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.”