“Firstly, this is the official designations catching up with the reality of the situation in Barra as people have been voluntarily in Level 4 in their actions for about a week now since the first COVID-19 cases emerged.
“This is good that it is only in Barra and not impacting the other islands. It is good that the distinction has been made.
“Hopefully, we can get this Covid situation in Barra under control soon. It looks like the rate of positives is going in the right direction already but still there is much to be done. We must remember social distancing when in shops, staying at home and not travelling unnecessarily and washing our hands regularly.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has commended the strong community spirit of his island home in the face of the escalating Covid-19 outbreak on Barra.
Currently there are 39 positive cases with more than 100 close contacts now in isolation and more testing is underway.
As a resident on the island, Mr MacNeil has been on Barra since last year and conducted parliamentary business via modern technology from his home.
He said: “The island community is pulling together very well at this time. People are very helpful of one another – doing shopping, sending a lot of messages and staying in touch with those who are positive.
“Those that are positive are our friends, neighbours and cousins and it could be us in the next few days or weeks, we just don’t know.
“One of the good things that has happened is people are letting everyone else know if they have tested positive or negative, this helps people work out quickly who has been in contact with anybody. This has been hugely helpful in giving us all an idea of where the virus is moving on the island.
“We are also very grateful for those doing the testing and getting the tests in to Stornoway and the testing being done in the lab that has given us the results to make the decisions on.
“There is a good island spirit, people pulling together and understanding the situation and with offers of support coming from organisations and individuals throughout the islands.
“We know there is a global pandemic on the go and at some point it was probably inevitable that the pandemic was going to come. We now have to make sure, as other islands have done, that we banish the virus from our shores, hopefully sooner rather than later.”
NHS Western Isles stresses the vital importance that individuals with symptoms, regardless of how mild, self isolate IMMEDIATELY and arrange a test. Please do not assume that any symptoms are that of a cold or other winter virus – it is absolutely imperative that anyone with symptoms self isolates and books a test to prevent any potential further spread of the virus.
Be vigilant for all symptoms, in particular loss or change of taste or sense of smell (which has been a common factor in this outbreak). Please also be vigilant for any new respiratory symptoms or any new illness and arrange a test if concerned.
NHS Western Isles are also alerting individuals across Barra to the potential risks of using items of high levels of contact (e.g. cash machine) and advise the use of cards where possible. Where this is not possible, use hand sanitizer before and after using the cash machine, as well as disinfectant wipes before and after use where possible.
Individuals should avoid regular trips to the supermarket and keep shopping trips to a minimum and as necessary. Shop alone, wear a mask at all times and hand sanitise before and after shopping. Respect other shoppers/shop workers by ensuring you maintain a two metre distance from others at all times.
To access testing, contact 01851 601151 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Please leave a message on the answering machine with your details if you do not get a response and your call will be returned. Alternatively contact NHS24 on 111.
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to the UK Prime Minister following Boris Johnson’s acknowledgment of the difficulties faced by the Scottish fishing industry as a result of his Brexit deal.
Commenting, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP MacNeil said:
“I have contacted Downing Street following the Prime Minister’s appearance at the Liaison Committee where he talked about compensation. I am hearing from the fishing industry who are telling me scallop fishing has stopped, prawn boats are also tied up, white fish prices have crashed, and we know from DFDS that they are not taking any consignments to the continent for yet another 5 days.
“At the route of all this is people’s jobs, in processing and on boats, who are affected by this and affected badly. This situation is a catastrophe.
“The Republic of Ireland has been promised €1.051 billion in help from the European Union, as a result Irish politicians have been commenting about the result of it ‘consistent solidarity’ from the European Union towards Ireland, in what is even for them a difficult Brexit process.
“For us in Scotland, the Brexit process is far far worse than anything Ireland is facing. The best we have had so far is to share a £100 million between England, Wales and Northern Ireland, a tenth of what Ireland alone is getting. It is time for the UK Government, who have caused this situation, to up their game and make sure that billions are coming into Scotland, particularly the Highlands and Islands which are the worst affected area in Europe due to Brexit.
“People’s lives should not be damaged because of the choices of Tory Westminster, Scotland clearly needs to be independent, the damage being done by being in the UK is very much on our doorsteps right now.”
SNP MP Angus MacNeil has welcomed the announcement from the Scottish Government that £3 million will be made available for businesses in Tier 3 areas who are under financial strain due to the ongoing restrictions.
This funding will be allocated to local authorities to allow them to support affected businesses.
Commenting Angus MacNeil MP said:
“My colleague, Alasdair Allan MSP has been pushing hard for this with the Scottish Government and it is great that the First Minister has announced that financial support is now available for businesses in the islands impacted by the ongoing restrictions.
“For example, when B&Bs in Ullapool and Oban are getting money to support them during this period, it is ludicrous that the islands would not get support because if tourists are not going through Oban or Ullapool they are not going to be coming through the islands either.
