through the pandemic.

He said: “We are very lucky that there have been no reported infections in the island as yet and we pray that it remains that way. But whatever happens, we will have to pull together to help each other and also to help the fantastic health and care workers we have in these islands to tackle this virus.

“That is why the Board have decided to use all its spare income in 2020, or to the end of the emergency, to set up a Pandemic Community Fund. We will have discussions with local organisations including Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and NHS Western Isles to work out how the fund can best be used. We also hope to have discussions with other funding partners and intend to support work being done locally by Point, Sandwick and Stornoway Community Councils and others.

“The full impact of the pandemic in those countries worst affected has been traumatic. We have to be ready for it coming here, when it will be all hands to the deck.”

The announcement has met with a positive response from Community Council chairs. Bob Walker, chair of Sandwick Community Council, said: “Never since the end of World War Two has our island and nation seen such potential devastation to our society and we must all come together and support and help one another.”

Chris Tom Mackenzie, chair of Point Community Council, said: “With services already stretched and struggling this will provide a much-needed lifeline to many in our community during this difficult time for our island. I would hope that this will also encourage other organisations to also help their communities where they can.”

Joan Muir, chair of Stornoway Community Council, said: “Although there have been no confirmed cases in our community there are many affected by the current crisis. By working together, supporting each other in a co-ordinated response we can help our community get through this unprecedented situation.”

 

Numerous organisations have stepped up to provide practical help to people who are voluntarily self-isolating, either due to their own health condition, or because they have symptoms which cause them concern.

But advice services are also making moves to support people who may be struggling emotionally with anxieties created by the rapid changes in society.

Social distancing means that self-help groups and face-to-face support are no longer an option, so locally-based charities are offering alternatives to those who want a friendly ear when they are feeling overwhelmed.

Befriending Lewis and Harris has suspended all face-to-face befriending visits, but have replaced them with telephone befriending for over 200 people across Lewis and Harris who are already in touch with their network.

With additional people feeling under strain, they are also establishing a befriending taskforce of staff and volunteers to fill any gaps and support people who cannot access help in their own community for any reason.

A Befriending spokesperson said: “We are connecting people we support with the aid services already set up in their area, so that support to receive groceries and prescriptions can be completed. We have co-ordinated it in this way so that, even in this time of uncertainty, people we support can enjoy new connections with people local to them, with the hope that these connections will flourish and have benefit long-term, which is what befriending is all about!”

Meanwhile Samaritans of the Western Isles has suspended their offer of face-to-face support at their premises on Cromwell Street in Stornoway, but are assuring people that their service to the island is still very much available.

A spokesman said today (Monday 23 March): “We would like to assure the island population that, if things are troubling them, Samaritans are there as they are always there.

“Our external door will continue to be open on Friday afternoons and people are welcome to come in and give us a phone number. They will then be called back by the person who they saw at the door, immediately.

“We can still be Samaritans, but we have had to change our methodology. We also remain part of the national organisation and will be continuing to take calls from all over the UK from our Stornoway office on the usual rota system.”

  • You can get access to telephone befriending via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • Call Samaritans free from any phone on 116 123 or on the local call charge number 0330 094 5717.

 

Loganair has today (Monday 23 March) hit back at comments from people wishing them to limit who can travel to the Scottish islands.

Loganair’s social media have been inundated with comments from people asking why they, too have not decided on a policy of refusal to travellers visiting the islands who do not have a ‘legitimate reason’ to be doing so.

In this morning’s statement, a Loganair spokesman said: “There has been comment recently regarding Loganair continuing to fly to and from the islands.

“In response we would like to say that we have been flying throughout Scotland and the Islands since the 1960s, and throughout those many years of service, has always had the best interests of the community at heart.

“We are continuing to fly all island lifeline routes on a skeleton schedule during the current crisis. However, we should point out that Loganair is neither legally nor morally able to make unilateral decisions as to who can, and cannot, travel on its flights.

“The decision to restrict travel or movement within the UK more broadly or within Scotland has to be a Government initiative with which, of course, we would comply fully if the time comes.”

Their response comes as CalMac followed yesterday’s guidance from the First Minister and announced a clampdown on ferry travel by people who are not island residents.

A CalMac spokesman said yesterday: “From now on ferries will be for those who live on our islands, who have an essential need to travel to or from the mainland, and for essential supplies or business.  Nothing else. The return of non-residents from islands back to the mainland will also be deemed essential travel. 

“If you have already bought or booked a ticket but your travel is not essential, then you should not be travelling, and you must contact us for a refund. We expect the travelling public will listen to this new guidance to keep everyone of us as safe as possible.”

 

The Old Mill Veterinary practice in Stornoway has this morning (Monday 23 March) put in place new arrangements to protect staff and customers from the spread of Coronavirus. The new arrangements mean that animals are allowed inside the building but their owners are not.

In a statement released as the business opened this morning, they said: “We continue to operate as normal (with stringent biosecurity measures). All pre-existing appointments remain, although this is subject to change at any point. 

“Due to the current COVID-19 situation, we are at this difficult time preventing ALL clients from entering our surgery. When you arrive with your pet for a consultation please knock on the window at reception. You will then be checked in a mobile number will be taken and you will be asked to wait in your car. 

“You can speak to the vet or nurse by phone or from a safe distance. We are sorry that you cannot attend your pet’s examination but we must enforce social distancing measures to protect our team and to continue to provide our vital service. 

“A member of the team will replace your dog’s lead with a slip lead provided by the practice. When your pet is returned if you could please pay for your appointment over the phone or through the window. 

“If you have any questions please call 01851 705900. Thank you for your understanding and cooperation at this difficult time.”

New opening hours have been put in place from today (Monday 23 March) at Barra airport.

It’s part of a network-wide change of operations announced by Highlands and Islands Airports Ltd (HIAL) on Friday.

From today, the airport will be open only between 11am and 3pm on weekdays, 10.30 to 3.30pm on Saturdays and for just an hour and a quarter, from 11am to 12.15pm, on Sundays.

The timings will allow scheduled flights to and from the island to continue, but reduce the potential for passengers to meet and mingle within the airport building.

The change has also led the management in the airport’s iconic café to shut up shop earlier than they had intended to. Sharon Penny posted on the café’s well-followed Facebook page on Friday afternoon, saying: “That’s all folks! Thank you to all our customers over our six-and-a-half year tenure but, due to the current situation, we have decided to cease trading earlier than planned. We shall be clearing out and leaving the premises to the new franchisee.”

HIAL is in the process of revising opening hours for all 11 of its airports in the region. On Friday a spokesman said: “The unprecedented global health crisis is affecting every aspect of our lives and it is a particularly challenging time for the travel and aviation industry. 

“In line with public health guidelines, airlines have reduced their scheduled services and we anticipate further reductions in service will come. 

“HIAL's priority is to continue to provide the lifeline services that are essential for our communities whilst maintaining the health and wellbeing of its staff. Therefore, HIAL is reviewing the operating hours at each of its 11 airports to accommodate current airline timetables whilst at the same time maintaining staff resilience to ensure lifeline services can continue. Details of any amendments to airport opening times will be detailed on the HIAL website.”

Inglis Lyon, HIAL's Managing Director said: "These are extraordinary times we find ourselves in, and our overriding priority is the continued operation of the necessary lifeline services for our communities and the health and well-being of our teams.

"Our staff are following the guidelines issued by Public Health Scotland and have appropriate equipment and materials to safely execute their roles. We continue to review the situation and have contingency plans in place to ensure we continue to operate where needed.

"I would like to take this opportunity to thank our staff who are working to pull out the stops to do exactly that."

Hebridean Housing Partnership has issued new advice to tenants in the light of the constantly changing situation regarding Coronavirus.

In a statement issued on Friday (20 March) HHP said: “We are currently trying to deliver services in as near a normal manner as possible, but arrangements are changing as the Government continue to issue and update advice.

“If the virus spreads to the islands this will require further changes to be made. The safety of our customers, staff and contractors is of paramount importance. We have therefore taken the following measures at this time:

“If you are worried about being able to make rent payments please contact us as soon as possible to discuss your situation. We will do all we can to help. It is very important that we have information on the effect that the current crisis is having on households so that we can work with the Government and other agencies to deal with this.

“If you currently pay your rent in cash, we would ask that you make alternative arrangements in the meantime. This is again to reduce the risk of infections spreading. Please phone us if you want to discuss this.

“We all have a responsibility not to place others at risk, so we would ask that, if possible, requests for repairs or other services are restricted to those that are most urgent. We are working with our contractors to make sure that necessary repairs are carried out. However we will put additional measures in place to protect operatives and tenants.”

Tenants are being asked not to visit the HHP offices in person, as staff are now working from home. They are available to speak to tenants on 0300 123 0773 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Melissa Silver reports from Lesvos as news comes in of a new case of coronavirus

"The island of Lesvos has gone into lockdown, and with no known active coronavirus cases currently on the island, am I mad about the fact that I’m stuck inside? The short answer is no.

"There was one positive case a few weeks ago, a local woman in a village in the south of the island – she had recently travelled to Asia - and she is now out of hospital and is said to be recovering fine at home. It seems impossible that there could really be no more cases but that is what we are led to believe"

…That is what I had just written, intending to write a "it's good to follow the rules even if it doesn't seem necessary" kind of article, when my phone beeped. Another coronavirus case was announced - in Mytilene (the town of 30,000 people, where I live right in the centre). A man who had been in Thailand has tested positive. His wife is now also showing flu symptoms. The man is in quarantine at home while his wife is in hospital.

Could there be a more perfect example of why lockdown – or isolation, or whatever you want to call it, whether you choose it or it is chosen for you – is necessary? I was following the rules (social distancing, a lot of isolation apart from outdoor walks, endless hand washing, etc.) partly out of paranoia (already being a bit of a germaphobe), partly out of a disbelief that that one case could really be the only one, and partly to get used to living a certain way before it became seriously necessary (it seemed inevitable).

And now we’re here. There’s those two, and we don’t know who they came into contact with before going into quarantine, or who the people they came into contact with have been in contact with...

Everyone should already be behaving like the virus is everywhere, and now, here, we have to assume it is.

While I feel physically sick at the thought of what this could mean for the vulnerable people here, the locals and the refugees, my heart aches for the Hebrides, too. I live in dread of the day I read that the virus has made its way there – but it will, if it hasn’t already.

So, please, for yourself, for your family and for mine, stay inside, avoid close contact with anyone, wash your hands more than you think is necessary, and then once more. The more careful we are now, the shorter this painful period will be, and the fewer lives will be loss.

Take care, everyone.

At time of writing, the UK has 5,018 confirmed cases of covid-19 and 240 deaths. (Population 66.44 million)

Greece currently has 530 confirmed cases and 13 deaths. (Population 10.74 million)

Our correspondents in Spain and Greece talk of ever tightening coronavirus lockdowns.

Why is welovestornoway.com telling you about this…because these are communities just like ours - not big cities - and this is what other countries are doing. 

Amanda Darling reports from rural Spain

The situation is relentless, the rising number of deaths here in Spain means that Spain has now got more deaths than any other country other than China or Italy.  Spain’s deaths have gone from 1350 yesterday to 1813 today. An increase of 34%. 

The State of National Emergency has been extended for a further two weeks and I would not be surprised if it lasted for two months or even more.

We are not allowed out of our homes except for essentials; food, pharmacy, fuel, allowing dogs to defecate, but only 50m from your own house.

We have to carry identification, and from today (Monday March 23) to fill in a form which has your tax number, where you are coming from and where you are going to.

Our nearest shops are in a village called Competa which is about five kilometres up the mountain. We are told not to go to the coast which is about 8 kilometres down the mountain, where the Police have check points and are stopping all cars.

I had to do a shop on Saturday and I placed an order via WhatsApp at the local supermarket and arranged to collect it at a designated time. I drove to the village and took cash from the bank, carefully keeping the receipt which I would have to show to the police if I was stopped. I queued two metres apart to get into the fruit and veg shop where they were allowing people to enter two at a time. Everyone was sombre but respectful. I then went and collected the shopping which was nicely boxed up and promptly drove home. The whole exercise took about an hour. That’s it. I won't be going out again for two weeks if I can help it.

The view from Amanda's home

The village is like a ghost town, although there were people around in total I must have seen less than 20 in what would normally be a bustling village on market day with cafes full and shouts of friends and music from the cafes blaring. This is an international village with 60% locals and 40% incomers from many different countries. We had all embraced the Spanish culture, two kisses, hugs and plenty of cafe life. This has all come to an abrupt end.  We are not allowed to travel in the car with any more than one person, gloves must be worn at all times, and masks if you have them.

My husband Kenny is in the high risk category and he thinks he may have to take self-isolation seriously for a year. I feel for families in the towns, in small houses or apartments. I heard one man presented himself at the police station and begged to be arrested, pleading insanity because of living through the lockdown with his mother,

Anxiety is an issue, and I have personally felt it on a few occasions, even breaking down and crying once. I feel fearful for my husband and the future. I am not a person prone to this sort of thing so this tells me that there must be many people suffering badly. I am fortunate to being a trained nurse, I was a cardio-thoracic theatre scrub nurse as well as working on wards, so I know exactly what to do regarding infection control. Detergent, as in fairy liquid or equivalent in hot water is all you need to clean your home, it kills all germs and viruses. I use it to scrub the kitchen and bathroom and floors. Once a month I might put a splash of bleach into it, but otherwise this is all you need. I prefer not to have lots of different chemicals in my home as well, as it is bad for breathing issues.

So the world is in pandemic, yet here spring has sprung. The flowers in Spain are incredible in spring, the colours like the machair in ungrazed areas of the Hebrides. The skies are always impressive in this area of Andalucía which means “under the lights” and the stars are clearer than ever with the levels of pollution dropping.

A tourist being ordered off a Spanish beach

Lockdown sounds frightening, but in reality it is like a social security blanket. This threat is being taken seriously and it brings tears to my eyes the care for community which is shown by this. In towns and villages the residents appear on their balconies each night 8pm and clap and whistle to thank the emergency services, police, army and medics.

The comparison with the chaotic UK couldn’t be greater, with people ignoring social distancing, panic buying and leaving nothing for those less fortunate. The British Prime Minister needs to take decisive action and be firm, lay down the rules and police them. Here the police are out with the army, enforcing the rules but also each night disinfecting the streets. The Spanish police, army and people are uniting for the greater good.

The Spanish prime minister Pedro Sanchez issued a statement “The worst is yet to come” Of the deaths, about 60% have occurred in Madrid, but the new thing is that younger people are being affected and are dying. Pedro Sanchez ordered all private hospitals to be requisitioned for the health service and all hotels will be closing by the end of the week with many being turned into hospitals. A massive shelter has been opened for the homeless.

This virus lives for days on surfaces, I’m not being paranoid when I wash with a damp cloth all shopping and I dispose of any bags carefully, using disposable gloves which I then remove before washing my hands. I never thought I would be the person to do this obsessive behaviour, but the health of my husband is paramount.

From Spain, I wish all the people in Scotland and especially the Hebrides the best for the coming crisis. Stay safe, stay at home and take this threat seriously.

The empty streets of Mytilene in lockdown

Melissa Silver reports from Lesvos…As of 6am this morning (Monday 23 March), Greece has gone into lockdown. Emergency messages were received announcing the news last night, stating: “Starting tomorrow Monday at 6:00am nation-wide strict restrictions on public movement apply. Only movements that serve specific needs or for work are allowed and a permit is required. Stay home, stay safe.”

From now on, to go to the supermarket or out for a walk, anyone currently residing in Greece has to carry a document stating the intentions of their movements. The document states the person’s name, address and reason for being outside.

A passport or ID card must also be carried at all times. Anyone seen to be flouting the rules will face a €150 fine.

In terms of humanitarian work, the few NGOs that were still functioning on Lesvos are now scrambling to get the necessary paperwork to continue.

Gordon Jamieson, NHS Western isles chief executive said last night:  “A brief update tonight: in the circumstances, I have to say that I very much welcomed the decision to restrict travel here to the Outer Hebrides and the other islands.

"One thing we must certainly do, and this will contribute to that, is to protect and preserve the health services we’ve got to respond and treat the population.

"It’s also important that I point out to you that although we’ve had a very busy day in terms of our ongoing preparation, it still remains that there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in the Outer Hebrides.”

 

 

 

Following a further announcement by Scottish Government today, Sunday 22nd March, S4-6 pupils SHOULD NOT ATTEND to complete course work as previously intimated. Schools will work with students to complete any outstanding coursework remotely, where possible.  For the avoidance of doubt - prelims will not take place.

The Comhairle wishes to reiterate the following guidance in relation to all those who are able to attend Comhairle schools tomorrow:

1)      The children of key workers where there is NO ALTERNATIVE PROVISION available.

2)      Pre-identified vulnerable children

In relation to provision from Monday, please note that:

  • Provision is strictly for the children of Key Workers only: See Press Release from 22/03/20
  • Key workers can self-identify and on Monday their children can attend at their regular school.
  • A Key Worker registration system is being put in place in partnership with employers.
  • Pupils attending can access normal school transport
  • Schools will follow normal hours but content of learning will be different
  • Attendance is not compulsory for any student
  • For those pupils who remain at home, educational content and learning will be available
  • We encourage all young people to maintain daily study, exercise and activity programmes while observing key Public Health messages regarding safe behaviour, practices and social distancing
  • Parents can post questions on the Director’s Blog or via Comhairle social media channels
  • The Comhairle will continue to work during the period of closure to share daily tips for engaging young people and families in terms of education, cooking, housework/DIY, fitness, Gaelic, mental health and other examples.
  • We are planning other online activities such as Ceilidhs in the coming days and will share details soon.

 Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education, Skills and Children’s Services, said: “Our teachers have our full trust and confidence in their key role in supporting frontline staff by providing this support service. It is important we all recognise that our teaching resource is limited and I would ask people to be patient and to work with us to ensure that only those who need to come to school do so.

“Clearly, this is a fluid situation and as updates come in we are committed to ensuring we share that information at the earliest possible opportunity through our various communication channels.”

We have collated below, the key sources of information available to you:

 

Most churches in the Western Isles today (Sunday 22 March) observed Government  guidance on gatherings in public places, with most closed for services and many opting for online prayer and worship.

Denominational bodies including the Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland and Roman Catholic bishops including the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles have issued advice to congregations asking them to cease church activity including services, mass and prayer or fellowship meetings.

But island residents complained on social media that some churches in Lewis are continuing to gather, in defiance of health guidance which requires people to distance themselves even from close family members to prevent the spread of Coronavirus.

And the discovery that some in the Christian community are continuing to allow gatherings when all other public buildings are closed has led to calls for Comhairle nan Eilean Siar and politicians to intervene to prevent such gatherings.

One islander said: “Church services simply cannot be taking place. I understand the spiritual need that is so important for some, but this needs changed as of now and most churches have put online options in place. The council leaders need to get involved and lead on this.”

Some chose to directly address the churches in question. One sent a private message to a church organisation saying: “I am in disbelief to hear there was a church service in Sandwick today. I assume you are all well aware of the Government’s advice.

“You are putting your congregation, your community, your island at risk. Please reconsider your actions. You do not have to congregate in a church to worship God.”

Stornoway police are asking for public help after two incidents of vandalism over this weekend.

Today (Sunday 22 March) at 11.30am police received a report that a kitchen window had been broken at an address in the Cearns in Stornoway (incident number NH339/20).

And in a separate incident, a car parked on Stag Road in Stornoway was found to have been damaged when the owner returned to it at 10pm on Saturday (incident NH 337/20).

Anyone who saw or heard anything related to either incident is asked to call the police non-emergency number 101, quoting the relevant incident number

Heavy weather blowing in to the whole of the Western Isles and Skye is set to add to the existing disruption to services including ferry transport.

A Met Office yellow alert has been issued warning of heavy rain and strong southerly winds for the islands from 6pm tomorrow and throughout Tuesday and Wednesday morning until 12 noon on Wednesday.

The warning, issued on Sunday 22 March says: “Rain will become heavy at times later on Monday and is likely to persist through Tuesday and the first part of Wednesday. Through the whole period 50-75mm of rain is likely quite widely, with 100-125mm possible in places, mainly on higher ground. Very strong southerly winds will be an additional hazard.”

Weather, flood alerts

The Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) has this morning (Monday 23 March) added a flood alert for the Western Isles to the current weather warning from the Met Office.

Persistent rain between now and Wednesday morning will bring a risk of flooding to low-lying land and roads from rivers and surface water, according to SEPA.

The Met Office warning of heavy rain, accompanied by strong winds, comes into force at 6pm today and lasts until 12 noon on Wednesday.

It warns of impacts including flooding of homes and businesses and spray and flooding on roads, making journey times longer.

CalMac has advised that all sailings between the Western Isles and the mainland are cancelled for today (Monday) and the Sound of Harris service has also been cancelled.

Ferry travel is to be blocked to non-essential travellers, preventing visitors from arriving into the islands, First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon MSP, has this afternoon (Sunday 22 March) confirmed.

And she has also called for operators of holiday accommodation to stop accepting bookings for holidaymakers, instead staying open for essential workers needed in the islands only.

With this afternoon’s statement it’s effectively been confirmed that the Western Isles is closed for tourism for the foreseeable future.

The FM has endorsed the information released in a tweet from Scotland’s cabinet secretary for transport, Michael Matheson MSP, just before 3pm today. At that time he said: “From now on ferries will be for those who live on our islands, who have an essential need to travel to or from the mainland and for essential supplies or business. Nothing else.”

