Our containment on an island is a source of comfort and claustrophobiaby Cal Flyn / May 7, 2020 / Leave a comment
A strange thing, to self-isolate in isolated places. Here in Orkney, we felt buffered from the coronavirus outbreak for a while thanks to our separation from the mainland by the sea. Still, nowhere is safe. Shetland, further to the north of us, is a symbol of remoteness to many, yet was home to an early cluster of cases, and has been one of the hardest hit regions, per head of population.
Serious illness poses certain logistical problems for those in the islands, particularly the “outlying” islands-off-islands, where healthcare is always a challenge. (The military were called in to evacuate a critically ill patient from Shetland, and the RAF is poised to do the same here, should the need arise.) But for a time it seemed like perhaps our geographical isolation might be a positive.
For weeks now, travel between the islands has been strictly restricted, and the airport closed to all but medical emergencies. With such a slow rate of osmosis with the outside world, I dared to hope that we might slip through unscathed. It was not to be. An Orkney case of Covid-19 was finally announced. Then two, then four… So here we are, locked down like the rest of the country, waiting for news.
Every morning I take the dog along the coastal path, look out across the sound to the grizzled hills of Hoy—its features picked delicately out, black rock through white snow, like an etching—and the low grassy hummock of Graemsay. Islands we can see, but not visit. And beyond them, rising up as a faint mirage, the mountains of Sutherland: wild and ice-clad, as if seen through a portal. As well they might be.
Our containment on the island is a source of comfort and claustrophobia, both. It depends on my state of mind. We learned quickly that we could not hope to remain anonymous in a community of this size; but in a crisis, having an easily-countable, easily defined population is without doubt beneficial. So many of the problems rearing up in cities or more diffuse rural populations have been easily surmounted here.
The butcher-grocer, bakery, deli, seafood merchant and even the bookshop have been delivering door-to-door. We speak most days with our neighbours about…