“I hope that this money goes some way to alleviate the economic difficulties businesses will be facing. It certainly brings businesses back into a situation that is comparable with their counterparts on the mainland.”
Chair of the International Trade Committee, Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil is writing to Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak stressing the need for the UK Government to set up a Fund to assist those adversely affected by Brexit.
Mr MacNeil is suggesting a Fund similar to the Brexit Adjustment Reserve set up by the European Union.
He said: “It has been long known that the worst impacted part of the whole of Europe by Brexit will be the Highlands andn Islands of Scotland.
“The impacts of Brexit are of course worse in the UK but there will be impacts on the European Union too obviously. There is no good Brexit, the economic story is bad for everybody.
“Realising this, the EU have set up a Brexit Adjustment Reserve worth about 5 billion Euros. The lion share of that is expected to go to Ireland whose economy will be impacted greatly.
“However, being impacted far more percentage wise will be the economy of the Highlands and Islands and perhaps most of Scotland.
“Therefore, I think the Chancellor of the Exchequer should set up a similar fund to what the Europeans are doing, commencing it with the economic damage Brexit is going to do to help those affected.
“We see already the effect on fish processors and fishermen who cannot get their catch to the valuable and lucrative market.
“Brexit was not the choice of Scotland but the choice of a Tory Government in a faraway Westminster.
“As a result, they should now ensure there is a Fund in place to compensate for the damage that they have started and continue to do as a result of the policies.
“If Europe can do it for the citizens of the European Union, surely the UK Government can do this for the citizens of this current Union.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil has written to Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, urging him to repair the losses faced by the shellfish and fish operators in the Hebrides due to UK Government induced panic.
Mr MacNeil said: “There will be many losses suffered by operators, shellfish producers and shellfish sellers who can ill-afford this. This is particularly felt in the Christmas market which is often a make or break market for companies. To have that snatched away from them at the last minute because of UK Government induced panic is doubly sickening.
“The UK Government caused the population of London to flee, caused the French to close the border.
“The UK Government has been printing money left right and centre for bankers and handing out contracts worth billions to their friends.
“They must not walk away from the problems they have created for fishermen, fish producers and fish processors here in the islands and the West Highlands.
“I have therefore written to the Chancellor to make good any losses sustained to shellfish and fish operators in the Hebrides and west coast of Scotland. Our communities, which are going to be the hardest hit in all of Europe by the coming Brexit, can ill afford this.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil is reiterating his urgent call for Covid-19 testing to be available in the Western Isles for offshore workers prior to their journey to work.
Concerned oil workers from the islands have contacted Mr MacNeil regarding the situation which means they are being forced to travel to a Tier 4 area to be tested for Covid-19 before going on to offshore platforms.
Mr MacNeil has now written again to Health Secretary Jean Freeman to stress the need for local testing of workers.
He said: “Again I’ve had the spectre of oil workers coming to me regarding this situation.
“It is worse now as they are having to leave the Tier 1 Hebrides to go to what will be Tier 4 areas for testing to go off on oil rigs on January 3 or 4, having to leave for testing on Hogmanay.
“Given the alarm that the Government has raised about the new strain of Covid, surely this means that the Government has to react to minimise the risk that people have of coming into contact with it.
“This is particularly so when we know we have capacity to test in the Hebrides with NHS testing.
“It would seem sensible to keep people out of harm’s way. Going to places where Covid is far more prevalent to get testing seems bizarrely daft.
“Testing in the islands would be far a safer and more sensible approach for people going away.
“I’ve written to Jeanne Freeman on this today as well as on the 23rd of November. I haven’t had a response yet but I am hoping for a quick response this time given the Government’s concern about the new strain of Covid.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP, Angus B MacNeil has called for a round-table meeting to discuss the upheaval projected by Highlands and Islands Airports (HIAL) for Stornoway and Benbecula Airports.
Commenting Angus MacNeil said:
“It’s time to get the Scottish Government’s Transport Minister, Michael Matheson, HIAL, the Civil Aviation Authority, the trade union and other interested parties round the table. Discussions need to be held to find out exactly what is going on with the projected destruction and removal of jobs from the islands by HIAL, a Scottish Government agency.
“This issue is becoming very acute, causing a lot of anxiety to many people, therefore I am calling on interested parties and experts to get around the table to discuss this early in the New Year.
“HIAL employees cannot live with this uncertainty – the communities deserve better and need these jobs to be retained in the islands, we cannot have these jobs removed and government agencies recklessly damaging island communities.”
Na h-Eileanan an Iar MP Angus MacNeil has contacted NHS Western Isles today seeking an update on the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine in Uist and Barra.
The first Pfizer vaccinations were administered in Stornoway at the end of last week and Mr MacNeil has been contacted by constituents in Uist and Barra looking for detail on when this will be rolled out more widely.