The decision comes after a weekend of gradually building outrage as the phenomenon of ‘isolation tourism’ began to show around the Highlands and Islands. 

Other regions of Britain were similarly affected as holiday-home owners and motorhome drivers flocked to Snowdonia, Anglesey and Cornwall among other areas, encouraged by articles in newspapers like the Daily Mail, whose article is show in images below, openly encouraging people to go to remote areas to self-isolate.

Ms Sturgeon has now said: “I want to turn to reports of people flocking to Scotland’s remote communities.  It may well be an understandable human instinct to think we can outrun a virus – but the fact is we can’t.

“What we do is risk taking it to the places we go.  And in our remote and rural communities that means extra pressure on essential services and on health services that are already more distant from people.

“So I can confirm that as of now we have advised our ferry companies – who have already suspended bookings – to no longer take non-essential travellers. 

“Those who do not normally live on the islands and have travelled there in the last few days will be able to leave to reduce pressure.

“To our hotels, B&Bs and self-catering accommodation – you should not be accepting visitors.  Provide accommodation for your staff and make yourselves available to help essential workers and support essential services – that is all.

“Scotland is a warm and welcoming country and I fervently hope it’s not too long before we are opening our arms and our countryside to visitors again – but right now our priority must be to protect people from this virus, protect our NHS and protect Scotland.

Local calls for visitors to stay away from the Western Isles earlier yesterday (Saturday) backed by rural economy and tourism secretary Fergus Ewing MSP, who issued an angry Scottish Government guidance note denouncing those who have travelled to the Highlands and Islands in a bid to avoid the Coronavirus.

Mr Ewing said: “I am furious at the reckless and irresponsible behaviour of some people travelling to the Highland and Islands. This has to stop now. Let me be crystal clear, people should not be travelling to rural and island communities full stop. They are endangering lives. Do not travel.”

CalMac yesterday posted ‘don’t travel’ advice on their website, saying: “CalMac is encouraging all passengers to ensure that the journey they are making is essential in line with Government advice. If you don't need to travel then please don't.” 

The Scottish Government’s decisive action has this afternoon been welcomed by residents of islands including Barra, Harris and North Uist, as well as by others among the Scottish islands.

Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay confirmed that Transport Scotland are now putting in place the measures the Comhairle was looking for regarding travel to and from our islands.

Mr Mackay said: “Our Transportation Chairman, Uisdean Robertson, has been liaising with colleagues at Transport Scotland over the weekend and would like to thank them for their help in reaching this solution. Transport Scotland (TS) will work with ferry operators to support the expected announcement that all non-essential travel to islands and remote locations should stop. Non-island residents will be encouraged to leave the islands and non-residents will be unable to buy tickets for travel. Transport Scotland will agree a consistent mode of implementation such as evidence of principal address being required at point of sale and they are currently working up clear guidelines which will be published on their own website."

Mr Mackay continued: “I am pleased to say that Transport Scotland are moving very quickly on this matter and they will be speaking with ferry operators today as well as engaging with the Unions.

“As Transport Scotland have control of messaging across the country via the Traffic Scotland system and social media, once they have a common message agreed about avoiding any unnecessary travel they will share this with all stakeholders as well as using the existing Covid-19 page at Traveline Scotland, in order to get the message out to those looking to travel by public transport.

“We are delighted that the Scottish Government has reacted so swiftly to our calls for travel restrictions to be put in place and we hope these measures will contribute to the safety and well-being of all of us on these islands.”

The independent CalMac Community Board said it "very much welcomes the announcement by the Scottish Government to restrict ferry travel to those for whom travel is essential. It is important we do not add extra pressure to the delivery of health and other services to already fragile communities at this crucial time. The demographics of our islands demonstrate a significantly higher proportion of our population in the 'at risk' categories. Let us collectively do all we can to protect them.

"The Community Board would also like to put on record its appreciation for the already considerable efforts of CalMac's front line and head office staff. All of us who travel on ferries should recognise the extra pressure they are under and show support and understanding."

The Stay Away illustration is by Edinburgh artist Stewart Bremner, who said: “Now is absolutely not the time to travel to remote areas, where there are already stretched healthcare facilities.”

 

Some pubs in Scotland are defying the wishes of the Government in the coronavirus emergency and aiming to stay open.

Deputy Chief Constable Malcolm Graham, Police Scotland’s lead for coronavirus, said: "There has been an exceptionally high level of compliance across Scotland with the UK and Scottish Government instruction for entertainment venues to close, with thousands of premises shutting.

“However, I am aware that a small number of public houses are intent on defying this instruction and have indicated that they will remain open until legally ordered to close.

“This is absolutely reckless and endangers not only the lives of customers, but wider communities, in an extremely fast moving and unprecedented situation where both the health and safety of the nation is at stake.

"Therefore, I have obtained further legal advice today and Police Scotland will now instruct officers to serve emergency closure orders on any licensed premises which refuses to comply on the grounds of the threat posed to public safety.

“Officers are now visiting these premises today to have them closed.

“A compulsory closure under the Licensing Scotland Act remains in place for 24 hours but can be repeated as necessary.

“We will also report them to their relevant Licensing Board for further action to be considered.

"We are aware of the proposed legislation in relation to coronavirus, and are carefully considering the implications in this very fast moving situation.

“These are exceptional times and I would again urge everyone to stay safe and listen to the clear advice coming from health experts and government.”

Chief Constable Iain Livingstone added: “I am fully supportive of the enforcement action taken today which is entirely proportionate to the threat posed to the safety of Scotland’s communities.

“I have a clear, positive duty to both protect life and improve the safety and wellbeing of people across Scotland, while supporting the government and health agencies in our fight against this pandemic.”
 

An NHS emergency vehicle has been vandalised in the Stornoway area. A broken bottle was also found close to the vehicle. 

NHS Western Isles announced on their Facebook page this afternoon that they have "two emergency vehicles for a range of emergency responses, not least Coronavirus. Vehicles much needed at this time.

"One of our two vehicles is now out of commission.

"This beggars belief, words escape us."

Numerous comments were posted in the minutes following the news update, displaying people's shock at the situation: 

"I am shocked as all our community will be."

"Wow this is shocking, cannot believe anyone would do that what's wrong with people."

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

Extension of house, South Uist

Viki Samantha Harrison of The Old Croft House, 6 North Locheynort, Isle of South Uist, has applied for planning permission to extend the house at 6 North Locheynort Isle of South Uist. Work will also include the addition of dormers. 

Change of use of caravan site, North Uist 

Ann Macdonald of Fishermans Lodge, 5 Paiblesgarry, North Uist, has applied for planning permission to change the use of the caravan site at Paiblesgarry, Bayhead, Isle of North Uist, to a siting of a modular tourist unit.

New shed, Benbecula

Murdoch Macleod of 18 Hacklet, Benbecula, has applied for planning permission to erect an agricultural shed at 18 Hacklett, Creagorry, Isle of Benbecula. The shed is to be 6 metres long, 4 metres wide and 3.5 metres tall. 

With the confirmation – after the appearance of the official figures on Monday March 30 – of a coronavirus case in Orkney, the Outer Hebrides is now the only area in Scotland with no officially confirmed coronavirus cases.

This still has not been reported in the official national figures.

NHSWI chief executive Gordon Jamieson - in a broadcast on Twitter (https://twitter.com/nhswi/status/1244724025873530880?s=21) said preparations on the Islands now include the basing of two military officers at NHSWI headquarters on South Beach.  He emphasised the need to maintain the highest possible vigilance and to maintain the lockdown as tightly as possible.


A total of 60 patients in Scotland who tested positive for Coronavirus have now died, it is stated by the Scottish Government today, Tuesday March 31.

That is 13 more than yesterday.

There are now 135 people in intensive care, a rise of 27 overnight.

The latest coronavirus figures - confirmed at 2pm today Tuesday 30 March - continue to show there are no cases officially detected in the Outer Hebrides.

The total for Highland Region is 51 - seven up on yesterday

There are 29 cases shown for Shetland - an increase of two from the previous day.

A total of 15,895 Scottish tests have been concluded so far. Of these:

  • 1993 tests were positive. That's up 430 from yesterday, a rise of 27.5%.
  • In all, 1050 of the cases were in the Greater Glasgow, Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian areas - an increase of 166 since yesterday, up 19.5%

Please note: delays to reporting over the weekend have contributed to the increase in total test figures and deaths confirmed today, the Scottish Government says.


 

 

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

Two new EV charging points

Paul Finnegan of Seafield, Scalpay, has applied for planning permission to install two EV charging points in the car park at Isle Of Harris Distillers Ltd Distillery, Tarbert.

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

Repositioning of the existing feed barge, Lochs

The Scottish Salmon Company has applied for planning permission to re-position the existing feed barge at Marine Site Mol Na Ceanamhoir Fish Farm, Loch Odhairn, Gravir, Lochs. 

New agricultural building, Lochs

Donnie Macleod of Crosswinds, Garyvard, has applied for planning permission to erect an agricultural building at 9 Garyvard Lochs. Work is to include creating an access.The building is to be 13.7 metres long, 6 metres wide and 3.8 metres tall. 

Change of use of land, Lochs

Alex Healey of Mo Dhachaidh, Cleascro Road, Leurbost, Lochs, has applied for planning permission to change the of use of the agricultural land at 1 Cleascro Road, Leurbost, Lochs, to extend the curtilage of the existing dwelling. 

Alzheimer Scotland - Western Isles

Shout out for penpals…

Yesterday, Saturday March 21st, was World Poetry Day.
If any of the children currently home schooling would like to write a wee poem or even a letter that could be shared with people we’d really love to receive them.
To save posting - take a pic of it and send as a PM to our FaceBook page. We can then share with people living with dementia and their carers/families - we are sure it would brighten up their day.
We’d welcome poems in both English and Gaelic (if anyone wants Gaelic writing practice).
We will try to get a message back to you 
World Poetry Day is celebrated on 21 March, and was declared by UNESCO in 1999, "with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard."

In order to provide the best possible service to the tens of thousands of readers and users of this site during the coronavirus emergency we have made a number of changes.

Given that everything public and social is cancelled, we have replaced What's On with a dedicated Covid-19 section - accessed from the top and also the left of this page.  This contains all the long-running information needed to help people through this crisis.

In addition, we have launched a special Our Eye On The World section with a series of blogs and articles – which will come from our network of correspondents throughout the world - including Viet Nam, France, Spain, Greece and the USA. 

And any information which you want to share with us…email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In addition, we are increasingly working from home…and access to our office in James Street will be restricted still further from tomorrow (Monday March 23)

Please call 01851 705743 if you need to contact us and please note that you may be asked to give your number so we can ring you back rather than having to pass handsets from one person to another or because the staff member required is now working from home. 

And please bear in mind that our staff are under extreme personal and professional pressure and as we are entirely self-financing and that our income comes almost entirely from advertising, if you have anything at all that you want to pay us to advertise, please call immediately…all payments are now electronic and upfront. 

 

Following media coverage of the emergency provision created in Castlebay in relation to the coronavirus outbreak, the chief executive of NHS Western Isles, Gordon Jamieson made the following statement in a video on Twitter last night (Saturday March 21):

“Tonight, I wanted to give you some reassurance regarding the provision here in the Outer Hebrides.  Whilst every day I am grateful for the media coverage which comes from across the world and brings us up to date with the situation regarding coronavirus, I am concerned about some particular media coverage today.

"Turning specifically to the Isle of Barra, if any patient on the Isle of Barra requires ventilation and life support, they will be transferred off island, by the military or Coastguard to an appropriate mainland facility. 

"To preserve and support the hospital services in St Brendan’s [the NHS facility in Castlebay] we have created a community-based facility in Castlebay.  That is intended to be a facility where patients who have undergone testing or require first assessment can be supported and can remain there until such times as they can be returned to their homes. 

"It was not intended to be and was not set up to be an emergency facility and it is not expected at all that it will provide any of the caring services that any patient would require that needs to go to hospital. 

"I would like to thank the staff as well for their on-going efforts as they are working flat-out in our preparation to deal with coronavirus.”

This statement appears to be a reaction to widespread coverage of a photograph of a facility in Castlebay community centre which was sent out with a media release by Angus Brendan MacNeil, MP.

NHS Western Isles states on its Twitter feed that it is a response to “misleading coverage today in a national tabloid newspaper.”

A tide of anger is sweeping holiday areas in Scotland and in the rest of the UK as people flee English cities to “self-isolate in the countryside.”

Ross, Skye and Lochaber MP Ian Blackford reported last night (Saturday March 21): “I have been contacted by the Nevis Range Centre in Fort William who tell me that they have had to turn away around 30 camper vans, which had travelled from various parts of the UK, who were intending to use their car park as a refuge.

“I urge everyone to do the right thing; follow the Government advice and please do not travel here.  If these warnings are not heeded and people need to be stopped from travelling, then I am afraid that is what will have to happen.  Those in camper vans please go home!”

Reports show the same situation is occurring in Cornwall, the Lake District and in rural Wales.  Colin Ridyard said on Twitter: “The problem is people are frightened and not listening.  We have exactly the same scenario on Anglesey.  We need mobilisation of resources along similar lines to the Protect and Survive plans of the 80s to accept refugees from the cities.”

The Isle of Barra Twitter page has a pinned Tweet: “ISLANDS OF BARRA AND VATERSAY ARE CLOSED. Don’t travel here, don’t put unnecessary strain on our medical staff and limited resources. We will open again and be delighted to see you. But in the meantime, we are looking after our community, the thing that makes us so special.”

As it stands at present (Sunday March 22), no Government has the power to ban travel across the UK

The Coronavirus Bill which will receive its second (and likely third) reading in the UK Parliament tomorrow (Monday March 23), gives both UK and Scottish Governments extensive powers to make regulations, including restrictions for the protection of Public Health and on the operation of ports, should that be necessary.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar itself already has current statutory functions and powers in relation to public health but has no powers to prevent or restrict travel, but we all know that it is impossible completely to isolate a community, as we need providers of services to come to the islands to provide what we require by way of food and medical supplies, at a very minimum.

There is a link to the Coronavirus Bill here: Schedules 18 and 19 cover Public Health and Ports: https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-01/0122/20122.pdf

It is understood that our island situation and its particular needs are being made clear to Government through the administrative dialogue which is taking place daily, and any further information will be given as soon as it can be. But informed sources say that “it is not likely that Government will put in place measures to restrict travel in one area which do not apply across the whole of Scotland.”

CnES leader Roddie Mackay has told councillors: “ Our response, to date, has been to reinforce proactively the Government’s guidance and – where possible – support people to make adjustments to our social and working lives in order to both delay, and manage, the consequences of illness in the best way possible.

“Our partnership with NHS Western Isles, the use of social media and our resilient approach, is giving us a foundation not only to respond to this now, but to manage the situation for the longer term, if necessary.

“Our officers are doing a great job and it is now necessary for us – as Members – to support them with a consistent and proportionate political message that provides leadership to our community. By working together, we should focus on helping reduce people’s anxieties, whilst encouraging and empowering them to take positive action to protect themselves and others.

“So far, the Comhairle’s use of social media (and other media channels) has been to promote this positive Public Health message. I would urge all Members to work with their communities, consistent with the approach being provided by our statutory services.”

Meanwhile the London-based newspapers Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday sparked widespread outrage with coverage apparently openly encouraging people to travel to remote places, such as the Isle of Jura to enjoy “splendid isolation.”

Michael Russell, MSP reacted to the image below: "Utter crass irresponsibility - my constituents on Jura which has an elderly population, no hospital and very limited facilities are having their lives put at risk by this stupidity. Non-essential travel means exactly that: no tourism no jaunts, no boltholes."

And Brendan O'Hara, the Westminster MP for Argyll and Bute, said: "My inbox is inundated with folk telling of people arriving in Argyll to “escape” the virus. This is hugely irresponsible. Our fragile communities have very limited resources and aren’t equipped to cope with such an influx. Please don’t use our islands or rural areas as a bolthole."

Cervical screening tests, also known as smear tests, will now screen for the human papillomavirus (HPV) – the main cause of cervical cancer.

Since Monday 16 March 2020, those going for cervical screening in the Outer Hebrides will receive a more sensitive test which will screen for HPV and help ensure cell changes are identified and treated earlier.

The new test is more effective at identifying those at risk of developing cervical cancer.  This means women who don’t have HPV will be invited for a cervical screening test every five years, regardless of their age.

Chief Medical Officer Catherine Calderwood said “Introducing HPV testing as part of the main smear test will improve health outcomes for women and ultimately save more lives.

“The way the test is carried out will not change – so it’s important women still attend their cervical screening appointment when invited. It’s normal to feel anxious, but going for your test is the best way of preventing cervical cancer.

 “It’s important that those who have been vaccinated for HPV still go for screening. This is because the vaccine does not protect against all types of HPV that can cause cancer. It’s the combination of the HPV vaccination and cervical screening that should eventually wipe out cervical cancer in Scotland.

“Women who are found to have HPV will be closely monitored and treated if required, meaning HPV is extremely unlikely to develop into cervical cancer.”

Chief Executive of Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Robert Music said “We are fortunate to have cervical screening as it can stop cervical cancer before it starts and testing for HPV means we can identify those at risk much faster.

“This will help to prevent even more diagnoses. It’s important that women understand the changes to the programme, such as moving to testing every five years, and that they feel comfortable with their results.

“Many more women will now be told they have HPV and we must tackle the fear and confusion that exists around this really common virus.”

Dr. Maggie Watts, Director of Public Health and Screening Co-ordinator for NHS Western Isles, added "Although it’s the best way of preventing cervical cancer, over one in four women in Scotland (26.9%) don’t attend their cervical screening test when invited.  In 2018-19, 26.3% of women in the Outer Hebrides did not attend for cervical screening

"There are many reasons for this, and our staff are trained to help support those who feel worried or anxious.

"We urge all those eligible for cervical screening in the Outer Hebrides to not ignore your invite when it arrives by post.  And if you missed your last appointment, contact your GP practice to find a time that suits."

NHS Western Isles has also been working with Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative (WICCI), Barra Cancer Support group and the Uist Cancer support group, to look at ways to encourage more women to attend their cervical screening appointment (also known as the smear test).

It has met with women in various venues (Sgoil Lionacleit, Harris Hub and Stornoway sports centre) with information to help explain what cervical screening is about and identifying what gets in the way of women attending their appointment.  However, more women are being asked their views and women aged 25 to 64 are invited to complete the brief survey at https://bit.ly/2vxiLVi

Responses received will help to plan and enhance local services and for further information, please contact Alison MacDonald, Senior Health Promotion Officer, tel 01870 602588 or email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 

To find out more about cervical screening visit https://www.nhsinform.scot/stopcervicalcancer

 

West Coast ferry operator CalMac has announced that it is to cease its on-board food and drink and retail offering with immediate effect on all routes.

CalMac had this week stopped providing hot fresh food on board in response to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic but has now gone a stage further.

All restaurants, coffee cabins, bars and shops on board the ferries will now close with immediate effect. It also includes the coffee shop at Ardrossan port.

Managing Director Robbie Drummond said: “The safety and health of our staff and customers is our absolute top priority and this move to stop having people queuing for food and drink and handing over foodstuffs is designed to protect them.

“We know that our food and drink offering on board is very popular and can be a vital part of the journey for many.

However, in light of global events there is now way we can justify continuing this and potentially putting the safety of passengers and staff at risk.

“I hope that our passengers understand the need to put these measures in place and promise that we will continually review them as the situation develops.”

CalMac’s decision also comes on top of Government instruction to close all restaurants, pubs and cafes across the whole of the UK.

Those travelling on CalMac ferries are encouraged to bring their own food and drinks to consume on board.

Snags with supermarket plans to have special times for shopping for elderly customers have been pointed about by welovestornoway.com readers.

One said: " I just read your article that Tesco are going to have a dedicated shopping hour for elderly customers between 8am and 9am.

"How is this going to work if CalMac have cancelled the overnight freight ferry?

"Tesco will surely sell out by the evening and won't be able to re-stock until noon the following day."

Another wrote: "I was pleased to read that the Co-op and Tesco are putting into place dedicated times for the elderly and vulnerable people to shop. 

"However, what about younger people who are shopping for elderly people and live in a rural area?  We can't go back every hour to check if items are re-stocked. 

"I have a 52-mile round trip to Stornoway and have to shop for my elderly mother who has a broken hip.  She cannot go shopping and to be honest, I wouldn't want her to in this current climate but, there needs to be some sort of balance found because I don't think the panic buyers are going to stop anytime soon."

A series of local businesses have reacted to the crisis by closing or changing their organisation and links with customers.

Chris Graham said: "Men Only (Church Street), The Barbers (Kenneth Street) and Back & Sides (Bayhead Street) have collectively decided in the interests of our customers and staff safety to close until it is considered safe to re-open for business as normal. Due to the close contact nature of the business we feel that this is the only safe course of action we can take at this time in view of current social distancing advice.
"We are sure our valued customers will understand this difficult decision and we look forward to seeing them all again in the very near future.

Lewis Crofters will be introducing a pay by phone and collect service (01851 702350) from next week and "preventing access to the shop building and store to all customers. We are asking all customers to phone in their orders for payment by card or account (where customers have credit accounts). Customers will be given a collection reference and collection time when they place their order. The collection point will be at the rear of Lewis Crofters Shop and is accessed from Rigs Road. Your collection reference should be verbally given to our staff as you enter the collection point. Customers will not be able to pay by cash or cheque in this period as contact with staff must be kept to an absolute minimum.

