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Exiled islanders living in cities and elsewhere on the mainland may want to return home to the Western Isles when the coronavirus lockdown ends after witnessing the impact it has had on public health, the economy and social behaviour, says Comhairle leader Roddie Mackay.
In a long statement pondering the impact of the pandemic, Councillor Mackay said the outbreak had affected the lives of every single person living on the islands.
‘However, as we contemplate the ways COVID-19 could change our islands, big and small, I have also considered the pandemic’s combined effect on public health, the economy and social behaviour may cause fundamental shifts in human geography,’ he said.
‘For example, why would people from the islands living on the mainland and in the big cities not want to return here when the restrictions are lifted?
‘Over recent weeks, we have all seen the vast number of benefits of living in the Western Isles, ranging from the stunning coastline for daily exercise, to the fantastic community spirit and volunteer response.
‘The Western Isles is truly an amazing place to live, to visit and to work, so it is little wonder so many people want to come here.’
Elsehwhere, Councillor Mackay said the virus had seen jobs, pastimes and social lives disrupted.
‘Some of these effects might linger for longer than others, of course. Thankfully, as yet, we have only had six confirmed cases of the virus – all of whom are getting on well at home – but we cannot become complacent,’ he said.
As far as tourists returning to the islands is concerned, Mr Mackay added: ‘People love and want to come to the Western Isles all year round, for so many different reasons.
‘At the moment, we – alongside our partner agencies, Scottish Government, CalMac and Loganair – have firm restrictions in place to ensure there is no unnecessary travel.
‘These restrictions must remain in place as long as it takes to ensure the safety and health of our population.
‘As comhairle leader, it is vitally important I do not allow looking back on what has taken place over recent weeks and months to deflect my attention and focus away from what lies ahead of us all.
‘At some point, hopefully soon, the lockdown will ease. Travel restrictions will eventually end and planes and ferries will start operating full services again.
‘We must be prepared for that next phase. There will be many, many challenges, but one of the key ones for us will be to reboot the economy and be creative and innovative in our strategies to provide employment for people and to step up support for businesses and communities.
‘Hopefully we can start that reboot soon with in-island activities gradually resuming but with travel restrictions, which have been so effective, remaining in place for longer.
‘For the moment, please keep up the effort, support each other where you can, remain vigilant and maintain the now established good practice of social distancing.
‘Our message is clear – the islands are not currently open for business. We continue to prioritise taking care of ourselves and each other.
‘But when it is safe to do so and restrictions are eventually lifted, we will once again warmly welcome everyone to the Western Isles, whether that be to visit, to work or to stay.’