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Rathlin islanders show community spirit in fight to keep coronavirus out

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Michael Cecil says Rathlin Islanders have put measures in place to protect themselves from coronavirus

Michael Cecil says Rathlin Islanders have put measures in place to protect themselves from coronavirus

Michael Cecil says Rathlin Islanders have put measures in place to protect themselves from coronavirus

The peaceful and idyllic Rathlin Island, Northern Ireland's only inhabited offshore island, remains untouched by the deadly coronavirus and residents want to keep it that way.

The beauty spot, just off the north coast, has stopped the daily ferries from Ballycastle which would have ordinarily had tourists flocking to enjoy its rugged landscapes, ocean views and varied wildlife.

Its 155 residents have yet to be affected by the coronavirus, which has infected almost 200,000 people worldwide and killed almost 8,000.

Michael Cecil, chairman of the Rathlin Development and Community Association, said islanders had put measures in place to protect themselves.

"We have no coronavirus cases that we are aware of in Rathlin and nobody is showing any symptoms," he added.

"We are taking precautions here on the island. This all kicked off last Thursday when people started to get quite actively involved.

"We got together as an organisation to formulate an action plan for the island, mainly around what we would do if we did get a case, how we would get them self-isolated, off the island for treatment and that sort of thing. We had discussions with the health trust and others on the island.

"We have a coastguard team and a fire and rescue team also. They have all the normal protective gear. We have a district nurse who is here 24/7 and she has all the protective gear also.

"If it is an islander or a resident, they would self-isolate. If it's serious enough that they would have to be evacuated, the nurse would look after them. We would take them on one of our ferries, just the patient with the district nurse and the crew, or perhaps if we needed it the coast guard. They would all be wearing their protective gear.

"The normal evacuations that we would have throughout the year for someone who takes ill would be on a dedicated ferry as it's usually outside hours and would involve the coast guard and district nurse, so it's pretty much the same but with more protection for them."

Michael said islanders had to make the decision to cancel the Rathlin ferry, to limit tourist numbers and inform residents that the cargo ferry was for essential travel only.

"Part of our discussions talked about what we would do to mitigate risk to the island and a decision was taken to restrict numbers on the ferry," he explained.

"The massive consensus among the community was to restrict tourist numbers. We are only keeping the ferry open for essential travel for workmen, businesspeople and people who are involved in farms, the nurse travelling, council services, students and things like that. If we can keep it down to just that, it eliminates a lot of the risk as much as possible.

"The fast ferry has been cancelled and it's just the cargo ferry that is running back and forth twice a day now, with a strong recommendation that it should only be for essential journeys. It is difficult for a small island because you get more and more isolated, but most people are accepting of that.

"There are some unforeseen consequences. It's difficult for people to get shopping. There are online options for us, but because of the increase of shopping on the mainland, it is difficult to get delivery slots from the likes of Asda and Tesco. But I have been speaking to both those companies and they have put other measures in place for us.

"We have alternatives where we can order online and find someone on the mainland to go and pick it up for us. The ferry company has offered to do that for us."

Michael said the residents were worried not only about the virus, but also about the impact it will have on tourism.

"People are worried about the coronavirus itself," he added. "There is also a lot of anxiety about services closing down, the loss of employment and our tourism season being wiped out.

"We have just come through a pretty rough winter weather-wise and we are looking at a long spring and summer with no tourists and business not open. The pub closed and the B&B did also for the foreseeable future. The pub is the only one on the island, so that is difficult.

"We can no longer socialise and we just stay at home. The hostels have closed down. Normally at this time of year we would see an influx of tourism. We would see different faces and different conversations.

"Most of the islanders look forward to that.

"We have seasonal staff who come here to run some of the businesses, so that will not happen in the short term.

"A lot of people are rallying together to help each other out. The shops and businesses have extended their services. It's just a community coming together. We are just hoping and praying that this is all over soon."

Belfast Telegraph