"Customers must not get out of their vehicles but allow our staff to load the ordered goods into your vehicle, preventing any possibility of contact. Customers that enter the yard without a collection reference will be asked to go back out to place their order by phone and await a collection time. This is in order to manage traffic within the yard and order volumes.

"In order to action this change, we will require our full staff quota to be available at our premises. For that reason, we will be now open over this period Monday – Friday from 10am – 5:30pm. This will allow us to re-stock the shop and store before trading begins each day. Customer orders phoned in after 5pm may not receive their goods until the following day. In addition to this we will be unable to take any orders for deliveries while we concentrate on making the process as efficient as possible.

"We acknowledge that this is a big change for customers and for it to work effectively we are asking customers to:

  1. Be patient with orders and staff. This is a very labour-intensive system and will require understanding from customers. Verbal abuse to our staff will not be tolerated and orders may be refused if this is the case.
  2. Buy within normal buying patterns. Buying extra means that others might not get their regular supplies. If necessary, staff may restrict volumes to ensure that there is enough to go around.

This change will take effect from 10am on Monday 23rd March.

The Hebridean Tea Store in Cromwell Street say: "With regards to your and our safety we have made some changes until further notice."

Opening times will be Monday, Tuesday 12-3pm /Wednesday Closed/ Thursday,Friday 12-3 pm; Saturday 10-3 pm /Sunday Closed

When possible you can order via our website and choose local pickup. Or order and pay over the phone. Pickup Days will be Friday and Saturday If this is not suitable, then please get in touch4. Pay Contactless or by Card if possible.  Please go to our website www.hebrideanteastore.scot during the checkout you can choose "local pickup"which is of course free of charge. If you can't come to the shop in person, we will post your items as long as the Royal Mail is working. Or please use our freephone number 0800 228 9294

Terri McGeoghegan of Hebrides Harmony and 1:1 Diet posted last night:

"I can’t quite believe I’m writing this! I am closing the salon until further notice, but will definitely re open as soon as it is deemed safe (going to miss seeing my clients so much!)

"The government has today advised for salons, spas and massage parlours to close, along with cafes, bars and restaurants, to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

"I will be continuing to work with my 1:1 diet clients via video link & product collection (I will contact you all individually.)

I am petrified for what is in store for us in the coming weeks, not only for those vulnerable in my own family, but for our wider community in Lewis and Harris. We have a small hospital with only a few ICU beds and an ageing population.

"Please please listen to the advice and do your bit 

"Sending everyone so much love and strength in the coming weeks."

 The Hair and Beauty Lounge posted:

"I can not believe I'm doing this (and doing so with an extremely heavy heart). We have been so unsure what to do with THBL all week, no set guidelines for salons and we don't want to let any of you down. Our plan was to keep working until we were told to shut but it's reached the point now where we need to follow suit and do what's best for everyone. We are closing our doors for the time being and hopefully this will all be over soon with everyone doing the same thing.

"Our appointment book is full for the next few weeks but we will get in touch with you all personally as soon as we can and reschedule all appointments once we know what is happening.

"We are all so emotional today but we know this is the right decision.

"Sending you all loads of love, stay safe. We miss you all so much already!"

 MnM Hair Design also closed their doors for the moment, saying: 

 "I can not believe I am posting this but M'n'M Hair Design has closed it door for now.
"Until it is deemed safe again to do so.
"We will be in touch with clients in due course.
"I feel broken doing this.
"Us as a team feel this is the only way to stay safe.
"We will see you all soon, take care, God bless.
"The M'n'M Hair Design Team,
"Maureen, Angela, Angie, Alannah, Eilidh." 

 

Scotland's police force has backed the governments in Edinburgh and London with a strongly-worded warning to people to stick to the new rules…and to pay attention for more changes and restrictions to come.
Chief Constable Iain Livingstone QPM said: "I fully support the instruction from the UK and Scottish Governments for public houses, cafes, restaurants and other entertainment venues to close.
"I would like to thank the overwhelming majority of people who are already complying for their assistance and co-operation.
"The response to coronavirus has been fast moving and I would urge everyone to do what they can to comply with the advice from government and the health service to keep people safe.
"You should also stay informed about developments and reflect on the implications of them on how you go about your lives during these difficult days.
"To be clear, no public houses or other entertainment venues should be opening for patrons until further notice.
"Our dedicated officers and staff are working round the clock to support the magnificent work of health professionals and wider society as we work collectively to protect our fellow citizens.
"I urge everyone to play their part in the national effort.
"We are aware of proposed legislation in relation to COVID-19 and are carefully monitoring its progress and considering what the implications for policing will be.
"In the meantime, those breaking the law will be dealt with appropriately to ensure the public is kept safe from risk and harm as we continue to police the country.
"I am grateful to all our officers and staff who continue to deliver an absolutely first class service in these challenging conditions for their continued dedication, hard work and support.
 "We will continue to focus on public service and, by working together, we will come through this."
 

As the preparations go on for the almost complete shutdown of schools throughout the Islands, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar says it is receiving a significant number of enquiries relating to criteria for key workers.

In a statement – unusually – on a Saturday (12.27 March 21) the council says:

In order to assist you to determine whether you are a key worker or not, we would reinforce the following points:

You should be:

  • a key member of staff i.e. delivering direct care to patients/clients in an NHS or social care setting (hospital, NHS practices, care home or homecare). This also includes ancillary support staff, social workers, allied health professionals, cleaners, porters and catering staff.
  • a member of school staff (e.g. teacher, support worker, catering staff, janitorial or administration)
  • providing direct emergency service provision (e.g. fire, ambulance, police, coastguard)
  • a worker in the utilities sector (e.g. electricity, water supplies and sewerage, gas)
  • a worker in the transport sector (ferry, planes, hauliers, deliveries of food, buses)
  • a worker in food and/or retail distribution (e.g. butcher, chemist, supermarket worker, small shops providing food)

For those workers listed above, their children should only attend school in the following circumstances:

  • When they have no appropriate alternative childcare available to them
  • On a day when they would normally be working (i.e. Children only attend school when you are at work)

Education, like other services, is working with a reduced level of staff. Therefore, other support staff, in relation to the above criteria - such as admin, HR functions and finance - should have approval of line management and their names provided to the Education department (through their own service) from Monday onwards.

Vacancies and absences in critical care services have already created a situation where we  may have to redeploy staff to support frontline workers.

Many of our teaching staff have volunteered to work across other services and it is therefore important that the pupils attending at our schools are those of key workers only.  They will be attending their normal school establishments.

Apart from children of key workers, there will be cases where it has been identified by Comhairle officers that a child is considered to be vulnerable, based on the advice from Scottish Government, that child will be able to attend school. Comhairle staff have been in contact with those who are eligible and, if you have not had contact from us, you should not attend.  If you feel that you are eligible but have not been contacted, please contact the Education, Skills & Children’s Services Department on Monday.

And S4-6 pupils have the option to attend to complete outstanding coursework, if they need to do so. Any such arrangements have been discussed and intimated to pupils before they left school yesterday.  Comhairle nan Eilean Siar emphasise that this is an option…pupils are not required to attend.

More details here: https://www.welovestornoway.com/index.php/articles-auto/16354-schools-still-open-for-some-pupils

 

 

Melissa Silver has been on Lesvos volunteering with refugees since September last year. Here she speaks about the situation on the Greek island during the corona pandemic and and on March 19 she told how it compared to Lewis…

With a population of just over ten million, Greece has had, according to coronatracker.com, 418 confirmed cases of corona and 6 deaths. Scotland with its population of just over five million, has had 266 confirmed cases and six deaths.

The first case in Greece was recorded on February 26. By March 10, the government had announced the closure of all schools and community centres; March 14 brought with it the closure of all pubs, clubs, cafes restaurants, except for takeaway, and no more than five people are allowed to be in line at once. All stores have been shut since Wednesday, save for pharmacies, fuel stations and grocery stores. From Sunday, the government is due to announce, all flights to and from Greece will cease for the time-being.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar would like to reassure customers that their next monthly payment for their ‘Slàinte Mhath!’ sports facility membership will not be taken from their accounts. This will continue to be reviewed on a monthly basis.

Bernard Chisholm, Director of Education, Skills and Children’s Services said: “We were very keen to update customers as soon as possible. Sport and Health staff have been updating their Facebook page with ideas that customers can try at home to help stay well and active during this difficult period.

“This information can be found on the Lewis Sports Centre Facebook page and will be shared with all other sports facilities Facebook pages across the Outer Hebrides.”

Isles MP Angus Brendan is pleading for people not to travel to the Islands - as concern grows that the lack of testing is the main reason for the apparent lack of confirmed coronavirus cases in the Isles. 

At the moment, any tests being done have to be sent to the mainland for processing. 

A facility for testing is being established on the Islands but it is still in the process of being commmissioned, the NHS stated earlier in the week. 


Scotland's Chief Constable Iain Livingstone has thanked the overwhelming majority of people for observing instruction to avoid pubs, restaurants and urges people to comply with health advice

"To be clear, no public houses or other entertainment venues should be opening for patrons until further notice."


Concern was also voiced at the NHS Western Isles press conference on Wednesday (March 18) about the impact of people returning from the mainland and from overseas employment and other trips.

There are continuing pleas on Twitter and other social media for people to self-isolate on return to the Islands to minimise the speed of transmission of the virus.

The MP also sent out a photograph of the emergency hospital provision at Castlebay village hall on Barra where local medical staff have prepared for #coronavirus

He said: "This is not far from Third World basic.  No ventilators, no much oxygen either, no testing.  Islands such as this could be badly hit. Message is…don't come on holiday, please."

Asked on Twitter about the level of provision, the MP stated: "Scotland and the UK does not have what it needs. Scotland has 360 ventilators, I was told.  The maths ratios of possible demand to availability are not good."

And Kate Forbes, MSP for Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch, and the Cabinet Secretary for Finance said on Twitter: "If you live elsewhere, please don’t use the Highlands as your means of self-isolation. People live here who are trying to follow Government guidance and the continuing flow of campervans and other traffic who appear to be escaping the cities is not helping."

But also on Twitter, musician Jane Hepburn-Macmillan pointed out that pubs and the like in Stornoway were remaining crowded despite the Government advice. This was a display from Era nightclub for last weekend, Saturday March 14th.

Jane pointed out last night (Friday March 20) that: "So on average, if one person catches it, they pass it on to three people. Each of them then pass it on to another three, and on it goes.
Right now: three #Stornoway pubs are absolutely heaving with people. STAY AT HOME," she pleaded. 

The first coronavirus case in Scotland was on March 2. A total of 19 days ago.  For comparison, the first case in Greece was recorded on February 26 and, 12 days later, on March 10, the government announced the closure of all schools and community centres; March 14 brought with it the closure of all pubs, clubs, cafes restaurants, except for takeaway, and no more than five people are allowed to be in line at once. All stores have been shut since Wednesday March 18, save for pharmacies, fuel stations and grocery stores. From tomorrow all flights to and from Greece will cease.

Earlier in the week, a plan to bring football strips from the youngsters of Point FC to a school in Africa has been disrupted at the 11th-hour due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Development consultant Alasdair Nicholson, who regularly goes to Tanzania to help develop local skills in community enterprise, was in Edinburgh ready to fly to Africa on Wednesday March 18, but decided to cancel the trip in the light of the UK warning against all non-essential travel.

Alasdair, who also works as a community consultant for community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust, had collected a bundle of junior Point FC strips, as well as science textbooks, to take with him to a joint primary and secondary school at the foot of Mount Kilimanjaro.

He was taking the strips out to Northern Tanzania after Point and Sandwick Trust sponsored new kit for the young players of Point FC. Point and Sandwick Trust had also provided a couple of footballs for the school and Alasdair had spoken of what a difference it would make to the children there.

He had anticipated great “glee and happiness” at the gifts and had told the Wee Reds in Point (pictured below) that children in Africa were often without strips or boots – sometimes even footballs. “Sometimes they make footballs from rolled up banana leaves,” he said. He also told the youngsters: “I’m just the carrier of these strips. You are the ones who’re donating them.”

However, he decided against making the journey and plans to go back later, when the situation has settled down.

Alasdair said: “Things are moving so fast with corona in the last few days that it is uncertain what borders will be closed or flights cancelled. This is a postponement rather than a total withdrawal but I would not want to be an accidental vector from any casual contact in passing through Amsterdam or from a crowded African bus.

“Yes, I’m disappointed but there will be vulnerable people who are at risk and any problems I have encountered are nothing compared with the anxiety that they will have so our thoughts should be with our neighbours and community."

Alasdair Nicholson with young Point FC players and representatives from the club and Point and Sandwick Trust. Photograph by Sandie Maciver of SandiePhotos
 

There will be three groups of pupils still attending schools in the Western Isles from Monday (March 23).

Following the national school closure, the Scottish Government has set criteria for pupils who can continue to attend in schools.

The expectation is that the absolute minimum of pupils attend at school and the presumption is for non-attendance unless the following criteria are met.

Those who may attend are the children of key workers where there is no alternative childcare available to them. This includes key staff working in NHS, social care, emergency services, school & education and any workers in energy, transport and infrastructure roles whose work is critical to maintaining services during the crisis.

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is working with health and social care and emergency planning colleagues to identify eligible staff and provision will be made for identified staff only.

To allow time to do this, they are asking that, from Monday, parents self-identify at schools if they consider themselves to be eligible for this provision.

If you are not on a list already identified by your employer as a critical employee, you will need to contact your employer or line manager to ask them to contact the Education & Children’s Services Department.

Where it has been identified by Comhairle officers that a child is considered to be vulnerable, based on the advice from Scottish Government, that child will be able to attend school.

Comhairle staff have been in contact with those who are eligible and, if you have not had contact from us, you should not attend.  If you feel that you are eligible but have not been contacted, please contact the Education, Skills & Children’s Services Department on Monday.

And S4-6 pupils have the option to attend to complete outstanding coursework, if they need to do so. Any such arrangements have been discussed and intimated to pupils before they left school today

On Friday 20th March at 2.00pm, Education, Skills and Children’s Services staff broadcast a live stream discussion forum for pupils, parents, staff and members of the wider community. A recording of the broadcast is available through this link http://e-sgoil.com/cnes-covid-update

The Scottish Government has published guidance that sets out what childcare provision they expect to be made available to key workers during closures of school and early learning and childcare (ELC) settings to deal with the coronavirus outbreak.

The guidance also sets out the Key Workers that qualify for critical childcare provision. Local Authorities have been told that, if one parent is a key worker and the other is not, the non-key worker should normally be expected to provide childcare. If it is at all possible for children to be at home, then they should be. This link takes you to the full guidance https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus—school-and-elc-closures-guidance-on-critical-childcare-provision-for-key-workers/

Following the announcement from the First Minister that the exam diet of 2020 cannot go ahead Fiona Robertson, SQA Chief Executive, has been asked to develop an alternative certification model. Deputy First Minister has asked schools and colleges to continue to work with young people to ensure that any units and coursework are completed and estimated grades are provided by teachers, drawing on the available evidence gathered throughout the year, to SQA’s existing deadlines, or earlier if that is possible.

Many learners, will also have prior attainment information which will be helpful. The statement from the SQA Chief Executive is available through this link https://www.sqa.org.uk/sqa/93598.html

 

 

Fishing industry on Isles faces collapse as demand drops 80%.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has raised the case for financial assistance to be extended to vessels over 12m and seafood processing plants with Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Fergus Ewing MSP.

The islands MSP has contacted seafood processing plants in the Western Isles to better understand the immediate crisis which the industry is facing following the collapse of UK and European markets in the midst of the Coronavirus crisis.

Businesses have reported that vessels may have to stop landing by the end of next week. In light of the acute cash-flow challenges created by a drop in sales of upwards of 80%, the industry risks large-scale redundancies if Government support is not forthcoming.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “It is critical that the range of support for the fishing industry covers everyone affected.

“I have been in close contact with seafood plants and the Western Isles Fisherman’s Association who have made it abundantly clear that without intervention, there will not be an industry within weeks.

"The support package offered to vessels under 12 metres should in my view be extended to vessels over 12 metres, such as scallop trawlers, and similar financial support be offered to seafood processing plants.

“Direct support to vessels should directly reflect the number of crew each vessel employs and there must be an assurance that any support given is passed on to crew members fairly.”

While welovestornoway.com has been making every effort to highlight how this crisis is bringing out the best in local communities, we have to admit that we’ve all now seen examples of the worst human behaviour, too.

Empty shelves and stressed shop-workers are evidence of over-buying, hoarding and even aggression on the part of some shoppers.

The disappointing traits have led to practical moves to protect the most vulnerable shoppers – and to pleas for understanding from some of those behind the counter and stocking the shelves.

Stornoway supermarkets are to introduce reserved shopping hours for senior citizens in line with a national trend to protect older people from consumer-created shortages.

The move comes in response to astonishing buying behaviour which has seen supermarket shelves routinely cleared of almost all essential food and toiletry items.

From tomorrow, Stornoway’s two Co-op stores will be offering a dedicated shopping hour to older people, between 8am and 9am daily at the Macaulay Road superstore and the Cromwell Street convenience store.

And from Monday Tesco’s superstore on Shell Street will also be offering pensioners hour shopping on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between 9am-10am.

In both cases the move has been handed down to island stores by the supermarket chains themselves, but enthusiastically embraced locally.

A specifically local appeal, though, has come from Tesco’s store managers in Stornoway, following the national chain’s decision to limit purchases within the store. The Stornoway manager said:

“Thank you to the customers who have taken time to approach me and other staff members to thank us. You don’t realise how much this makes our shifts bearable at this incredibly stressful time.

“Those simple words of thank you made me cry this week, with happiness, to know people do notice us.

"We are humans, we aren’t robots who can take abuse being hurled at us in every direction.

“We don’t know what’s round the corner any minute of the day, but I can promise you Tesco Stornoway staff are trying our very best – at every minute of the day.”

Those words have been echoed by small retailers, including Charlie Barleys, the popular butchers on Ropework Park, who have experienced extremely high demand for meat and fresh goods, leading them to limit quantities on some items.

They said: “The ongoing availability of products is dependent on people buying considerately, and also our suppliers being able to fulfil our orders. Unfortunately, this situation is outwith our control and we understand that it is frustrating, as it is for us too.

“Please remember that our staff are working really hard to ensure that we are able to serve all of our customers, including the vulnerable in our community. They have no option to work from home and are doing their best to ensure that nobody has to go without!”

Pharmacists are struggling with exceptional demand both for prescription items and for over-the-counter medications, with Boots Stornoway store now open for limited hours only and Back Pharmacy closing between 12noon and 2pm to allow pharmacists time to work on an exceptionally large number of prescriptions.

Cromwell Street’s KJ Macdonald is allowing only eight customers at a time into the store to maintain safe separation distances. A spokesman said: “In these challenging times we would like to take the opportunity to thank all our customers for their continued support and understanding. These measures are not easy for any of us but unfortunately necessary to enable us to keep providing our service to the community for as long as possible.”

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar has backed a move by Tesco to limit shopping on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays between the hour of 9am to 10am for the elderly and the most vulnerable.  Comhairle Leader Roddie Mackay said: “This is a good move by Tesco which should benefit older people and the most vulnerable in our community. We would ask that the public respect this for the benefit of these groups. People in the Western Isles are known for their compassion, respect and social responsibility. Now is the time to show it. Leave your shopping until later in the day on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Every little helps.”

Picture shows Boots the Chemists during a late working night for the staff yesterday (Thursday). A spokesman said: “Another late night spent by the team trying to get your prescriptions dispensed safely under all this pressure. We are trying our absolute best for you all.”

 

CalMac’s overnight freight service between Stornoway and Ullapool is to be withdrawn until July 15th, with the last night-time service due to operate tonight (Friday 20 March).

Island-based hauliers have been notified that the Loch Seaforth will now carry freight using the 7am sailing from Stornoway and the 11.30am return from Ullapool, with the change to remain in place until 15 July.

The change also means passenger service being reduced to one sailing a day, leaving Stornoway at 3pm and Ullapool at 6.30pm.

All other services, including sailings from Tarbert, Lochmaddy, Lochboisdale and Castlebay, are to remain on the winter timetable until 15 July and will not move to the more frequent summer service, as was originally scheduled, from next week.

The service change comes in response to unprecedented conditions in the transport industry and as a means of maintaining lifeline links while crew with existing health conditions need to self-isolate to protect their own health.

A CalMac spokesman said information was continually coming in and further service changes could not be ruled out.

 

Stornoway’s much-loved daily bread providers Stag Bakeries have moved today (Friday 20 March) to reassure customers in the face of widespread rumours.

They posted on social media this lunchtime confirming that Stag is NOT running out of flour after hearing numerous reports that they were expected to run out of their popular loaves and rolls in the face of extreme buying behaviour by customers.

A spokesman for Stag Bakeries said: “We are producing three times as much as normal and demand is going up all the time.

"The van is going up to Tesco and the Co-op full as normal and by lunchtime the shelves are empty again.

“The rate the shelves are being emptied is beyond anything we’ve ever experienced.

"To be honest we’re not sure what people are doing with it all, but we buy our flour by the tonne.

"The situation is changing every day, but we can’t foresee any interruption to our production.”

The picture shows today’s batch of plain loaves, with plenty more on the way (Stag Bakeries).

 

An army of Lewis and Harris bikers are revving up to lend a hand as the potential grows for an island-wide lockdown on vulnerable individuals.