Mr MacNeil said: “It was great to see the vaccination programme start in the islands and many Health board care workers from all ends of the Hebrides have been vaccinated.
“There is however obvious and understandable concern about the possibility of delays in the distribution of the vaccine to the communities in Uist and Barra and I have contacted NHS Western Isles for more detail on this today.
“The arrival of the vaccine in the Western Isles was an historic day and I commend NHS Western Isles staff for their efforts to get this underway.
“I hope, and I expect, that any challenges which have arisen can be addressed as soon as possible.”
The concerned countdown to Brexit is on, states Na h-Eileanan an Iar SNP MP Angus MacNeil who says we must brace ourselves for the major impacts this will have on day to day life and the economy.
People must also understand that neither Deal or No Deal is a good option and puts the UK in a worse trading position than any major European nation.
Speaking ahead of crunch meetings between UK PM Boris Johnson’s final round of talks with President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, Mr MacNeil says he is pessimistic for what lies ahead.
He has had talks with many bodies across industries in his capacity as Chair of the International Trade Committee of the House of Commons and none have outlined the benefits of Brexit, whether the outcome is Deal or No Deal.
He said: “I have had many conversations about Brexit over the last couple of years, they have got worse and more intensely concerning as time goes on.
“Industries are actually complaining that the UK Government is not listening to them.
“Many people will have heard the news that Honda have stopped manufacturing due to a lack of parts. This is no major surprise, manufacturing in the UK is going to be severely impacted by Brexit, especially just in time manufacturing relying on truckloads of components daily arriving at factories.
“The most pivotal news comes from the Road Haulage Association who have an overview of traffic coming in and out of the UK and I think it is worth repeating some of things they have told me.
“85% of haulage to the UK is from EU lorries, 35% of those are Polish, 16% Spanish, with Slovak and Lithuanian being the next biggest groups.
“These carriers are paid by the kilometre; they have debt on tractor units, so they need to keep moving to be earning. Clearly with border friction and talk of tailbacks of up to 70 miles with two days to be cleared – in a worst-case scenario – does not make the UK an attractive destination for them.
“The Road Haulage Association estimates that traffic between this part of Europe across the English Channel to continent of Europe will be between 65 and 85% if there is a deal and between 40 and 65% if there is no deal.
“The reality is that there is plenty of work for these lorries across Europe so to pay the debts on lorries, they don’t need to be parked up in Calais or Dover and not earning money. This is one of the likely coming harsh realities.”
“Speaking to the British Poultry Council – deal or no deal, the price of chicken is going up. It will go up 5% in the case of a deal or 25% if No Deal as they find cost inputs rising as they lose part of their Euro markets for some of the meat that would have been sold.
“81% of animal medicines come from EU, this is a concern for sheep producers. That was been brought to my attention by those in animal veterinary services. This could become problem in the New Year as well.
“Tariffs may or may not be there depending if there is Deal or No Deal, but there will certainly be border friction, due to the many non-tariff barriers. The UK will be about the only sizable country in Europe outside both the Customs Union and Single Market. Even traditional outliers of Iceland, Norway and Switzerland being in the Single Market will have more developed relationships with the EU than the UK, this is clearly going to impact trade.”
“The cost of pallets is also going up, transportation of goods which have to be heat treated for travel at certain temperatures and their cost may double per wooden pallet.”
Driving permit and insurance
“For those who wish to travel to EU they will need an international driving licence, an international driving permit which is available at Post Office’s because the UK driving licence will no longer be acceptable in the EU anymore.
“Drivers may also need a “Green Card” to show car insurance abroad is valid if they are taking their own car abroad.”
“Passports will need at least 6 months validity. It is EU law for the Schengen passport area, coming in from outside the EU, you need 6 months validity. This will be the case for deal or no deal.”
“European Health Insurance card is not valid from January 1 and travellers will need to have their own travel insurance and make sure it includes coverage for pre-existing conditions.
He added: “Essentially the easy right to free movement is gone and its evaporation is creating a lot of difficulties, a lot of form filling, a lot of costs are all going to be in the way and this is all thanks to the stupidity of Brexit hidden by the misinformation of leading Brexiteers.
“I did note also in the news in the last few days, one of the leading Brexiteer voices, Jim Radcliffe, Chief Executive of INEOS, who is developing an off road vehicle, unbelievably he has chosen to construct it in France which is in the EU, as opposed to constructing in the UK.
“It just about sums up the crazy situation the UK finds itself in now.
“The best advice would be to abandon Brexit at this stage but unfortunately that doesn’t look to be happening.
“Now more than ever it makes sense for Scotland to be a normal independent nation, we in Scotland voted against this crazy choice but the expected worst impacted area in all of the UK and Europe from Brexit will be the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
“In short, food prices are going up, haulage is more difficult and general everyday hassles will be increasing.”