Remote islands swamped by people trying to escape virus

Francesca Street, CNNUpdated 23rd March 2020
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(CNN) — With many people facing weeks largely confined to their homes in densely populated cities because of the coronavirus, it's understandable that some have considered heading to wilder, more remote places in pursuit of freedom and fresh air.
But as recreational vehicles and other traffic have flooded into some of these rural destinations, those living there have reacted with alarm -- urging people to stay away to avoid bringing infection and overwhelming limited health provisions.
The situation has been particularly acute in the Highlands region of Scotland, a largely unpopulated area whose rugged landscapes of mountains and islands is one of the most beautiful tourism attractions in the UK.
So much so that local officials are issuing warnings, telling people -- including second homeowners -- they are not welcome.
"Please don't use the Highlands as your means of self-isolation," tweeted Kate Forbes, Scotland's finance secretary and the Highlands representative in Scotland's parliament.
"People live here who are trying to follow government guidelines and the continuing flow of camper vans and other traffic who appear to be escaping the cities is not helping."

Coronavirus fears

Camper vans have been parked up at Fort William this weekend.
Camper vans have been parked up at Fort William this weekend.
Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
There have been 416 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Scotland. Only eight of these are the Highlands, and the region hopes to keep it that way.
Scotland's islands are particularly concerned about the impact of the virus on their small communities.
Angus MacNeil, a politician who lives on the Island of Barra, part of the Outer Hebrides off Scotland's west coast, posted a sobering image on Twitter of Castlebay village hall, kitted out with basic hospital beds. He added that there were no ventilators on the islands.
Barra and and nearby Vatersay island also took to social media to designate themselves as "closed."
"We will open again and be delighted to see you," reads Barra's official Twitter account. "But in the meantime we are looking after our community, the thing that makes us so special."
Meanwhile, Scotland's Rural Economy and Tourism Secretary Fergus Ewing added his voice to the chorus of residents urging non-locals to leave, posting a warning against unnecessary travel on the Scottish Government website.
"I am furious at the reckless and irresponsible behavior of some people traveling to the Highlands and Islands. This has to stop now," said Ewing.
"Let me be crystal clear, people should not be traveling to rural and island communities full stop. They are endangering lives. Do not travel."

Essential travel only

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Sunday that ferry travel across Scotland would be for essential travel only.
In a statement, ferry provider Caledonian MacBrayne posted that "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."
The situation in Scotland has been echoed in other parts of the world. In Norway, people have reportedly been urged to stay away from their rural cabins or second homes for similar reasons.
Sheila Gilmore, an official representing Arran, an island off the west coast of Scotland only accessible to the mainland via two ferry routes, said those seeking an escape could come to regret their move.
"I can understand that people think the answer is to go somewhere that is much quieter, that perhaps they have a second home that normally they would be letting out," Gilmore, who is executive director at VisitArran and the Arran Trust, told CNN Travel.
"But the reality of the situation is that on Arran, we just don't have the infrastructure to cope, in fact nobody at the moment has the infrastructure to cope, it doesn't really matter where you are. But on an island it's even more remote."

Limited resources

Gilmore said the islanders have to rely on these ferries to bring in food and medical supplies.
Plus, she points out, that while seeing out the crisis surrounded by beautiful countryside sounds appealing, in the long-term people may regret their decision to relocate to a vacation home.
"When you're in your own home environment, you can say to yourself: 'You know what, I'm going to sew those curtains I've been meaning to sew, or I'll go paint that room.'
"And if you're in an environment that's not your day-to-day environment, you're going to be thinking, 'What on earth am I going to do?'"
Gilmore adds that she's aware they'll be people traveling to Arran for all sorts of reasons: some will have family there, some will be students whose colleges and universities have shut down due to the crisis, and who need somewhere to stay.
"You can't tar everybody with one brush," she says. "You can understand people's reasoning for this, but what we are saying is please think about the limited resources that we have on an island such as ours."