Over 100 bikers have responded to a call from motorcycle instructor Calum Maclean, who proposed the idea of a two-wheeled courier service to bring shopping and essentials to people self-isolating in remote areas.

Calum said today (Friday 20 March): “It came to me at 4am that we could end up with a lot of people in self-isolation, in remote areas, unable to get what they need from the shops and that that would impact not just them but the local shops themselves.

“I know a lot of bikers, so I put a call out yesterday to see if they would be willing to help and I’ve had over 140 respond to say yes, they’re ready. Even assuming there’s some fall-out in availability I think we can safely say we’ve got a small army of bikers ready to help.”

Calum’s post also attracted some interest from businesses, including Engebretsen’s, Harris and Lewis Smokehouse and some local fishermen who are prepared to offer fresh catch to those who are isolated.

What’s now needed, according to Calum, is a way to co-ordinate deliveries and those who need help.

“All we need is for a shopkeeper to put an order in a sealed bag and address it, but we do also need a way to cover our fuel costs and to make sure that the authorities are on board with what we are doing.

“The biker fraternity is willing to help but we need to get the mechanics in place to make it work. We want to limit the amount of to-ing and fro-ing and make sure fuel is covered if individuals have to go long distances to make deliveries.”

The insurance would be covered, as Calum said: “It’s social, domestic and would be a real pleasure. This is not work but is simply a choice of what you wish to do in your spare time.”

Businesses or authorities who want to take Calum up on his idea can make contact via the motorcyles of Lewis & Harris (ride-outs and chat) Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1012665215450592/

The picture shows some of the Lewis and Harris biker superheroes in last year’s Carnival parade.

 

Coronavirus testing policy in the Western Isles – and across Scotland – is not giving an accurate picture of the presence of the COVID-19 virus, says Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus Brendan MacNeil.

Mr MacNeil has spoken to NHS Western Isles chief executive Gordon Jamieson, challenging the effectiveness of a testing system which shows no confirmed cases of the virus in the islands.

welovestornoway.com has stopped headlining the official figures for Island cases because we are aware there are a number of people in self-isolation on the Islands who are believed to have the virus but who won't be tested unless their condition worsens and they are admitted to hospital.

Mr MacNeil said today (Friday 20 March): “If you don’t test for a virus, you don’t find people who have got it. If NHS Western Isles could test here they would, but they just don’t have the wherewithal and that is the responsibility of NHS Scotland’s procurement team, who have been unable to get testing equipment out.

“This is not just a problem in the Hebrides but in the whole of Scotland. The Republic of Ireland plans to be testing 15,000 people a day in a population of 4.83 million, which is broadly comparable to Scotland’s 5.4 million.

“At the moment we are being told that the peak of cases in the Western Isles will be in six weeks, but we have identified no cases. NHS Western Isles is following Government policy, which is to wait for people to present at hospital with symptoms and, in the past few days, nobody has done so. That doesn’t mean that we don’t have the virus here.”

A spokesperson for NHS Western Isles confirmed that the authority is following Government policy, which is to test people who attend at Western Isles Hospital and who have symptoms of COVID-19.

In addition one of Stornoway’s GP practices has been acting as a ‘spotting practice’, where patients who attend with symptoms are swabbed and the swabs sent away to Glasgow for analysis. It is on the basis of these results that the Western Isles’ current zero cases figure has been established.

The spokesperson said: “The positive news is that we will be getting a testing machine, which is to be sited at Western Isles Hospital, and which will give us a much clearer picture of the current situation. We are keen to follow World Health Authority guidance, which is ‘test, test, test’.”

Mr MacNeil has proposed a quicker method for radically increasing the number of people tested in the islands and has asked Mr Jamieson to look into it.

He said: “In the Faroes they are using ‘passage and test’ virus-testing equipment from the salmon-farming industry, which can be quickly adapted to test for any virus. They are testing 200 people a day in a population of 50,000. I have spoken to Gordon Jamieson about this and he has promised me that he will be investigating the possibility with the salmon farming industry today.”

“We are being asked to wait two weeks for a test kit, but we can’t sit and wait for two weeks. It’s here already and it will be spreading like wildfire now and next week. If we were to test 200 people here in the isles, today, we would find it.”

NHS Western Isles has been approached for further comment.

 

Today, Friday 19th March at 2.00pm, Education, Skills and Children’s Services staff will hold a live stream discussion forum for pupils, parents, staff and members of the wider community.

You are invited to log in to the live stream, which will be broadcast from e-Sgoil using this link: http://e-sgoil.com/cnes-covid-update

The focus of discussion will be measures that the Comhairle, with assistance from a range of partner organisations, is taking to ensure continuity of education services across the Western Isles during the Coronavirus outbreak. Viewers will be able to submit questions in advance and during the livestream.

The live stream panel will consist of the Director of Education, Skills & Children’s Services, alongside service officers and headteachers.

A recording of the live stream will be available to view approximately half an hour after it finishes and we will share the link via social media.

 

There’s been an impassioned plea for action – now – to defend Island businesses in the coronavirus crisis

Island accountant John Moffat, who chairs the Outer Hebrides Chamber of Commerce yesterday (Thursday March 20th)  told Alasdair Allan MSP and Angus Brendan MacNeil MP:

“The tourism and leisure businesses on the Islands have endured a long hard winter and most rely massively on the upturn in demand that occurs from April onwards. 

“This demand has now been cut off.  This leaves many of our businesses with much depleted cash flow, barely able to pay wages this week, never mind next week, and in such a position that they cannot wait for a period of time until the financial grants and loans mechanisms are put in place.

“The support so far is for businesses eligible for the small business bonus/rates relief and for those in retail, leisure and tourism with rateable values less than a specified value.

“We need to be concerned about all of the other businesses, my own included, – who have seen a fall-off in demand, or delayed payment, who may need to consider making staff redundant, or go to short-term working?

“Politicians have said that they want businesses to continue employing and paying their staff, to do so there needs to be another layer of support.

“I believe that the Governments should consider supporting payroll costs.  I suggest that at the very least there should be a consideration of paying a grant to each employer of the national minimum wage for every hour of every employees regular working week or month. 

“That way all employers can confidently keep their staff employed and avoid the trauma of layoffs, redundancies and the need to recruit when things get back to normality.  It also saves the employees from the burden and trauma of redundancy or lay off at this time.

“This is not a problem of our making and I don’t think that our citizens and businesses should suffer as a result.  The physical suffering is bad enough, we can prevent the financial suffering.

“We, like many, are prudent businesses and have a reserve, but it is not a bottomless pit.  We can probably afford to pay one more month of wages without any income coming in, but then we would be struggling.  Many more would be unable.

“The action to date is welcome, but if we are to truly look after our businesses and our working citizens then more needs to be done and quickly.”

David Richardson, Development Manager, Highlands and Islands, Federation of Small Businesses, said: “We’ve been inundated with calls, emails and texts from many, many businesses right across the Highlands & Islands.

“All highlighted real concerns and fears about the future of a wide range of businesses, not least having the cash to pay staff and the many other bills that come their way at this time of year.

Our approach as a UK-wide organisation is simple:

  • First, we are talking to the UK and Scottish Governments about the additional measures that might be required to support the self-employed and SMEs through this difficult time.
  • Second, we are doing our best to offer relevant and useful support and guidance to members and non-members alike. 

We are all in this together, and only by working together can we hope to avert the worst of the damage being done to our economy and communities.  

With that in mind, we have created a dedicated business support hub, containing a wide range of useful, constantly updated information. This is open to all businesses, non-members included. 

“Today (Friday) at 11am, we will be live streaming advice, guidance and answers to businesses’ questions in a special WEBINAR, delivered by a panel of experts: representatives from our Insurance team; Funding Platform; Legal team and, very importantly, the UK’s Interim Small Business Commissioner. The webinar is open to all businesses, non-members included, and everyone must register in advance.

They have space for 10,000 attendees at the Webinar, and it was filling fast.

Earlier MSP Alasdair Allan said he had received numerous queries from concerned businesses as visitors cancel planned trips and demand for a range of services plummets.

The Scottish Government has announced a range of actions to support businesses including a package of measures worth £2.2 billion from 1 April:

  • a full year’s 100% non-domestic rates relief for retail, hospitality and tourism
  • £10,000 grants for small businesses in receipt of the Small Business Bonus Scheme or Rural Relief
  • £25,000 grants for hospitality, leisure and retail properties with a rateable value between £18,000 and £51,000
  • 1.6% relief for all properties, effectively freezing the poundage rate next year
  • First Minister to convene an emergency meeting of the Financial Services Advisory Board
  • urging local authorities to relax planning rules to allow pubs and restaurants to operate temporarily as takeaways
  • extending the go live date for the deposit return scheme to July 2022
  • halting the introduction of the Visitor Levy Bill

Alasdair Allan said: “Here in the Western Isles, the tourism and hospitality sectors play a major role in our economy, and there is widespread anxiety about the economic consequences of the Covid-19 outbreak. I spoke to one small business in the islands earlier this week that had just taken 70 cancellations in the space of one hour.

“There is a dedicated helpline that has been set-up to support businesses in Scotland which is on 0300 303 0660. I am aware that people have had difficulty getting through as the service has been inundated and is receiving thousands of calls a day. I welcome the commitment from the Scottish Government to scale up the resources available to help address the high volume of enquiries.” 

And Comhairle nan Eilean Siar said yesterday that working towards being able to implement these announced measures as quickly as possible.

Non-domestic rates bills would normally be issued in the middle of March with the first payment due either at the end of May for those paying in 10 instalments or by September for those paying the year in one lump sum.

Because of the timing of the changes there will be a delay issuing the bills so that the Comhairle can ensure that the bills are correct and have the correct reliefs in line with recent announcements.

Updated details will be published on the Covid-19 information page on the following website: https://findbusinesssupport.gov.scot/coronavirus-advice/

You can also find further information and watch a short webinar on the practical steps you can take just now to help you plan for any disruption here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLd1bG8SOC4

Updates will also be provided on the Outer Hebrides Business Gateway Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/BusinessGatewayOuterHebrides/ and the Business Gateway website https://www.bgateway.com/

Business Gateway and HIE have postponed all face-to-face contact for this interim period but they are working and available via email and telephone as normal.

Less than a week ago, this is the sort of news which we were carrying on welovestornoway.com!  

This media release arrived on Tuesday afternoon…and was overlooked. Our apologies!  How times have changed!

LOCAL LOTTERY TEAM SURPRISE TARBERT COMMUNITY CENTRE

 The Committee of Harris Mutual Improvement Association held a successful “Swishing” Event in the Tarbert Community Centre last Saturday, 14th March, to help raise funds to replace the roof of the Centre. 

Over recent months, the group have been able to significantly upgrade the interior of the valued Community Centre which depleted their available funds.  They are now urgently attempting to raise enough to lever match funding which will allow them to fully replace the roof and safeguard the works already carried out well into the future.

The Lottery Team responded to an application from the Committee by making an un-nnounced visit to the Event, and presenting delighted members with a cheque for £1,000, doubling their day’s profits.

Janet Paterson of the Western Isles Lottery Team said “This is the first time we have simply turned up at an Event and surprised the organisers with funding and the response was fantastic.  We recognised the importance of the group’s aim and the hard work they had all done to make their Event a success. The Lottery Team are proud to be able to help.

The funds were the proceeds raised by Supporters of the Lottery within the Harris area and the Team announced that all further proceeds raised up until end May 2020 will also be awarded to the group. The final amount of funding relies purely on the local Community supporting the Lottery by purchasing tickets.

“To date, Harris have benefitted from £10,000 worth of funding across a variety of Community Groups and there has been no reduction in support. In addition, £3,188 has been won in Cash Prizes within the Harris Community.

Gordon MacDonald, HMIA Chairperson said, ‘Replacing the ageing roof tiles on the Community Centre is the final stage in an ambitious programme of refurbishment and redevelopment taken forward by our hard working committee and we are all incredibly grateful to all at Western Isles Lottery for their generous support towards our funding target!’

Pictured are Malcolm & Janet Paterson with Lewis MacKenzie from the Western Isles Lottery Team presenting the cheque to Kate Blake and Heather Campbell from the Harris Mutual Improvement Association. You can join in at www.westernisleslottery.co.uk

 

All of us are presently affected by the impact covid-19 is having on our society causing major disruption.  

Community councils have taken advice from our local authority and are following their guidelines.

We understand that this is a frightening and worrying time for people and we would like to help in any way we can.

We already know that the local shops are offering a delivery service for people who are unable for whatever reason to get out themselves; local churches are identifying the vulnerable and elderly in their congregations as they are best placed to do so and as far as possible helping where they can.

Regarding medical services it is best to contact your GP or NHS 24 on freephone 111 for advice – please do not just turn up at your GP surgery or local hospital without telephoning first.

If anyone would like help with anything, advice or have concerns regarding elderly or vulnerable neighbours / relatives -we are happy to be contacted in the first instance.

We can then ask volunteers to help in different areas or can direct you to someone who is in a position to help. If there are any queries or requests, we are unable to deal with directly we will do our very best to find someone who can.  

CnESl offices are closed to visits from the public but can be contacted on 01851 600 501 or via This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

We are aware that a lot of people who may be most in need will not use social media or indeed the internet so please pass these details on to anyone you feel might find them useful.

If you would like to contact us the details for our clerks are below.

North Harris Community Council – Agnes Morrison: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.07787 587681

Scalpay Community Council – Kenny Macleod: - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.07711 828801


North Harris Community Council

Scalpay Community Council

 

Volunteer Centre Western Isles is working closely with its Third Sector Interface partners and the wider 3rd sector and public sector partners to support the response to COVID-19. We have four offices across the Western Isles in Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra where staff can assist you if you contact our area facebook pages, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 01851700366

 We are delighted and inspired (but not surprised!) to see the community based volunteer response which is growing daily. Volunteer Centre Western Isles will be working to support this response in the following ways:

  • Helping in the promotion of volunteer roles related to the COVID-19 response
  • Communicating with local volunteers and organisations to let them know what is happening and connect them where relevant
  • Providing advice and guidance on volunteering safely when dealing with vulnerable members of the public.

For those who wish to volunteer in response to COVID-19

Before considering volunteering ask yourself – am I well enough to volunteer?   Your safety and limiting the spread of the coronavirus being the main priority, we continue to encourage you to adhere to NHS guidance on how best to avoid COVID-19, both in the work environment and at home. Follow NHS advice at all times and self isolate when required. We all have to do our part to stop the spread of infection.
 
If you are well enough and wish to volunteer, there are two main ways in which you may be able to help;

  • The first is by registering for an account emailing us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. as we will be sharing information about any COVID-19 related volunteering roles through regular updates to account holders. Information will also be shared via our social media platform and a new Coronavirus Volunteering Western Isles page so please follow us on Facebook (Volunteer Centre Western Isles) or Twitter. Although our drop-in advice service is now closed the team here will be happy to answer any volunteering enquiries you have so get in touch at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
  • The second way to help is informally in your own community by supporting people who may be vulnerable and you can contact safely (e.g. phone call, whatsapp, note through door), just to let them know that you are available and can assist with shopping etc. This postcard for letting neighbours know you can help which has been widely shared on social media recently is a good way of doing this.
     

It’s REALLY important to note that not all people who contact us will end up volunteering. We are expecting a large volume of volunteer registrations from people interested in helping so not all offers of help will be taken up as the supply may be more than the demand. Also, don’t be discouraged if suitable roles do not arise immediately as the response to this crisis will grow over time and the role volunteering plays in that response will likely grow too.

For organisations who need more volunteers

  • Are you registered with Volunteer  Centre Western Isles?
  • Once registered with Volunteer Centre Western Isles, you can advertise volunteer roles for free via our digital volunteering platform at www.volunteercentrewi.org and our social media. Although our offices are now closed until further notice, the team here will still be supporting organisations to advertise roles as usual and will be prioritising roles directly related to COVID-19.
  • Need advice about COVID-19 volunteer recruitment and/or management issues?
  • Do you need to design entirely new roles in response to COVID-19? You may need to put new volunteer management processes in place due to staff working at home? These are just some of the issues we anticipate organisations grappling with and new issues that none of us have even thought of yet are bound to arise.

The team at  Volunteer Centre Western Isles are here to help and we can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or on 01851700366 where you will need to leave a voicemail message and we will get back to you ASAP. A

s we all adapt to these new circumstances and needs we can’t always promise an instant answer to your questions but we’ll work with you and other relevant organisations to get you the advice and guidance you need.
 
Finally, anyone interested in volunteering in the Western Isles now or in the future can keep up to date by following us on Facebook (Volunteer Centre Western Isles – island name) or Twitter

All the best and stay safe,

Everyone at Volunteer Centre Western Isles

www.volunteercentrewi.org

Statement from Alasdair G Macrae, 19.02, Wednesday March 18th, 2020

Due to the on going concerns around coronavirus (COVID-19) and our commitment to protect our unique community, I have taken the following decisions regarding funerals.

There will be no funeral procession or lift, coffins will not be placed within the church/home.

Instead, we shall meet the mourners at the cemetery for the interment.

This decision was not easy to take as I am aware of the impact on our traditions and the role that a funeral has in allowing our community to show respect at a time of bereavement.

I reiterate earlier Government advice re coughing, sneezing, handshaking and social distancing.  

Should you feel unwell or are showing any signs or symptoms consistent with Coronavirus, then please do not attend the funeral.

These changes are only temporary, but are necessary in order to protect one and other, including my dedicated staff, in these extraordinary times.

Alasdair G Macrae

Archibald Macrae

Funeral Director

61, Keith Street

STORNOWAY

Isle of Lewis

HS1 2JG

01851 702033

 

 

 

 

 

 

CalMac is to stop taking new bookings on all of its services with a travel date of before 15 July as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

And the serving of fresh hot food will cease on board from tomorrow morning to free up staff to crew our vessels.

Customers will not be able to book any service in advance for sailings due to take place up to 15 July. This is to reflect the four-month period advised by Scottish Government as being the initial period of COVID-19 disruption.

Bookings that have already been made up to that period will be honoured where services are running. Priority will continue to be given to emergency services and medical emergencies.

Catering services on board will also be reduced to offer tea, coffee and pre-packaged foods, such as sandwiches only. Bottled and packaged drinks and snacks will also continue to be offered.

Robbie Drummond, Managing Director of CalMac said: “The COVID-19 outbreak is creating an ever-changing landscape not just for CalMac but for all transport operators and indeed all businesses.

'Whilst we are currently able to continue operating our normal timetabled service we have to plan for the impact of the virus on our staff on vessels, ports and support services. It has been prudent, therefore, to put in place an immediate stop on customers being able to book services in advance.

“We will effectively be operating a turn up and go service on all of our routes. This will reflect arrangements we already have in place permanently in a number of locations across the network, such as Wemyss Bay and Rothesay.

'We also know how popular our food service is on board some of our routes, but we need to free up as many staff as possible to help with cleaning and other on-board duties. We are seeing a drop in the amount of food purchased at this time in any case, so this decision makes sense.

'As the situation is changing on a daily basis, we will keep this situation under constant review.'

An Isle of Harris company has repurposed its entire operation to provide emergency supplies to island people during the Coronavirus crisis.

Essence of Harris has had to rethink its strategy as consumers withdraw from the high street in these uncertain times.

But business-owner Jamie McGowan has immediately seen a need that he can meet – the urgent requirement for hand sanitiser to protect islanders from the spread of infection.

Now he has switched his equipment, his staff and some of his existing supplies to manufacture alcohol-based gel and rub, with the intention of launching the new products as a free offer by next week.

Jamie said: “This is not a project for financial gain. It’s something we want to do for the Highlands and Islands, which have supported us with our business for so long. It is so important that we look out for each other and support one another through what can seem like very uncertain times.

“I contacted Simon at Isle of Harris Distillers and he has supplied some of the ingredients. Others we have been sourcing since last week as the crisis began to bite on the mainland.

“I’m using the World Health Organisation’s suggested formulation for hand sanitiser and some of the packaging I already had. The bonus is that we already have the equipment we need to make this.”

A 100ml alcohol flash rinse and a 250ml sanitiser gel are already in production and the product, made in limited quantities, is going out of the door as fast as it is ready.

Jamie said: “Local care homes want it, I’ve had requests from families with vulnerable relatives and today I had a call from Police Scotland in Inverness.

“This is nothing to do with making money. For now, our intention is to be giving it out to those who need it, because it’s something we can do for our own island.”

Essence of Harris contacted Isles MP Angus Brendan MacNeil to tell him of their plans to provide an alcohol hand sanitiser which would be made available to public facing Western Isles workers.

Mr MacNeil said “Both companies are to be commended for this further example of the community working together to enable everyone to follow the guidelines about hand washing and social distancing. This Hand Gel will be available to public facing workers whether in shops, care settings or other places where it is needed.

“It is pleasing to see churches, tourist outlets and other businesses closing or changing how they work to encourage social distancing at great cost to their businesses but for the benefit of us all.

S"ome cafes, pubs and clubs have stayed open but please stay away from crowded places. In public places be sure you stay at least 2 metres away from others and don’t go in if they are busy. We do not want to look back in three weeks and wish we had done more. In reality this is not holiday time and if you have come back to the islands from the cities best to stay at home for at least a week and distance yourself.

"Social distancing can have a big impact on the spread of the virus and we must all look after each other by following the guidelines.” 

You can contact Essence of Harris at info@essenceofharris 01859 502768 or check their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/essenceofharris/ for up-to-date information.

 

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s offices throughout the Western Isles will close to the public from this evening, Thursday 19 March, as part of the measures to reduce the risk of the spread of COVID-19.

The Comhairle offices remain open for our employees and enquiries should be directed to Customer Services on 01851 600 501 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Face to face meetings will be arranged, where appropriate, but wherever possible, members of the public are encouraged to use our online service via the Comhairle website:https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/

A spokesperson said: “It is important to reiterate that these are precautionary measures which are being taken in order to follow Scottish Government guidelines.”

All Comhairle related information can be found at CnES Coronavirus (COVID-19) 

MSP to hold telephone surgeries

Highlands and Islands MSP, Donald Cameron, has announced that he is to hold telephone consultations for constituents after cancelling his plans for surgeries.

Donald said that he had reluctantly decided to withdraw from holding surgeries as a result of the coronavirus epidemic.

 Mr Cameron said: “I am very sorry to be taking this action as I have always found face-to-face meetings with my constituents the best way of understanding the issues affecting them so that I can help.

“However, I want to minimise the impact of no longer having surgeries, so I’m encouraging local people to contact my office so that I can organise meetings by phone.”

 Mr Cameron’s office number in Holyrood is 0131 348 6989 and he can also be contacted by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

“Please give my team a  call, or drop me a line, so that we can arrange a time which best suits.”

MSP closes office

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan has taken the step of closing his Constituency Office in Stornoway in light of the Scottish Government guidance regarding the COVID-19 virus.

All staff are working from home and Alasdair and his team can still be contacted by telephone or email in the normal way.

Alasdair Allan MSP said; “Anyone passing my Stornoway office will see that it is closed. To explain, my staff are all still at work, but I have asked them all to work from home. The strong official advice is that people should do this wherever they have the option. There is no change to the phone number or email address by which my staff and I can be contacted.

“As things stand, I am still going to Edinburgh and back every week from my home in Lewis, and still meeting people locally by phone and online. We are however all being asked to cut down on face to face meetings where possible for the duration of the present coronavirus epidemic.

“People should continue to make use of me and get in touch about any matter I can help on. I hope people will understand that my staff and I have been a little overwhelmed by coronavirus-related enquiries over the last few days, but we will try to get back to everyone soon.

"People have very real concerns about what the current situation will mean for their families, their businesses and for the island economy, and I am seeking to follow up these issues for many constituents with both governments and other agencies.”

Isles MP constituency office – change to working arrangements

 Due to the ongoing public health concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus, Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus B MacNeil has asked his staff to work form home until further notice.

Angus MacNeil MP said: “We all have to adjust the way we live our day-to-day lives. It is important that we reduce the ways in which Coronavirus can spread and that is why I have asked my staff to work from home.

“All casework will continue as normal, constituents can continue to contact the office by calling 01851 702272 or by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good neighbours are looking out for each other throughout the Western Isles, as the full implications of self-isolation and social distancing begin to be realised.

Individuals, villages and districts are getting organised to help people out with the practicalities, and the loneliness, of enforced isolation over a long period.

And, as Comhairle nan Eilean Siar commented today (Thursday 19 March) “The communities of the Western Isles have a rich history of pulling together in times of need. This is one such time, and we need to be there for each other.”

Offers of help to neighbours are being notified to us including:

  • Groups and individuals in Upper Bayble, Portvoller, Flesherin and Keose who have been contacting neighbours, with notes due to drop through people’s doors carrying phone numbers and offers of help.
  • Community associations in Berneray, Grimsay, Carloway and Tong who are turning to active community support as village halls and community centres close their doors
  • Businesses including Bernera Post Office and the Veggie Box who are prepared to arrange for deliveries of additional items to customers in their area.
  • New community response groups, such as the one in South Harris (at https://www.facebook.com/groups/230441011481701/?hc_location=ufi) offering help to anyone who needs it in the area from Lickisto and Luskentyre south to Leverburgh.

See our linked article under community information for latest updates on who is offering to help.

Meanwhile some islanders who have seen business fall away with the Coronavirus lockdown are turning their talents to positive support.

Lewis band Astrid (Willie Campbell and Charlie Clark), who have seen summer concert bookings cancelled, are planning a live stream concert tomorrow (Friday 20 March) from Willie’s kitchen in Tolsta. Requests and money pledges will be taken in aid of the Eilean Siar Foodbank. More details of that are available via the band’s facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Astridbanduk/

Online stationery seller Janet Ross Jordan is offering a free pack of writing paper, to help people brighten up the day for those on their own.

She said: “Maybe I should call it 'isolation pack' but I didn't want people to think it included toilet roll! I wanted to make some free packs for anyone who needed them. It’s not much, but I do think sending cards and letters will really help someone who isn’t seeing human beings in person.” Find it at https://cardsandgiftwrap.co.uk/shop/stationery/cards-and-letterwriting/letterwriting/coronavirus-correspondence

 

Hebridean Housing Partnership (HHP) has moved to provide reassurance to tenants in the light of the Coronavirus outbreak.

In a statement published late yesterday (Wednesday 18 March) they said that measures had been put in place, but that services were currently being delivered as close to normally as possible.

However, some changes are likely to be made as the Government advice is updated, and HHP have made preparations including arranging for staff to work from home.

They asked tenants to help them to continue to deliver their service effectively by avoiding unnecessary trips to the HHP office and instead contacting them by phone on  0300 123 0773 or email on This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The statement also said: “Please advise us if you have any concerns regarding your health when you contact us. We are particularly mindful of those identified as being most at risk and we will take all possible measures to reduce this risk if a visit to your home is required e.g. to carry out essential repair work.

“If you have other concerns or are feeling worried about the current situation and have no support then please contact us. We will try to assist where possible or give you details of services that might be able to help.

“We all have a responsibility not to place others at risk so we would ask that, if possible, requests for repairs or other services are restricted to those that are most urgent at this stage.

“If you currently pay your rent in cash, we would ask that you consider making alternative arrangements in the meantime e.g. card payments or online payments. We may contact you to discuss this further.

“If you are concerned about being able to pay your rent then please contact us as soon as possible. We will do all we can to help.”

HHP will continue to post updates on their website http://www.hebrideanhousing.co.uk  and Twitter page @HebHousing.

As the coronavirus responses develop, we are aware that communities throughout the Western Isles are trying to gather together to coordinate support for people and businesses throughout their communities.
  • There are people with services and ideas to offer.
  • There are people who need them.
  • There are great ideas in one area - but maybe no one has thought of that in another area.
Here in the welovestornoway.com family - between our websites with around 37,000 users a month and our social media presence - we can offer the biggest chance for people to exchange information and develop support.
Tell us what you are doing…and we can tell everyone else.
Because we run our own website, we can develop it to adapt to the needs of the communities we serve.
Start sending us the information about your plans…and we will do our best to tell everyone else who needs to know.
And - a gentle reminder - remember Facebook is a giant American corporation that has no base in the Islands, whereas welovestornoway.com is completely locally based, employing local people.
 
Join the list!

Urras Oighreachd Ghabhsainn have brought together volunteers to co-ordinate the setting up of Whatsapp groups for each village on the estate. The Whatsapp groups will allow residents to stay in touch, offer support, seek support and generally stay connected. Volunteers are visiting and calling homes to gather phone numbers. 

If no one has reached your house yet and you would like to be added to the Whatsapp group for your village, please message 07469 189449 and specify your name and village.  We understand that many people do not have a mobile phone or Whatsapp, however, those that can seek to ensure they are included in communications. 

The group is for everyone from your village, so please be mindful of not posting lots of details. Just ask for help and someone in the group will get in touch for the specifics of your request.  This is basically just neighbours wanting to help each other out and spread a little kindness during a challenging time. This is not a service to replace emergency services or other support services, but as a community we want you to know that someone will be around to help with some of the smaller things. Staying connected is critical and we all just want to spread a little kindness and to let you know you matter!

South Harris…Community Response Group
This group has been set up in conjunction with South Harris Community Council and local groups and agencies. This will give a platform to share information and co ordinate responses where required in times of need.
 
Resilient Uist
A Facebook page has been set up to help the Uist community during the pandemic.  
 
Grimsay
If you are social distancing or in self-isolation on Grimsay and need any help, i.e. you don’t have anyone to fetch shopping, collect prescriptions for you, you’re feeling lonely etc., please contact Grimsay Community Association on 01870 603359 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and we will do our best to get someone to assist you.
 
Comunn Eachdraidh Nis
As you will have read, here at CEN we have had to close our doors to the public as per Government guidelines. The good news is, as from Thursday 19th March, we will pilot a non-contact takeaway menu which will be available to pre-order from between 11am and 3pm.
Payment options: Pay over the phone when you place your order or pay on collection using contactless.
Payments and order collection will be from the gable end window of the former schoolhouse. A member of staff will be waiting for you when you come to collect your order. A reminder that our telephone number is 810 377. We will also accept orders through Messenger.

Breasclete Community Association
The Association are looking to compile a list of volunteers to help pick up prescriptions, do shopping and help deal with isolation. The Association is also looking to make a list of the vulnerable in the community. Anyone who would appreciate a visit or assistance is asked to call or text 07395929314 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Anyone wishing to volunteer is asked to phone, text or email with your name and the best method of contacting you.

North Lochs Community Association
The Association have compiled a list of volunteers to help with dog walking, animal feeding, shopping, collecting prescriptions, meals, advice on staying connected with technology or simply a friendly phone call. North Lochs Community Association commented: “Please remember, you will not be bothering us at all. We are here to help.” A list of volunteers’ contact numbers is on the attached poster.
 
Park Guesthouse, James Street, Stornoway - Richard Grandison says we are running a takeaway and collection service from the restaurant on James Street.

Berneray Community Council is pulling together a group of helpers to offer support to those entering into a period of self-isolation. The effort will be co-ordinated by Hilary Turnbull who can be contacted on 01876 540384.

Carloway Community Association is offering support with shopping and collecting prescriptions etc. Contact Chris Schofield on 01851 643297.

Salvation Army are offering help to those who need it.  The Crown Inn has donated individual meal portions to the Salvation Army. These will be available on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 12pm to 2pm. Frozen food, toiletries, baby items and groceries are free to those who need it. The Salvation Army commented: “Don’t struggle over the next few days, we are here to help. Bring a bag and take some items for the cupboard and the kids at home.”

District shops which are prepared to offer home delivery:

Cross Stores, Ness: Port of Ness to Borve - 01851 810241
Welcome Inn, Barvas: Borve to Shawbost - 01851 840343

Tolsta shop: Tolsta to New Tolsta - 01851 890281
Gordons Diesel: Tong to Gress - 01851 820200

Buth an Rubha: Point district - 01851 870713
Campbell’s: Stornoway to Newmarket - 01851 702127
Campbell’s: North Lochs to South Lochs pending volunteers - 01851 860377
Uig shop: Gisla to Brenish - 01851 672444
Bernera shop: Bernera to Tir Mor - 01851 612282 
Brownies, Tarbert: North Harris to Scalpay - 01859 502319
Leverburgh: East, South and West Harris excluding Tarbert - 01859 520370
AD Munro: Harris excluding Westside - 01859 502016,

Ardhasaig Stores: North of Tarbert including Hushinish - 01859 502066 

Please give as much notice as possible for all deliveries.

 
Tong Community Hall



It's wonderful to see everyone  pulling together at this time

Some of our team have sadly left the island to return to their families.  We wish them the best for the future.

But this means an opportunity has arisen for two passionate chefs with a great eye for detail.

If you love cooking great food, this might just be the right move for you.

As a chef with us, you will be valued member of a tight-knit team that loves the buzz of working under pressure.

From the moment our guests walk through the door, only the best will do.

 The role

  • Prepare cook & present amazing food.
  • Have an understanding of allergies and due diligence processes
  • Take pride in maintaining highest standards of cleanliness & safety.
  • Being a valuable part of the wider team to ensure the best guest experience
  • Be flexible, hardworking and able to work in a busy fast moving environment.
  • NVQ/SVQ level 2/3 or City & Guilds equivalent

To apply please send your CV and cover letter to:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

Island food businesses are working hard to remain in operation, in the face of the global crisis.

Changed opening hours and changed ways of providing goods have been options for some, with an increased online presence, remote shopping and pre-order delivery chosen by some food providers to keep their customers.

The Good Food Boutique on Cromwell Street in Stornoway is offering a pre-order service for all goods, including coffee and sandwiches. Customers can pay over the phone and collect quickly in the shop or even request that the purchases are taken out to the car!

They said: “We are of course keeping up with our usual hygiene practices but have added extra measures to keep contact surfaces clean and free from contamination including door handles and countertops. Please support your local businesses where you can!”

For details of the new takeaway and sit-in service from Harris & Lewis Smokehouse, click here

Hebridean Tea Store in Stornoway is to remain open in their Cromwell Street store, but owner Sabine Weiten has moved to reassure customers that hygiene and health are at the top of their considerations.

She said: “Washing our hands thoroughly with soap and water was always normal to us and we do it very frequently. We are cleaning all surfaces on a regular base with appropriate sprays and disinfectants and always have done. So, simply continue what we already were doing.

“We are thinking of setting up a pay-by-phone service where you can pre-order, pay and then pick up from the shop. You can also order via the website, of course, and then pick up. This way we will reduce the personal contact to a minimum.”

The Veggie Box says: "For the moment we hope to carry on as usual, whilst adding in a couple of alternatives and precautions. The main precautions will be regular use of disposable gloves, sanitiser and hand washing at all stages of the process, from setting up the stall to delivery.

"For any one concerned about coming to the stall we will continue to deliver/arrange delivery throughout Lewis and potentially Harris, if you are needing anything else brought to you at the same time just let the shop know and we can pick it up for you and deliver it along with your veg, we are more than happy to help in whatever way we can.

"If you are also concerned about using cash either at the stall or via delivery then please let us know and we can give you our account details so that you can pay online, if anyone is unsure of this process again let us know and we can chat it through with you, again we will be very flexible with this.

The Crown Inn is starting up a take-away service to encourage local use of their business. Pizza can be pre-ordered for collection or any meal from the existing menu can be pre-ordered and served at an arranged time, to reduce the time people spend waiting for food in a public place. The Crown’s team said: “We are doing our absolute best to continue trading in the current climate. We believe we can, with your help, remain trading – without it we will have to close. If you’re out for lunch or dinner, please consider us.”

Croft 36 in Northton, Harris had already taken some precautions ahead of their proposed season opening next Monday (23 March). The roadside shed ‘shop’ has been fitted with hand-cleansing facilities and will be deep-cleaned each day when stock sells out, but customers are also being asked to allow the previous customer to leave before entering and to wear the disposable gloves provided.

Crofter Julie is also offering deliveries within the local area and simplifying the menu to allow for the difficulty of sourcing ingredients. One-pot meat and vegan meals, fish pie and bakery goods can be taken out to local residents and those staying in holiday accommodation.

In Ness the Old Barn Bar is continuing to operate as usual until told otherwise, but the season opening of the Cross Inn Restaurant, due on 27 March, is to be postponed until the pandemic has passed.

Proprietors Alice Bagley and Duncan Phillips said: “In the meantime we are working on Cross Inn Meals on Wheels. We hope to be able to offer hot meals and larder items for takeaway and delivery from early next week. Stay tuned for menus and operating hours.”

In Callanish Mollans Café has consulted environmental health advice and arranged to operate a carry-out to the car service for pre-ordered food.

Proprietor Julie Child said: “You will still be able to get our fabulous food but you just won't have to walk through a shared airspace in which to get served. Trying to effectively deep-clean a cafe where people are in and out is near on impossible.”

Announcements were made on Monday evening (March 17th) that Stornoway’s Artizan Café and Harbour Kitchen Restaurant were closing.

Leelah and Lach at the Harbour Kitchen said: “We have taken the very sad decision to close Harbour Kitchen. We feel the health and safety of our team and guests has to be our primary focus at this time and in these difficult circumstances. We are looking at different options on how best to support our team. We are also waiting for more information from the government on how we go forward.”

Artizan café said: “We have a very small and closely-knit staff and customer base and we do not wish to compromise the health of anyone who either works in or visits Artizan or indeed the lives of their loved ones.

“Stay safe everyone and be mindful of each other and support our small fragile community. We need to pull together now more than ever before and return our islands back to a prosperous community for everyone. There is no better place in the world to be and we should all be very proud where we live.”

 

Face-to-face contact ended back on March 19 – doesn't that seem half an age ago – for staff and clients at the Western Isles Citizens Advice Service.

But yesterday (March 28th) a spokesman said: "I want to emphasise that our services are available to everyone in the Western Isles during these troubled times.

"We have staff , some working from home, ready to answer any queries and to provide our support.

"There has been a big increase in the people contacting us but we are determined to help everyone."

 WICAS said a week ago that they needed "to change the way we currently work to ensure, as far as possible, the health of our clients, staff , volunteers and the continuance of the CAB service.

"We are proud that over 70% of the clients we help are seen face-to-face – this will need to end for a temporary period.

"From close of business yesterday Wednesday March 18th we will not be able to see clients in person. In effect, the 4 CABx will be closed to all visitors. 

"To compensate for this we will offer all our clients dedicated phone /Skype appointments.

"Please be assured that all the support, knowledge and expertise we normally show will be extended to these phone conversations. Our help and support will be extended to make sure we help every client as much as possible over as long as is needed.

To receive help a client will need to call their nearest CAB office.

All our office phone lines will remain open

  • BARRA CAB 01871 810608
  • HARRIS CAB 01859 502431
  • LEWIS CAB 01851 705727
  • UIST CAB 01870 602421

"Information will be updated daily and we will use our Facebook page to inform as many people as possible.

"You will also know that we store food for the FareShare scheme – all our duties to make sure food is available to our colleagues will not change.

"In fact, we have asked for larger deliveries as the numbers of people being helped by our colleagues in many organisations in the Western Isles has increased significantly.

Needless to say we are in constant contact with Citizens Advice Scotland and Scottish Government.

Only minutes before the first scheduled news conference about the coronavirus crisis by chiefs at NHS Western Isles came the bombshell announcement that all Scotland’s schools were to close down at the end of this week.

As the conference began at 2pm, Health chiefs immediately acknowledged that this would throw their human resources planning out of kilter as they now have to assess which of their staff will become unavailable.

They had earlier put out a plea for recently retired healthcare professionals to consider temporarily returning from retirement to help deliver services during the COVID-19 outbreak. And third-year student nurses will also join the cohorts of additional staff being readied to cope with the crisis. 

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson, said: “NHS Western Isles is anticipating a significant increase in the numbers of people requiring healthcare over the coming weeks and months.

“That, coupled with the possibility of an unprecedented increase in the numbers of current NHS staff off sick, will place significant pressure on local healthcare services. We are asking those with the skills and experience we need to consider returning to service temporarily to help us deliver services to our community.

“We acknowledge that this is a significant ask of those who are in retirement, but we are facing a situation of unprecedented pressure.”

  • Are you a recently retired healthcare professional?
  • Has your registration recently lapsed?
  • Do you have the skills, knowledge and experience needed?
  • Would you be willing to help out if required?

If you answered yes to any of these questions then email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call 01851 762009 with your details

Meanwhile Comhairle nan Eilean Siar acknowledged the First Minister’s announcement that all schools and nurseries in Scotland will be closed by Friday.

FM Nicola Sturgeon made the announcement in the Scottish Parliament this lunchtime (Wednesday 18 March) and said that education secretary John Swinney would give further detail on the plans tomorrow (Thursday).

At 1.43pm Comhairle nan Eilean Siar tweeted: “We have been notified by Scottish Government that all schools and nurseries will close by the end of this week. We will update when more information becomes available.”

Mr Swinney tweeted: “Schools and nurseries will close from this Friday. I appreciate this will be very disruptive but it is necessary. We are working with Councils to support young people preparing for exams, are vulnerable and whose parents are essential workers.”

Ms Sturgeon said that a ‘one-size-fits-all approach’ would not work across Scotland.

She said: “I want to be open with people that we are all still working out all of the fine detail of exactly what this will mean. It is important to know that there will doubtless be a lot of local flexibility required. While we will set out maximum detail tomorrow, planning with councils will go on well into next week.

“In some areas, private nurseries and childminders can play a massive role in helping key workers keep going. In other areas, councils will use school buildings to reach vulnerable children. We will support any and every plan that helps people make this work.”

NHS health chiefs also confirmed that it will be the air ambulance service which will fly coronavirus patients in need of intensive care to hospitals on the Scottish mainland.  Initial concerns regarding fixed wing aircraft and personal protective equipment have been resolved.

At the press conference, Mr Jamieson talked of the unprecedented measures being taken to meet the coming crisis.  He said the main concern was not facilities or bedspace but the number of staff available to care for patients. Many of the other services offered by the NHS were being curtailed in order to allow training for staff not normally involved in nursing care to take on new roles. It was essential to move on that now…waiting any longer would mean being too late. 

Public health director Maggie Watts emphasised the vital need to maintain respiratory and hand health.  This was being publicisesd througout the Islands on banners and through other means.  She also repeated the need for people with a continuous cough or a high temperature to self-isolate for seven days.  She also insisted that it was vital that other people in their household should isolate themselves for 14 days so as to see if they develop any symptoms.

The NHS staff made clear they had resources throughout the Islands to provide support for seriously ill patients and that arrangements were in place to transfer patients elsewhere should that become necessary.  However, the hospitals in both Stornoway and Balivanich had the capacity and equipment to manage seriously ill patients requiring assistance with breathing. 

Equipment was also now available to start getting results from coronavirus testing on the Islands rather than the swabs having to be sent to the mainland. Only a small number of tests had been conducted so, all of them negative. 

Mr Jamieson emphasised that all possible aspects of the other NHS services would be maintained, particularly relating to trauma and cancer patients and a number of outpatients consultations would be moved on-line or to video conferencing. 

Western Isles businesses and individuals affected by Coronavirus closures are turning to technology to stay active.

Live-streaming, Skype and other online activity are all being explored as tools to keep people in touch as venues close and families isolate.

Leading the change to tech is Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes of South Uist, who reacted to the increasing number of cancellations in her summer diary by suggesting online singing lessons.

She said: “Like so many of my fellow singers and musicians who have suddenly had their diaries cleared, I am thinking of setting up skype lessons in Gaelic singing. So if anyone is interested in using the time in the next few months to learn Gaelic songs, private message me!”

Point’s Carly Yoga, pictured below, made exercise, mindfulness and calm her mission with her first live broadcast on Monday 16 March. She said: “This will be a class to move mindfully in our bodies and to bring some calm amongst our global storm.”

And Hebrides Dance and Wellbeing’s Kirstie Anderson has rallied quickly from the disappointment of closing down her classes yesterday.  Kirstie said: “I'm trying to 100% embrace this whole online malarkey, but as I've not quite started playing with the options yet - watch this space. If not tonight, I'll be starting a full online timetable next week!”

 

Some of the traditions at the heart of community life are being hit by new measures aimed at slowing the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Church services, fellowship groups, weddings and funerals are all expected to be affected following Government advice on social gatherings.

Stornoway funeral directors Archibald Macrae have already stopped using the lift and are now taking the deceased’s coffin straight into the hearse from the church door. Processions after the funeral service have also been halted.

Alasdair Macrae said: “I don’t want to encourage people to get too close to each other by following in processions, but I intend that when this crisis is over that we will go back to the traditional way of funerals.

“There’s no way I would let it drop because it’s unique. But the times we live in, we have to do what’s for the best.”

The Free Church of Scotland’s board of trustees issued advice for congregations yesterday afternoon (Tuesday 17 March). The advice includes suggestions that church communities should:

  • Suspend all Sunday services and midweek gatherings
  • Limit attendance at funerals to graveside services only
  • Limit the number of people attending weddings and
  • Suspend pastoral services including home visits to those self-isolating

The trustees said: “The Board is concerned for the wellbeing of all congregations and society. This is a time of real uncertainty for people and a time of increased stress and worry. The crisis is moving and developing quickly, and it is possible that not all events or matters will be covered by current guidance.

“Kirk Sessions should feel free and empowered to make local decisions where they feel the risk demands a quick or specific action.”

The Trustees recommended the use of technology such as email, skype and livestreaming to enable congregations to continue worship and fellowhip. Physical meetings including the General Assembly scheduled for May 2020 will not meet for normal business, with further details to be given later.

The Free Church of Scotland (Continuing) has also cancelled its spring conference, scheduled for 10 April in Inverness and the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, scheduled for 16 May, is also cancelled.

Stornoway High Free Church yesterday announced that services were to be cancelled as of today (Wednesday) in line with national advice. In a social media statement they said: “In view of the fast moving Coronavirus situation, the Church of Scotland has advised the cancellation of all church services, including prayer meetings but excluding funeral and marriages, with effect from tomorrow, Wednesday 17 March 2020.

“This is not unexpected but Stornoway High Church is more than just a building. Our team will continue to work behind the scenes to make Jesus Christ known through love and service: keeping our people connected and safe in the current situation by organising telephone visits for the fearful and the isolated, bringing practical help, distributing food bank products, praying for all involved in the current situation from front line health care staff to those carrying the virus, posting sermons online.”

St Peter’s Church in Stornoway has suspended services from today, in line with guidance from the Scottish Episcopal Church.

Scottish Roman Catholic Bishops including the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles, Brian McGee, met on Monday to decide how Catholic congregations should proceed in the light of the illness. 

Bishop McGee said: “The Coronavirus pandemic has rightly been very much in our minds. I appreciate that some of the changes will not be what everyone wants but I am also confident that you will recognise that taking steps to keep others safe is a basic Christian virtue.”

The Salvation Army Hall on Bayhead in Stornoway is closed for all meetings including worship and clubs. Lt Callum Newton said: “This is a decision that has not been taken lightly, but is in line with the national Salvation Army and other churches.

“The Salvation Army is not closed on the island. We will continue to work to support people in the community as far as we are able. We will move in to an emergency response action and make our able-bodied volunteers and officers available to support emergency services, healthcare and social services where appropriate.

“We're very sad to be making this announcement and are trying very hard to maintain the right balance of public safety and public service. Please bear with us during this time and thank you all for your ongoing support.”

Other closures, suspensions and shutdowns

Loganair has this morning (Wednesday 18 May) announced radical revisions to island air services as they struggle to maintain business during the Coronavirus epidemic.

The changes will begin to be implemented next week and will last until at least the end of May. During April and May there will be:

  • No service between Stornoway and Edinburgh (until at least 31 May)
  • Reduced service between Stornoway and Glasgow

There will be no change at Barra airport, which will continue to receive its scheduled two flights per day.

Benbecula and Stornoway will share two Glasgow flights per day on a circular basis. There will also be two daily Saab 340 flights between Stornoway and Inverness.

Passengers booked to fly on the services which have been cut have received emails notifying them of a new timetable, with the option to re-book if they wish via www.loganair.co.uk.

Onward flights from Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness to UK destinations including Birmingham, Exeter and Manchester are also being reduced or suspended, and international routes including to Norway and Denmark have already been suspended, with routes to Ireland suspended from Monday (23 March).

It is expected that a quarter of Loganair’s fleet of 40 aircraft will be put into temporary storage as a result of the schedule reductions.

In this morning’s statement, the airline said that forward bookings continue to fall dramatically, leading to an overall reduction of over half of the Loganair flying programme for April and May.

Chief Executive Jonathan Hinkles said: “We have now seen forward bookings fall by around 75% versus their usual levels. From the end of next week, we will be implementing an emergency timetable, which will reduce our operations from around 214 to 95 scheduled flights each weekday – a cut of 55%. We expect this to be a temporary reduction and we are implementing this until the end of May but may have to extend that timescale as the situation continues to develop.”

“Customers booked on flights up to the end of May can change their reservation without a change fee to travel on a future date. However, if future flights are more expensive, the difference in fare will be payable. Where services are completely suspended a full refund will be applicable.”

“I would strongly advise our affected customers to manage their booking through our website as we are experiencing exceptionally high call volumes into our call centre”.

“Importantly, we will maintain lifeline services to the island communities we serve but will be forced to do so with reduced frequency.”

“The situation is incredibly serious and alongside the obvious health and safety implications, puts the future of the entire aviation industry in jeopardy. With this in mind, we have joined with other UK carriers to seek emergency measures from the Government to support all airlines in the sector.”

Hinkles revealed that Loganair staff have been asked to consider a series of measures aimed at protecting employment levels – including reducing working hours by 20% and accepting a 20% reduction in salary as a result or taking a period of unpaid leave.

He said: “We are working hard to avoid redundancies and lay-offs as have already been seen at major international airlines and as are likely to follow at several UK airlines in the coming days.”

Western Isles MSP Alasdair Allan commented:“It is clear that the present COVID-19 crisis presents an existential threat to much of the aviation industry.

“Flights to the Western Isles are genuinely lifeline services and we rely on them for a number of essential deliveries, such as medical supplies. It is absolutely vital that some form of service remains in place through the coming months.

 

As the UK and many other countries around the globe grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak, the push for people to work from home has never been greater. Remote working is rapidly becoming the new norm for many people.  But how do you make a success of working from home? After over eight years of home working from a spare bedroom on the isle of Lewis, Taylor Edgar - now living and working in Viet Nam – gives his top ten tips for surviving the transition from office to home.

Read more of his blog on https://hanoi177.wordpress.com/

1) Create a proper work station for yourself, preferably in a spare room if you have one. Do not be tempted to set up camp on your sofa or at the kitchen table. For one thing, the ergonomics are all wrong, and you will end up with a sore back. Trust me on this. A desk and an adjustable chair are much preferable. And more likely to get you to focus on the tasks at hand.

Care teams across the Western isles are looking for more people to join them in supporting those in need.

The Western Isles Health and Social Care Partnership is currently putting in place contingency measures to ensure that it is as well prepared as possible to contain, delay and mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Ron Culley, Chief Officer, Health and Social Care, said: “Our priority is the most vulnerable patients and service users in our communities. In current circumstances, we are looking at every option to ensure our staff teams can be spread across the people who most need our support.

"We estimate that as many as 160 of our staff members may not be available for work over the next three months, which means we will have a huge challenge in meeting the needs of 600 or so people who rely on us for their care.”

“As the Scottish Government has escalated its advice about people self-isolating, we are seeing greater numbers of staff unable to provide front-line care.

"As such, we are looking at every option to build up our workforce.

"We are therefore interested in hearing from anyone whose employment position may have changed recently or who might be considering working in care.

"We are putting in place fast-track arrangements to ensure that people can secure appropriate employment with the Comhairle’s care services.

"If you already have skills and experience in care, then that’s great, but it’s not essential – we’re still interested in hearing from you.

In addition, Health and Social Care staff will today begin communicating with families who have relatives in receipt of a care package, to discuss whether family members could increase the care they provide themselves.

Ron Culley continued: “We must plan for the worst case scenario. We fully appreciate that not every family has the ability to provide additional support because of wider responsibilities, such as work and other caring duties. However, if families are able to provide input in this way, then we will be exploring these options.

“The communities of the Western Isles have a rich history of pulling together in times of need. This is one such time, and now we need to be there for each other.”

If you are interested in working in care, please contact the Comhairle as soon as possible by:

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Phone: 01851 822606

A Stornoway café/restaurant is adapting to the prevailing coronavirus alert while still allowing people to enjoy some outside social experience.

The Harris & Lewis Smokehouse is changing its opening times to Monday to Friday from 9am to 4pm with longer hours on Saturday from 9am to 10pm. 

Last orders will be somewhat earlier than closing times, depending on demand.

For those wanting to enjoy a change, but to do a take-away, bagel and coffee at £5 is on offer from 9am-4pm

They are limiting numbers to 20 diners in the restaurant at one time with five tables downstairs and two upstairs.

Each group will be seated at least two metres from other diners to conform with recommendations on social contact.

They were already encouraging diners to sanitise on entrance by making use of the sanitising unit in the entrance.

They will be using one-use menus (paper disposable) and specials will continue to be served daily.

Reusable cups will no longer be used. Payments are by card only – and if you want something to eat at home, purchases of smoked salmon from the Smokehouse itself are still available.

The Smokehouse restaurant is asking people to book online or call to make a reservation to avoid disappointment.

And they add: “Any customer with a booking on Thursday or Friday evening over the next few weeks, we will be in touch closer to the time to let you know if the restaurant is open during the evening.”

 

  • Ambulance rumours quashed
  • - Surge in cases warning
  • – Piping contest postponed –

Repeated claims on social media that Island patients affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 would be not be allowed to use air ambulance flights off the Islands have been rejected.

Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MSP Alasdair Allan raised the issue of air ambulances for island patients affected by the coronavirus COVID-19 with Cabinet Secretary for Health Jeane Freeman MSP.

The MSP had been contacted by a number of constituents due to widespread concern that people infected by COVID-19 might be prohibited from flying on air ambulances. 

Alasdair Allan also queried the issue with the Scottish Ambulance Service which has been able to reassure him that there would be no such ban, and that the air ambulance would always be an option for such patients.

Alasdair Allan MSP said: “While the Western Isles is yet to have a reported case of coronavirus, it is unfortunately only a matter of time before that happens and we all need to prepare ourselves. 

“I have raised the question about directly with the Scottish Ambulance Service as well as with the Health Secretary. A journey by ferry for affected patients would be extremely long and arduous, and this should only be considered as an option of last resort.

“I was reassured therefore by some of the information which the Cabinet Secretary was able to give in the chamber today about this subject.

“There is clearly going to be a need for as much information as possible in the coming days and weeks, and I have therefore sought more detail from the Scottish Government.”

Meanwhile, Highlands and Islands Labour MSP David Stewart, who is also Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, asked the Health Minister Jeane Freeman yesterday (Tuesday March 17th) to re-emphasise the need for self-isolation by confirming that Scotland had been anticipating the same “heavily concentrated burst” of COVID 19 cases as predicted in England.

In chamber at Holyrood, Mr Stewart said: “The chief medical officer for England predicts that nearly all the Covid-19 cases will hit in a heavily concentrated burst – 50 per cent in a three-week period and 90 per cent in a nine-week period.”

Ms Freeman said that the aim of new self-isolation measures announced by the Scottish and UK Governments was to bring down those numbers “as low as we possibly can over a long period and to do that in a way that will allow our NHS to manage those who will require their particular treatment”.

Mr Stewart said: “This is a fight for all of us and we can only do it if we work together in the face of this great challenge. We can only hope the massive ongoing effort to persuade people to self-isolate and to make it financially possible for them to do so will stagger the onset of infections as much as possible to reduce this swell so that our NHS will manage.”

And the P/M Donald Macleod MBE Memorial Piping Competition has been postponed until later in the year due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The prestigious competition was due to be held in Stornoway on Friday, April 3.

The Lewis and Harris Piping Society announced the postponement yesterday (March 17) after discussion with NHS Western Isles. 

A junior Donald Macleod competition, due to have been held for the first time this year, has also been postponed until further notice. It was to have taken place on the Thursday, April 2.

Dr John Smith, chairman of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society, said: “The Lewis and Harris Piping Society have decided to postpone the Donald Macleod competition which was due to be held on the 3rd of April.

“We had become increasingly concerned over the national situation over the past weekend and yesterday sought the advice of the Western Isles Health Board’s public health department and their advice was that the competition should be postponed if at all possible. The advice was further reinforced by the advice by government later yesterday afternoon that unnecessary social contact should be avoided.

“We are naturally very disappointed as all the arrangements had been in place and the pipers had been given their tunes and were all set to come to Stornoway for the 3rd of April.

“We are also disappointed for the youngsters who had been selected to take part in the inaugural Pipe Major Donald Macleod junior competition on the Thursday evening.

“Our provisional plan is to look at a suitable date in the autumn – possibly late September, perhaps even late November.”

Community wind farm charity Point and Sandwick Trust sponsors the competition to the tune of £5,000 and will also be sponsoring the inaugural junior competition, by donating commemorative quaichs to all participants, when the time comes.

 

Cancellations and closures – Thursday 19 March

The Lewis and Harris tour by representatives of the Society for the Distribution of the Hebrew Scriptures due to take place between April 20 and May 4 has been cancelled because of the Coronavirus restrictions.

Citizens Advice Bureaux in Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra are now closed for the duration, with telephone contact only advised.

The Alzheimers Scotland Solas day centre has closed with immediate effect. The Dementia Resource Centre on 18 Bells Road, Stornoway will have variable opening hours for the next few weeks and contact is available via Marion MacInnes (locality leader) 07771 925730, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or Ellie Donnelly (dementia advisor) 07500 762041 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Barvas and Brue Community Centre committee has closed the main hall and activity room, but the committee room will remain open for post office services. No bookings are being taken at present.

The Kitchen Centre in Stornoway is currently open to customers by appointment only.

The Old Mill Veterinary Practice has put in place special measures to protect staff and customers as they continue their work. Customers who have symptoms are asked not to bring a pet in, but to ask someone else to attend appointments and people are also being asked to maintain distance from other pet-owners, including by staying in their car with their pet after letting reception know they have arrived. Full guidance is at https://www.facebook.com/100000434949205/posts/3117327671625034/?d=n

This year's 50th Reunion for former classmates born in 1970 has been postponed until further notice. The celebrations were due to take place on Friday 8 and Saturday 9 May at Stornoway Golf Club, but the organising committee have now agreed to postpone the event

The Baha’i celebration of Naw-Ruz, scheduled for Saturday (21 March) at the Failte centre on Bayhead, has been cancelled.

 Wednesday night bingo nights at the Masonic Lodge are suspended until further notice.

Coronavirus cancellations and closures – Wednesday 18 March

Stornoway Historical Society: Due to the coronavirus and the need to restrict meetings, events and gatherings; the Stornoway Historical Society has made the necessary decision to cancel the AGM and lecture due to be held on Monday March 30th 2020 in the Town Hall. This will also mean that the planned Summer Exhibition will not now go ahead.  Further updates will be posted on Facebook at www.facebook.com/stornowayhistorical and on our website at www.stornowayhistoricalsociety.org.uk

All activities at the Kinloch Community Hub are cancelled with immediate effect, this includes the museum, archive and café and weekly clubs. The charity shop and launderette will continue to operate, but no new donations will be accepted at the charity shop.

Western Isles Whisky Club has cancelled their planned launch event and tasting on 30 March. Club convenor Jim Allan said: “It is unfortunate that no sooner did we come together to arrange a tasting than it had to be postponed, but I trust you are all with me and hope that the country gets over this quickly and moves forward.”

The Shed youth centre next to Martins Memorial Church in Stornoway is closed from today (Wednesday) until further notice. There will be no youth clubs, drop-ins, or other activities. Organisers said: “Although our facility may be closed, we will still be working our regular hours remotely and we will be available to contact through our social media platforms. (https://www.facebook.com/theshedstornoway/).”

The committee of the ‘60 in 2020’ reunion have postponed their planned reunion weekend and hope to hold it later in the year. The committee said: “The committee will remain in place. We have advised all our suppliers and both we and they hope we can have a celebration event exactly as planned in the future.”

Callanish visitor centre will remain closed for a week while they review future arrangements. Centre manager Victoria Harvey said: “We will be closing to the public up to and including Tuesday 24th March. This is a pre-emptive step to hopefully help mitigate the spread of COVID-19.  We are in deeply uncertain times at the moment and our hearts go out to everyone - please look after yourselves!”

The Leanne Fund has closed their Stornoway office to visitors but remains available for support by telephone at 01851 702020 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The Stornoway Trust’s estate office has closed to the public  but anyone who needs to contact the office may do so by email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 01851 702002.

The Isle of Harris Distillery has closed to the public with immediate effect. Those who have booked tours in March and April have been contacted and some of the distillery team are working from home, while a small production team continues to work behind the scenes. The online shop at www.harrisdistillery.com remains open and the team will also be busy on Facebook, Instagram on Twitter. A spokesman said: “There is great strength and support to be found in community. So, please continue to look after yourselves and each other and we'll get through this together.”

All sport and leisure facilities, libraries and museums throughout the Western Isles closed indefinitely from 5pm Tuesday 17 March 2020.

Following the advice from Scottish Government that all non-essential social contact should be avoided - as a precautionary measure - all sport and leisure facilities, libraries and museums throughout the Western Isles closed indefinitely from Tuesday 17 All after school lets are also cancelled until further notice.

Arts centre closed

Stornoway’s An Lanntair arts centre is to remain closed from Tuesday 17 March for one month or until further notice.

A spokesman said: “Our top priority is the safety of our staff, audiences, customers, artists and participants. Sending love to all from everyone at An Lanntair in these challenging times.”

Also cancelled is an unusual small-venue performance at Stornoway Town Hall by the Glasgow band rock band Mogwai, who announced only last week that they were to perform in Stornoway as part of a Highlands and Hebrides tour in April.

Life-saving skills courses cancelled

  • The Galson Trust and Scottish Ambulance have cancelled two life-saving skills workshops which were due to be held at Sporsnis in Ness on Monday (23 March) and at Clan MacQuarrie community centre on Monday 30 March.
  • The Skye-based charity lucky2Bhere has suspended all emergency life support training, including a session due to be given on Thursday (19 March) at the Marybank Community Hall. Installation of a new defibrillator/AED at Lava’s Garage is to go ahead as planned.

Event cancellations – as of Wednesday 18th March

Piping Competition postponed

The P/M Donald Macleod MBE Memorial Piping Competition has been postponed until later in the year.

The prestigious competition was due to be held in Stornoway on Friday, April 3.

A junior Donald Macleod competition, due to have been held for the first time this year, has also been postponed until further notice. It was to have taken place on the Thursday, April 2.

Dr John Smith, chairman of the Lewis and Harris Piping Society, said: “The Lewis and Harris Piping Society have decided to postpone the Donald Macleod competition which was due to be held on the 3rd of April.

“Our provisional plan is to look at a suitable date in the autumn – possibly late September, perhaps even late November.”

Sport / Keep fit

Stornoway Karate Club has cancelled all classes for four weeks.

All clubs classes and facilities (including the gym) at Back Football & Rec Club are now closed and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Anyone with questions about an existing booking can contact Terri on 07497925905 or email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The committee of the Co-operative Community Football League has decided to cancel the rest of the season of Back 8s football matches. A new summer format of Friday night 5s is also liable to delay in starting up.

Stornoway Rugby Club will not be holding junior rugby training until 29 March, in line with Scottish Rugby’s current advice.

T’ai chi classes by T’ai Chi Hebrides at the Bridge Centre and Sandwick Hall on Tuesdays are closed until the end of April.

Stornoway Judo Club is following advice from Judo Scotland and postponing classes at least until after the Easter holidays.

Sharon Mackinnon School of Highland Dancing has cancelled the Mackinnon Festival Highland dancing competition, due to be held on Saturday (21 March) at the Nicolson Institute.

Lochs Football Club announced on Friday that they were cancelling all football activities at all levels. 

Stornoway Athletic (Aths) announced on Sunday (15 March) that all plans for friendly and festival matches and under-7s coaching in Sandwick Hall on Mondays were to be suspended until further notice.

Lewis Camanachd’s 2020 season has been indefinitely postponed, after the Camanachd Association announced on Friday 13 March that all matches are to be cancelled.

Music/ Theatre

Uig community’s performance of Dr Zoolightly, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Uig Community Centre, has been cancelled.

Friday night music sessions at the Failte centre have also been cancelled until further notice.

Support / Youth groups

Point senior citizens group Young at Heart has suspended all meetings until the situation improves. Chair Ken Nicolson said: “Disappointing, but needs must. Good health is more important than anything. Please take care, look after yourselves and one another. Follow all the advice given regarding the virus and look forward to meeting again soon.”

The Tong community hall is closing to bookings and groups for the foreseeable future

Point Youth Club, which meets on Friday evenings at Tiumpanhead Community Centre in Aird, has cancelled all meetings until after the Easter holidays, when they will update parents further.

Western Isles Cancer Care Initiative (WICCI) trustees have taken the decision to close the WICCI centre on Cromwell Street for treatments as of Monday 16 March.

The Hebridean Men’s Cancer Support Group have cancelled their next four Friday meetings and postponed their AGM, due on 25 March.
In Barra, the Garadh a Bagh a Tuath community project is closing their Thursday café until further notice, although the garden itself remains open for the time being.

Stornoway’s Failte Centre on Bayhead have discontinued their Thursday Lunch Club lunches as from Sunday 15 March until further notice.

Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland is temporarily suspending meetings of the Stornoway Monday Stroke Club on advice from their national office.

Alzheimers Scotland – Western Isles has cancelled their programme of support groups as a precaution. Groups suspended include: Dementia café at Clan MacQuarrie community centre and football memories at Ionad Stoodie in Garrabost, both on 3 April; music for memory at the Failte centre on 7 April; Tolsta café on 14 April and the men’s café at Back football club on 28 April.

Pairc Trust have decided to suspend healthwalks in Pairc for the time being, because of the social, face-to-face contact they involve.

Outer Hebrides for Independence has postponed the Independence March planned for Stornoway on 18 April. A new date is expected to be set in August or September.

The Gambia Partnership/Hebrides Alpha/SHFC Moldova Mission/Stornoway RNLI fundraising auction planned for March 27-28 has been postponed until further notice.

Autism Eilean Siar has cancelled their coffee morning, planned for Tuesday (24 March) at the Failte Centre on Bayhead.

Catherine Macritchie Beauty Therapist is postponing all appointments for the time being and is contacting all clients with a booking.


Tourist sites

The Harris Tweed Authority’s Story Room display is closed to the public for the time being and their office is closed to the public from today (Tuesday 17 March). Please use This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. email address or call 01851 702269 if you wish to order labels, loom spares or other supplies. For our local customers, the office will open from 11am-12pm daily to allow public to collect items if need be.

Callanish visitor centre is closing to the public from today (Tuesday 17 March). Centre manager Victoria Harvey said: “The safety of our staff and visitors is paramount and we are going to take today to seek further clarity from the government guidance. We will post an update across our social channels and on our website later today which will detail any changes to the services we provide. The stone circle will be open as normal."

Gearranan Blackhouse Village is closing to the public from today (Tuesday 17 March) until the end of June.

Visit Scotland have decided to close all i-centres, including their Stornoway office. However information and bookings can still be made through their website www.visitscotland.com

Cruise cancellations

The cruise line Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) has been the first to announce that it is suspending all worldwide cruise embarkations. All departures of their cruise vessels until 24 April are suspended. Astoria was due to make a total of three visits to Stornoway during April and May this year and her sister vessel Marco Polo is also due to call in May.

Also cancelled is the visit of the Norwegian training ship Gann, due into Stornoway on 6 May. The ship, which provides training to maritime students from Norway and other countries, has closed to students and cancelled all registrations. She is due for her second call to Stornoway in September.

Care Home Visiting Restrictions   Comhairle nan Eilean Siar is implementing a practice of having a single representative as residents’ named visitor at its Care Homes.

The Comhairle is also restricting visiting times in all its Care Homes to the hours of between 2pm – 3.30pm and 6pm - 7.30pm.
The only exceptions to these times will be where the named representative is supporting a resident during meal-times. Residents’ representatives will be contacted directly by Care Home staff to discuss this.

These measures started from 7.30pm on Saturday 14 March 2020.

The Care homes affected are Dun Berisay, Dun Eisdean and Ardseileach in Stornoway, Harris House in Tarbert, Isle of Harris, Trianaid, in Carinish, North Uist, Taigh a’Chridhe Uile Naomh in South Uist and St Brendan’s in Castlebay on Barra

Blar Buidhe care home in Stornoway was closed to non-essential visitors as of 12 noon on Thursday 12 March in a move to protect residents. Non-essential visits include social visits from relatives and loved ones, visits from individuals such as hairdressers and entertainers and from professionals and contractors carrying out non-essential services.

Highlands and Islands MSP Donald Cameron is calling for £780m being made available to Scotland from the UK Government to be dedicated to dealing with the Coronavirus outbreak.

Mr Cameron, the Scottish Conservative shadow finance secretary, has also called for urgent help to be given to the tourism and retail sectors in particular as they are currently bearing the brunt of the behavioural effects of the virus.

The £780m is due to Scotland via Barnett consequentials resulting from Coronavirus budget measures and the Coronavirus Response Fund announced last week by the UK government.

In response, the Scottish Conservatives are asking the Scottish government to ring-fence the entire £780 million for COVID-19 measures and to follow the UK’s lead and establish a Response Fund to support the NHS and other public services with the financial resources it needs as the virus continues to spread.

Mr Cameron said: “We are in no doubt of the significant impact of COVID-19 on our society, economy and our public services.

“This substantial £780m funding package from the UK government will help Scotland prepare for, and mitigate, the effects of this global pandemic.

“Given the extreme and widespread impact of this health crisis, the entire £780m must be ring-fenced for COVID-19 by the Scottish government.

“In addition, the Scottish government should follow the UK government’s lead and establish a Response Fund for the NHS and other public services to alleviate any funding concerns

“Here in the Highlands and Islands we are particularly concerned about the impact on the tourism sector, especially accommodation providers, and businesses reliant on visitors to the region. They will need our support to get through this very difficult time.

“Everyone agrees this is going to be a challenging period  for our economy – we can, and must, focus financial support where it is needed most.”

Shops and community groups across the Western Isles are making moves to ensure that nobody gets left alone or in want as the impacts of coronavirus begin to make themselves felt.

In Tong, the community hall is closing to bookings and groups for the foreseeable future, but the committee are getting together to plan support for vulnerable neighbours and those in self-isolation.

Their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/207557566481020/?fref=nf is one place to go for help, with a statement today saying: “Please also get in touch if any vulnerable members in the village need help. The TRA will do all they can to support anyone who needs help, shopping or just a chat on the phone if they are self-isolating. No one is in this alone!”

They’re looking at word-of-mouth contacts through churches and other organisations as well as at social media solutions, such as a WhatsApp group for neighbours to call for help.

Members of Tiumpanhead Community Association in Point are offering individual support to their neighbours in the Aird district via their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TiumpanHeadCommunityAssosiation/

And in Stornoway Councillor Gordon Murray is looking for volunteers prepared to help the most vulnerable in the Manor area. With all meetings cancelled he’s asking people prepared to help to contact him by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 07769 287 044.

 

Some shops also aim to reassure regular customers that they will be able to get what they need – whether they need to self-isolate or not.

Buth Tholastaidh has announced that anyone in Tolsta who is self-isolating can contact them on 890281 or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. if they are in need of anything.

Stag Bakeries has issued an appeal for good sense as their mobile shop heads out on the road to supply essentials to regular customers in out-of-town areas.

Posting on Saturday, they said: “Please be mindful when using our mobile shop. The mobile shop is a lifeline to many of our island’s most vulnerable elderly and some housebound, this is the only means they have of getting their weekly shopping.

“It is enough of a challenge to provide this service out of a van without the need to impose ‘rations’ on certain items. The van serves the same areas Monday to Friday and, while we always welcome new customers, we have an established regular customer base.

“We currently have plenty stock of everything – toilet roll included – and have no reason to think our supply is going to run out. If everybody just does what they always do there will be plenty to go round and we will not run out!! Please don’t make us have to ration.”

The Co-op convenience store on Cromwell Street had a similar message, subscribing to a national advert on behalf of supermarket retailers. The message asks all shoppers to be considerate in the way they shop. It reads: “We understand your concerns, but buying more than is needed can sometimes mean that others will be left without.

“There is enough for everyone if we all work together.” The Stornoway Co-op described it as “a really important message – show you care and share.”

We welcome more examples of community self-help – contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

The Annual General Meeting 

of the North Lochs Community Association

will be held on

Tuesday, 24 March at 7.30pm

in North Lochs Community Centre, Leurbost

 

 

All welcome.

 

With households already in self-isolation throughout the Western Isles, some islanders have been taking time to reflect on what the word ‘isolation’ can mean here.

Views and photographs have been shared by some, with a few examples here:

Top: Leigh Minion of Traigh Mhor trekking in North Tolsta enjoys isolation on horseback at Traigh Mhor

Above: Robert Dixon Carter enjoys isolation with a glass of red in Scalpay

Above: Chris Murray found a couple in isolation on a Harris beach

Above: Carol Ferguson says there’s isolation every day if you know where to look for it!


The latest coronavirus figures - confirmed at 2pm today Thursday 19 March - show there are still no cases officially detected in the Outer Hebrides or in Orkney.

The total for Highland Region is now six, one up on the previous day.

There are 24 cases shown for Shetland - an increase of eight since yesterday. Some cases from Grampian have been reassigned to Shetland as more information on cases became available.

A total of 6,506 Scottish tests have been concluded so far. Of these:

  • 227 tests were positive. That's up 39 from yesterday. In all, 139 of the cases were in Greater Glasgow, Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian areas - an increase of 24 since yesterday.

A change in the testing régime means there is expected to be a lull in the rising number of cases until serious infection victims start to emerge from self-isolation in a few days time. 

A total of six patients in Scotland who tested positive for Coronavirus have now died. That total has doubled since yesterday. 


NHS Western Isles has cancelled a number of services as a measure to help staff prepare for significant and unprecedented service pressures anticipated in the coming weeks and months of the coronavirus outbreak.

NHS Western Isles says: "These decisions have not been taken lightly, and are being implemented in the interests of protecting public health and avoiding the spread of COVID-19.  NHS Western Isles understands that this is a very worrying time for patients, and we would like to reassure that these precautions are aimed at keeping essential services running safely. 

 ELECTIVE SURGERY, SCOPES AND OUTPATIENT APPOINTMENTS

NHS Western Isles will continue with planned elective surgery until Friday 20th March. Thereafter, all elective surgery is regrettably cancelled until further notice.  Scope activity will continue at present.

In terms of outpatient activity, and appointments with consultants, this is under urgent review. We will be using Near Me/Attend Anywhere conferencing with patients as much as possible.

Patients are currently being contacted directly to inform them of cancellations.

AHPs

In terms of appointments with Allied Health Professionals (Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Dietetians, Podiatrists and Radiographers), the majority of routine appointments are being cancelled (with the exception of appointments which will help prevent hospital admission). Again, patients will be contacted directly regarding cancellations.

 DENTAL

Routine dental appointments will not be offered until further notice, but all urgent and emergency services will continue.

This will help limit the chance of infection being passed between patients in busy waiting areas.

Some of the dental clinics based alongside medical practices will be closed, to reduce pressure on their services. Lochmaddy and Tarbert Dental Clinics will temporarily close for this purpose, and emergency patients will instead attend Western Isles Dental Centre or Liniclate.

When calling to make an appointment you will be asked a few questions about your health. This helps staff judge how urgently we need to see you, and the safest place for your treatment.

Patients who have existing health problems, particularly if older, should mention this when calling.

 MATERNITY

Maternity services will be largely running as normal, with the exception of the cancellation of Parent Classes stopped for the next month. Women will be contacted directly if there are changes to their antenatal appointment times or arrangements.  Any women with concerns, travelling from the Uists and Barra to Stornoway, should get in touch with Head of Midwifery through their local midwife.

NEAR-ME PHONE AND VIDEO CONSULTING

All GP practices and hospitals in Scotland have been asked to increase their use of remote consultations by phone or video.

This will mean most people can receive the NHS care and advice they need from their own home to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

Phone will be the first choice, with a step up to:

  • Near Me video consulting where it offers additional clinical benefit
  • face-to-face consultations when needed

More about Near Me phone and video consulting:

https://www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus#information-for-professionals

https://www.nearme.scot/

NHS Western Isles Chief Executive, Gordon Jamieson, said: “Western Isles NHS Board has conducted, and continues to do so, on a daily basis, reviews, and resilience planning for all services, in response to the rapidly developing Coronavirus situation.

“We are confident that our rigorous approach to planning how we will care for those who require care, hospital admission and those who become the most sick, is putting us in a high state of readiness to respond.

“All our plans will, by necessity, evolve and change rapidly and daily in response to Coronavirus and the uncharted territory it presents. It must be recognised, that no single plan, or indeed collective plans, reflect the unique, unprecedented resilience and responses required to effectively respond to and combat Coronavirus.

“The pandemic we now face, is going to cause severe and unprecedented challenge and disruption to health and social care services. The NHS and partner resources will be severely stretched.

“We are indeed in uncharted territory, and will need to respond rapidly and flexibly to the challenges and difficulties before us. Our staff, energy and resources will require to be deployed in ways never imagined or planned for before, and in ways we would previously probably have considered unacceptable.”

He continued: “Many of our planned diagnostic, care and treatment procedures are being quickly scaled back to allow for the emergency capacity that will be needed in the weeks and possibly months to come.

“If your planned procedure or operation needs to be cancelled, you will be notified as soon as possible, and kept informed of any developments. I apologise to those of you who will experience delay.”

“I hope you will come to accept why we have had to take these necessary steps. Your NHS staff are working tirelessly to be ready to respond over a long period, and I pay enormous and sincere tribute to their efforts and commitment.” 

 

All sport and leisure facilities, libraries and museums throughout the Western Isles will close indefinitely by 5pm today, Tuesday 17 March 2020.

Following the advice from Scottish Government that all non-essential social contact should be avoided - as a precautionary measure - all sport and leisure facilities, libraries and museums throughout the Western Isles will close indefinitely by 5pm today, Tuesday 17 March 2020, says a statement from Comahirle nan Eilean Siar.

Harris and Lionacleit Sports Centres will close at 4pm.

All after school lets are also cancelled until further notice.

Further information for Slàinte Mhath Scheme members will be issued in due course.

A spokesperson, said: “It is important to reiterate that these are precautionary measures which are being taken in order to follow Scottish Government guidelines.”

Stornoway’s An Lanntair arts centre is closed today (Tuesday 17 March) as they consider their options for the immediate future.

The centre staff announced on social media this morning that they were reconsidering their previous position, which was that films and other events would continue at the centre.

The change of approach has been triggered by last night’s Scottish Government announcement, which said: “To slow the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) the general public are being asked to stay at home as much as possible and avoid unnecessary social contact.

“People should minimise social contact by avoiding crowded areas and large gatherings, including religious congregations and smaller gatherings such as restaurants, pubs, bars, clubs, cinemas and gyms.”

An Lanntair said today: “In light of this new advice, An Lanntair will be closed today (Tuesday 17th March) whilst we seek further clarity on Government guidance.

“Our top priority is the safety of our staff, audiences, customers, artists and participants. We will provide an update here and on our website for everyone later today on any further changes to our provision. 

“Sending love to all from everyone at An Lanntair in these challenging times.”

The announcement is likely to impact future planning of arts events in the town, with Wednesday night’s One Minute Film Festival at An Lanntair already cancelled.

Also cancelled is an unusual small-venue performance at Stornoway Town Hall by the Glasgow band rock band Mogwai, who announced only last week that they were to perform in Stornoway as part of a Highlands and Hebrides tour in April.

In what is an extraordinary incident for Stornoway, some of the supplies intended for the Eilean Siar foodbank have come under destructive attack.

Since early 2019, the local Foodbank has been making use of storage space in the disused Carlton pub in Francis Street.

Now it’s been broken into twice in a fortnight, with the vandals wreaking havoc sometime over last weekend

One of those involved said on Facebook: “It was disappointing to see the Carlton broken into again. This time they trashed the food bank section just for fun.

“If anyone knows who they are please tell the police, we can’t let people let this off with this type of behaviour. They open ended tins of beans and poured it everywhere, destroying a lot of food.”

 

welovestornoway.com is a most unusual local news service…we have correspondents and writers in New York,  Viet Nam, the Isle of Skye…and on the very borders of the European Union, where Greece and Turkey meet…and where, largely unnoticed, a crisis for asylum seekers grows worse every day. 

Following on from Katie Macleod's insights yesterday into life in Coronavirus New York, here is Melissa Silver's despatch from the Greek frontier island of Lesvos where life in the massively overcrowded Moria camp is becoming more impossible by the day

Yesterday, Tuesday March 17th, Moria burned, fatally, again, killing at least one child, though rumours suggest more. This comes after weeks of horror stories, evacuations, cries – pleas – for help. Fallen on deaf ears for the millionth time.

Here’s my not-so-little account of the last few weeks on Lesvos and Samos, in some kind of chronological order, containing everything I can remember and probably missing lots of important things, but there’s been so unbelievably many horrible things happening that it’s a challenge to remember them all...

I left Lesvos five weeks ago, just after a peaceful protest was met with tear gas for the first time in what would become the first in a series of violent attacks.

As I left, I naively thought that would be it – the police had flexed their muscles, the angry locals had displayed their displeasure by attacking a volunteer house and threatening some volunteers and refugees. Things calmed down a little after, and I assumed it had just been a bad couple of days, and that it would all blow over.

While I was on Samos giving clothes, baby food and nappies to the residents of the smaller but arguably equally awful Vathy camp, things on Lesvos escalated beyond anyone’s imagination.

The night I was originally due to return (but had already changed my plans for personal reasons) was the night 200 refugees walked from Moria to the ferry terminal, after a rumour spread that the borders to the rest of Europe had opened.

My heart broke as I thought of people dismantling their “homes” to start this new life – only to be aggressively pushed back on the two-hour walk to the camp.

(Please click through to read more)

https://ichoselove.home.blog/author/melonawrites/page/1/

All face-to-face teaching at all centres of the University of Highlands and Islands - including Lews Castle College – will stop from 5pm on Friday 20 March to help reduce the risk of spread of coronavirus within our communities.

"The wellbeing of students, staff and visitors to our many campuses across the university partnership is our priority," says UHI.

All 14 principals of the university and the colleges and research institutions which make up the university partnership met this morning (Monday, 16 March) to coordinate a response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

The partnership has subsequently decided to suspend face-to-face teaching at all centres from 5pm on Friday 20 March. This arrangement will continue until further notice.

This suspension will cover all further education, higher education and community programmes.

Students should therefore not attend any classes in person after this Friday until told otherwise. This includes lectures, tutorials, laboratory classes and seminars.

Campus buildings, including residences, student support and library services and resource centres, remain open and staff continue to work on site.  However, there is currently no overseas travel permitted for students or staff. Only essential course-related travel within the UK will be allowed.
 
"These are unprecedented times but we're planning carefully to ensure students can continue their studies, including examination arrangements, with as little disruption as possible."
 
You can keep up to date on the latest UHI developments at www.uhi.ac.uk/coronavirus


Scotland's College sector leaders convened a meeting earlier today (Monday) to discuss what further actions to take to minimise the impact of COVID-19. Colleges Scotland hosted a Video Conference meeting with college principals, senior representatives of Regional Strategic Bodies and institutions’ Coronavirus point of contacts.

Shona Struthers, Chief Executive of Colleges Scotland, said:n“The college sector recognises that this is a fast-moving and unprecedented situation and that the overarching priority is the health and safety of its staff and students. As a sector, we are continuing to closely monitor the latest guidance from public health bodies and the Scottish and UK governments, and working on resilience and business continuity planning to take measured and appropriate precautions to minimise the impact of COVID-19.

“Colleges are planning for a phased reduction of face-to-face learning over the coming days and weeks and to expand online and remote learning, where feasible. Colleges will continue to disseminate information specifically tailored for their own institutions to their staff and students.

“The college sector in Scotland is well known for its diversity and so this measured, carefully managed, and phased approach will be done flexibly with each institution acting according to their own specific circumstances in their regions and campuses. Staff and student requirements will be at the forefront of their approach.  Colleges shall continue to work in line with the latest medical advice and with staff teams to minimise the impact of the virus.

“Colleges Scotland, colleges and Regional Strategic Bodies are working closely and regularly with Scottish Government ministers and officials as well as the Scottish Funding Council to listen to their latest advice and provide updates on how COVID-19 is affecting the sector.”

This follows the earlier decision of Glasgow University to move to on-line teaching and avoid public exams.

They stated on Saturday: "We have decided that from Monday 16 March all face-to-face teaching on our campuses in Glasgow and Dumfries will end and that course materials will be placed online.The University will not be closed. Most facilities – including the library - will remain open

All other normal business at the University will continue as planned– but we urge colleagues to prioritise workloads and to consider moving to flexible-working if this is appropriate. Heads of Schools, Directors of Institutes and Executive Directors of University Services will provide detailed advice for each academic area or service in due course.

Exams scheduled for the April/May assessment period will not be undertaken in exam halls on campus.  "We're committed to ensuring all students can complete their academic programme and graduate or progress on time.  Schools will be in touch with their students about teaching provision and students should continue to work on assignments which have already been set."

We'll communicate as soon as possible on how we will assess performance, given that we will NOT be holding sit-down exams.

The situation with COVID-19 is changing very rapidly and we would ask that you regularly check for updates on our coronavirus pages on the University website and on our social media channels.

Visit http://gla.ac.uk/coronavirus for latest advice & FAQs.

Writing from Spain, former advertising sales executive and nurse Amanda Darling told welovestornoway.com this morning: "As many on the island know, my husband Kenny and I emigrated to Spain, partly as a result of the Brexit vote. We feared for the future of our country and thought we would at least try a few years somewhere abroad as it had always been a long-standing dream.

"Here we are in Spain. In total lockdown. Kenny has not been allowed out the house for two weeks, as I as a nurse, decided he was too high risk, and then came the decree from the Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

"How did this make us feel? Personally I felt safer, and loved by the Spanish government. meanwhile we sit here and obviously follow UK politics. What do we see? Johnson standing on his hind legs and making ineffectual statements, almost with a Patel-like smirk on his face, knowing the British public are terrified or ignorant, knowing his lack of leadership will force many business to fail, cause mass homelessness, bankruptcy and misery. Not to mention deaths.

"Back here in Spain Sanchez is talking of suspending all utility bills, mortgage repayments, and giving a universal unemployment benefit. In France, President Macron, the same.

"The UK are already on a very dangerous path, this virus has devastated Italy with a good modern and First World health service. The UK NHS has been underfunded for 10 years. It is understaffed and lacks basic hardware. This is a disaster on a scale unseen.

"My advice is: Protect those you love and the weak and infirm. Try to self isolate as much as possible, DO NOT go to pubs and congregate in crowds of more than three. Act now independently as Johnson and his cohorts will do nothing for you or your families."

General coronavirus coverage here!

CnES services update here!

Advice on coronavirus that can save lives

Tourism sector update on virus impact

The following planning applications are pending consideration by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. 

All information and accompanying documents are publicly available on the CnES website

Renovation and extension of house, Bayhead, North Uist

Richard Bramble of Otter Cottage, 2 Kyles Paible, Bayhead, North Uist, has applied for planning permission to renovate and extend the existing stone byre at Studio 2 Kyles Paible, Bayhead, North Uist, to form an artist studio/workshop. 

Agricultural shed, East Gerinish, South Uist

Stephen MacRury of 11A East Gerinish, South Uist, has applied for planning permission to erect an agricultural shed at 4 Caltanish, East Gerinish, South Uist. The shed is to be 18 metres long, 9 metres wide and 4.8 metres tall. The walls are to consist of box profile sheeting and concrete panels, and the building is to have a fibre cement roof. 

Agricultural building, Creagorry, Benbecula

James Macrae of 1 Craigstrome, Creagorry, Benbecula, has applied for planning permission to erect an agricultural building at 1 Craigestrome, Creagorry, Benbecula. The building is to be 4.8 metres long, 10.8 metres wide and 3.4 metres tall. The building is to be clad in green single skin cladding. 

 

Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s COVID-19 Planning Group met today, Monday 16 March, to continue discussions on safeguarding and protecting clients, services, members and employees throughout the Western Isles.

Advice

There are currently no known cases of the virus in the Western Isles. However, the planning phase has been, and continues, to be developed through a series of precautionary measures.

Public Health are the lead agency and the public are advised to keep a close eye on the NHS website www.nhsinform.scot/coronavirus and the Scottish Government website https://www.gov.scot/ for the latest up-to-date information.

In addition, the Comhairle has set up a special section of the website https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/coronavirus/ for all local authority led services and this section will be updated as and when appropriate.

The advice from the NHS, in order to help prevent the spread of the virus, continues to be:

  1. avoiding direct hand contact with your eyes, nose and mouth
  2. maintaining good hand hygiene - washing hands with soap and water or alcohol hand sanitiser before eating and drinking, and after coughing, sneezing and going to the toilet. Wash hands for at least 20 seconds.”
  3. avoiding direct contact with people that have a respiratory illness and avoiding using their personal items such as their mobile phone.
  4. covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing with disposable tissues and disposing of them in the nearest waste bin after use.

Comhairle Services

Should you have any of the symptoms detailed on the Public Health website https://www.wihb.scot.nhs.uk/component/k2/item/788-coronavirus-covid-19?Itemid=134, the Comhairle’s advice is not to attend schools, Sports Centres or Comhairle buildings.

The Comhairle advises the public to pay any bills e.g. Council Tax bills online

https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/council-tax/council-tax-payment/

or by phone 01851 600 502,

where possible, to avoid unnecessary face to face contact.

All schools in the Western Isles remain open. However, contingency plans have been made in the event that schools will require to close, particularly to support those preparing to sit SQA examinations.

All sport and leisure facilities and Comhairle offices remain open.

However, from tomorrow (Tuesday 17  March) all activities run by ISL/Sports Development will be suspended, including swimming lessons. Aquafit classes and ‘Move More’ group activities held during the day will also be suspended. All other adult Fitness classes will continue at this stage.

 All bus services are continuing to operate as normal.

There are specific restrictions in place in relation to visits to Care Homes.

More information can be found here: https://www.cne-siar.gov.uk/news/2020/march/care-home-visiting-restrictions

The tourism body Outer Hebrides Tourism has responded to requests for information support from businesses already feeling the effects of international concern about Coronavirus.

In a statement issued today, chief executive Rob McKinnon said: “There is currently no guidance on limiting travel, all CalMac sailings and Loganair flights to the Outer Hebrides are at present continuing as normal. It is for individual businesses to decide how to respond to cancellation requests.
 
“If a guest develops symptoms whilst staying in your accommodation, the NHS guidelines states for them to call NHS 111 for advice.”

Mr McKinnon also directed tourism businesses to VisitScotland’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page at https://www.visitscotland.org/supporting-your-business/advice/coronavirus which signposts health, travel and business advice sources.

He advised that he is to be one of the contributors to a Scottish Tourism Alliance (STA) group, which will monitor developments and look for ways to support businesses through the challenges of the coming months.

The STA itself has published a call for government intervention which paints a bleak picture for tourism in Scotland.

It says: “Forward bookings are down, some by up to 50% …. a significant amount of business and consumer travel is on hold, all of which represents a critical threat to Scotland’s tourism industry.  Our airports are also reporting a huge drop in passenger numbers; our entire tourism sector is moving into an extraordinarily precarious position.”

NHS Western Isles is reminding patients that they must bring their own regular/repeat medication with them when they come into hospital.

The hospital can supply medication, but it is patients’ own responsibility to supply regular repeat medications.

It is essential that patients manage their repeat prescriptions effectively, ordering from their GP/ Community Pharmacy and not running out.

NHS Western Isles is reminding patients that they must bring their own regular/repeat medication with them when they come into hospital.

The hospital can supply medication, but it is patients’ own responsibility to supply regular repeat medications.

It is essential that patients manage their repeat prescriptions effectively, ordering from their GP/ Community Pharmacy and not running out.

TRAVELLING (OR NOT) IN THE TIME OF CORONAVIRUS

By Katie Macleod

From her blog http://storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com/

AT THE START OF THE YEAR, AS I ALWAYS DO, I WROTE ABOUT MY 2020 TRAVEL PLANS.

The travel plan I was most looking forward to, unsurprisingly, was returning home to Scotland for Easter. With my brother’s school holidays coinciding with my visit, we would be at home in Lewis together for the first time in years, and I’d have enough time for a weekend trip to Glasgow too, to stay with one of my oldest friends and have a good old catch up like we used to do when we both lived in the Outer Hebrides.

Maybe I was in denial, but I still thought I might be able to travel, right up until last Thursday morning. Already working from home in an effort to contribute to “social distancing,” as I watched the news get progressively more concerning by the hour, I knew I wouldn’t be going home in a few weeks’ time. I knew I needed to cancel my flights.

Like everyone else, I’ve known about Coronavirus for months. A good friend of ours who lives in China made it home to London before the country went into lockdown, and I was vaguely aware of a case somewhere in Arizona when we flew there for a long weekend in February. But back then it still seemed like something distant, something we didn’t need to worry about quite yet. (I’ve been sanitizing my hands after being on public transport ever since I moved to New York, so I wasn’t altering my behaviour these past few weeks so much as noticing other people were starting to do the same.)

IT’S FUNNY HOW FAST THINGS CAN CHANGE, THOUGH. AS THE SUNDAY TIMES’ TRAVEL EDITOR WROTE THIS WEEKEND, “WHILE A WEEK IS A LONG TIME IN POLITICS, IT’S AN AGE, WE’RE DISCOVERING, IN A PANDEMIC.”

Please click through to http://storiesmysuitcasecouldtell.com/ to read the rest…the full post was here for a while but Google watches us all and doesn't approve of duplicate articles!

The latest coronavirus figures - confirmed at 2pm today Monday 16 March - show there are still no cases in the Outer Hebrides.

The total has remained at two for Highland Region.

There have been 15 cases in Shetland - with four new ones since yesterday - so far, but still none at all in Orkney.  Shetland Council is closing a number of its main schools and nurseries this week for “operational and resilience reasons”.

A total of 4,895 Scottish tests have been concluded so far. Of these:

  • 4,724 tests were confirmed negative
  • 171 tests were positive - that's 18 more than on Sunday. In all, 93 of the cases were in Greater Glasgow, Clyde, Lanarkshire and Lothian areas.

Event cancellations – Tuesday 17 March

There have been a number of further cancellations of events following Government advice last night (Monday 16 March).

Cancellations include:

  • Uig community’s performance of Dr Zoolightly, scheduled for Friday and Saturday at Uig Community Centre, has been cancelled.
  • Autism Eilean Siar has cancelled their coffee morning, planned for Tuesday (24 March) at the Failte Centre on Bayhead.
  • Friday night music sessions at the Failte centre have also been cancelled until further notice.
  • Stornoway Karate Club has cancelled all classes for four weeks.
  • Alzheimers Scotland – Western Isles has cancelled their programme of support groups as a precaution and to allow them to focus on supporting people at the Solas centre. Groups suspended include: Dementia café at Clan MacQuarrie community centre and football memories at Ionad Stoodie in Garrabost, both on 3 April; music for memory at the Failte centre on 7 April; Tolsta café on 14 April and the men’s café at Back football club on 28 April.
  • Pairc Trust announced today that they have decided to suspend healthwalks in Pairc for the time being, because of the social, face-to-face contact they involve. A trust spokesman said: “Such a shame - just last week we were visited by a film crew from the Scottish Health Council who took some coverage of our walk in Orinsay. They are making a film to show how beneficial healthwalks are for well being.”
  • The Galson Trust and Scottish Ambulance have cancelled two life-saving skills workshops which were due to be held at Sporsnis in Ness on Monday (23 March) and at Clan MacQuarrie community centre on Monday 30 March.
  • The Skye-based charity lucky2Bhere has suspended all emergency life support training, including a session due to be given on Thursday (19 March) at the Marybank Community Hall. Installation of a new defibrillator/AED at Lava’s Garage is to go ahead as planned.
  • Point senior citizens group Young at Heart has suspended all meetings until the situation improves. Chair Ken Nicolson said: “Disappointing, but needs must. Good health is more important than anything. Please take care, look after yourselves and one another. Follow all the advice given regarding the virus and look forward to meeting again soon.”

Click for our summary of existing national advice on coping with the onset of coronavirus

http://www.welovestornoway.com/index.php/articles-auto/16283-coronavirus-the-advice-that-can-save-lives

More news will be added as it becomes available

Developments in the Western Isles from Friday 13 March to Monday 16 March, are reported below and include:

  • Island landmarks close
  • Island communities plan self-help
  • Island league football suspended
  • HebCeltFest statement
  • Monday 16 March - Coronavirus cancellations
  • Provincial Mòds ‘may not happen’
  • First virus cruise cancellation
  • Commissioners to limit travel
  • NHS Western Isles: Hospital visits
  • Social group cancellations
  • Community kindness takes hold
  • CnES Care Home Visiting Restrictions
  • Cafe's cleansers taken in 'virus' theft
  • Care home closed to non-essential visitors
  • Small business changes against virus
  • Coastguard special measures
  • Outer Hebrides LEADER postpones event
  • Sport cancellations

  • All sport and leisure facilities and Comhairle offices remain open.
  • From tomorrow (Tuesday 17  March) all activities run by ISL/Sports Development will be suspended, including swimming lessons.
  • Aquafit classes and ‘Move More’ group activities held during the day will also be suspended.
  • All other adult Fitness classes will continue at this stage.

More CnES details here:  https://www.welovestornoway.com/index.php/articles-auto/16301-covid-19-comhairle-update

Solas day centre remains open – people and family will be updated immediately of any changes, reports Marion MacInnes
Locality Leader Alzheimer Scotland, Western Isles  | 01851 702123  | 07771 925 730 
18 Bells Road, Stornoway, HS1 2RA

Plea over 'panic-buying'

Western Isles Emergency Planning Tweeted on Monday 16th: "There is a lot of anxiety around coronavirus in the WesternIsles, however panic buying of foods and other goods can only make the situation worse. Spare a thought for those not able to buy large amounts who will suffer if you buy too much..."

Island landmarks close

Harris Tweed Authority
has updated their arrangements following Government advice and has closed their office to the public from today (Tuesday 17 March).
In a statement this morning a spokesperson said: “In our best efforts to be responsible to both our staff, our customers and the small tight-knit community we live in, the HTA is following advice and closing the office to the public for the time being.
“Please use our This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. email address or call us on 01851 702269 if you wish to order labels, loom spares or other supplies. We have measures in place to continue to provide a service to you throughout this time. For our local customers, the office will open from 11am-12pm daily to allow you to collect items if need be.
“The priority is of course that everyone tries to keep healthy and to look after and look out for each other. We are thinking of our Harris Tweed family across the globe now more than ever. Stay safe, everyone.”
Also closed today is the Callanish visitor centre. Centre manager Victoria Harvey said: “The safety of our staff and visitors is paramount and we are going to take today to seek further clarity from the government guidance. We will post an update across our social channels and on our website later today which will detail any changes to the services we provide.
“The stone circle will be open as normal and we just ask that you use your best judgement, and self-isolate where necessary. Our top priority is the health and safety of our staff, our visitors and our island and this is such a troubling time. Our thoughts are with you all.”
Gearranan Blackhouse Village is also closing to the public from today until the end of June.

Island communities plan self-help
Community organisations in the islands are making plans for ways in which people can help each other as closures and service restrictions are put in place.
The Tong community hall is closing to bookings and groups for the foreseeable future, but the committee are getting together to plan support for vulnerable neighbours and those in self-isolation.
Their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/groups/207557566481020/?fref=nf is one place to go for help, with a statement today saying: “Please also get in touch if any vulnerable members in the village need help. The TRA will do all they can to support anyone who needs help, shopping or just a chat on the phone if they are self-isolating. No one is in this alone!”
They’re looking at word-of-mouth contacts through churches and other organisations as well as at social media solutions, such as a WhatsApp group for neighbours to call for help.
Members of Tiumpanhead Community Association in Point are offering individual support to their neighbours in the Aird district via their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/TiumpanHeadCommunityAssosiation/
And in Stornoway Councillor Gordon Murray is looking for volunteers prepared to help the most vulnerable in the Manor area. With all meetings cancelled he’s asking people prepared to help to contact him by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or phone 07769 287 044.

Lochs Services are looking for volunteers to help identify elderly or vulnerable people who may need a delivery, with deliveries also dependent on community volunteers. If you can help, contact them on 860377.
We welcome more examples of community self-help – contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Island league football suspended

The traditional summer season of football in the Western Isles looks set to be suspended, with an announcement today (Monday 16 March) from Lewis and Harris Football Association (LHFA).

In the statement published this morning, LHFA said: “The LHFA has received confirmation that all football under the jurisdiction of the Scottish Football Association is suspended until further notice. This advice includes all matches within the Scottish Amateur Football Association and any member leagues and associations. This also applies to friendly matches.

“A decision to continue or suspend training is at each club’s discretion at this time but all clubs must follow the current medical guidance issued by the Government and health authorities when making the decision.”

Some clubs had already made moves to suspend training and competition planning, with Lochs Football Club announcing on Friday that they were cancelling all football activities at all levels.

Stornoway Athletic (Aths) also announced yesterday (Sunday) that all plans for friendly and festival matches and under-7s coaching in Sandwick Hall on Mondays were to be suspended until further notice.

The club said: “Coaching at the astro-turf will continue on Monday nights at the normal times until further notice. Parents and carers should make decisions on children attending based on the current advice and their own situation. There is no pressure from Aths to attend coaching if you have any concerns. Our position may change as time moves on.”

Matches in the island league were due to begin in the second week of April, with the first cup matches in the Acres Boys Club (ABC) cup tournament due soon afterwards.

HebCeltFest statement

The Hebridean Celtic Festival said today (Monday March 16th):

"We know that a lot of people are understandably concerned about coronavirus and also what it means for HebCelt Festival. As things stand today, we are continuing to prepare for the 25th anniversary festival in July. However, the situation is changing day to day, even hour by hour, and we are conscious of the Scottish Government’s advice on events involving more than 500 people. We hope things will improve in the coming weeks, but the health and wellbeing of everyone concerned must be our main priority. We will continue to review the situation and take any further guidance from the Government and medical experts. Rest assured all tickets are protected. If we were required to cancel the festival, your tickets would be refunded.
Thanks for your continued support of HebCelt. Look after each other!"

Monday 16 March - Coronavirus cancellations

Other cancellations attributed to the current Coronavirus situation and associated health advice have been announced today. They include:

  • Point Youth Club, which meets on Friday evenings at Tiumpanhead Community Centre in Aird, has cancelled all meetings until after the Easter holidays, when they will update parents further.
  • The committee of the Co-operative Community Football League has decided to cancel the rest of the season of Back 8s football matches. A new summer format of Friday night 5s is also liable to delay in starting up.
  • Stornoway publisher Acair is asking customers not to make personal calls to their office at An Tosgan, but to place orders via their website instead.
  • Stornoway Rugby Club will not be holding junior rugby training until 29th March, in line with Scottish Rugby’s current advice.
  • The Harris Tweed Authority’s Story Room display is closed to the public for the time being, although the office in Stornoway Town Hall is still open for callers.
  • Sharon Mackinnon School of Highland Dancing has cancelled the Mackinnon Festival Highland dancing competition, due to be held on Saturday (21 March) at the Nicolson Institute
  • T’ai chi classes by T’ai Chi Hebrides at the Bridge Centre and Sandwick Hall on Tuesdays are closed until the end of April
  • Outer Hebrides for Independence has postponed the Independence March planned for Stornoway on 18 April. A new date is expected to be set in August or September.
  • Stornoway Judo Club is following advice from Judo Scotland and postponing classes at least until after the Easter holidays.
  • Chest Heart and Stroke Scotland is temporarily suspending meetings of the Stornoway Monday Stroke Club on advice from their national office.

Other businesses are taking measures to limit any potential spread of infection.

  • Harris and Lewis Smokehouse restaurant has stopped taking cash payments and will not be using re-usable cups. Other precautionary measures include hand sanitiser for the use of all customers as they enter the restaurant.
  • Uig community shop has intensified their hygiene regime, particularly in high contact areas. They are also encouraging people to shop in moderation and will be increasing the availability of their delivery service to customers self-isolating at home. Call the shop on 01851 672444.
  • The community pop-in lunch planned by North Harris Free Church for Tuesday 17 March has been cancelled due to current health advice.
  • Mollans café in Callanish has agreed a protocol with environmental health officers to allow them to continue to operate their takeaway service safely. Customers will be asked to ring ahead on 07985 233723 to place orders, which will be brought to their car. Mollans has also offered a delivery service to customers in Callanish, Breasclete, Garynahine and Tolsta Chaolais who are self-isolating.

Provincial Mòds ‘may not happen’

The organisers of the Royal National Mòd, An Comunn Gaidhealach, have issued a statement on the impact of Coronavirus following their meeting on Friday (13 March).  The directors have written to all local groups and committees with their summary guidance, which includes a warning that they do not anticipate local and provincial Mòds planned for May and June this year to take place.  With Uist Mòd set for 29 and 30 May, Lewis Mòd for 1 to 5 June and Harris Mòd for 12 June, this would effectively cancel the local Mòds for the year. The date for the local Mòd in Barra and Vatersay is yet to be set.   An Comunn Gaidhealach said that guidance would be issued in due course concerning the autumn round of local Mòds and the Royal National Mòd itself, due to be held in Inverness from 9 to 17 October.

Cruise cancellations

The cruise line Cruise and Maritime Voyages (CMV) has been the first to announce that it is suspending all worldwide cruise embarkations “due to the escalating global pandemic of the COVID-19 Coronavirus.”  All departures of their cruise vessels until 24 April are suspended. They say Government advisories and impending lockdown of ports around the world have contributed to their decision, as have health and safety concerns for their passengers and crew.  CMV’s ship Astoria was due to be the first official cruise visit of Stornoway’s 2020 season, calling in to the port on Thursday 9 April with a potential total of 550 passengers.

Astoria was due to make a total of three visits to Stornoway during April and May this year and her sister vessel Marco Polo is also due to call in May.

Also cancelled is the visit of the Norwegian training ship Gann, due into Stornoway on 6 May. The ship, which provides training to maritime students from Norway and other countries, has closed to students and cancelled all registrations. She is due for her second call to Stornoway in September.