It brings me no pleasure to be adding to internet furore but, I’ll be honest, this post is all about the posterity. It also holds many of my own thoughts/opinions and I am a historian, not a medical professional. Historians do, however, often have the advantage of the ‘big picture’ perspective and it seems that something historic has been happening of late.
I’m sure we’ll be looking back on our time here decades down the line and I’ve little doubt that it’ll be worth recording that Covid19 has made itself known to the world during our stint on these islands. There will be many lessons to learn from this. To what extent we, as a global society, learn those lessons still remains to be seen. Sadly, the only thing we often learn from studying history is that we simply don’t learn so I personally remain sceptical.
Right now, on 16th March 2020, the Falkland Islands can’t REALLY complain (yet) as there have been no recorded instances of Covid19 on the islands. That being said, the remote nature and small population has the inevitable result that medical services are limited; tests for the virus will need to be carried out in the UK (estimated turnaround time: 10 days). So no RECORDED cases doesn’t necessarily mean no cases.
Still, you might think, count yourselves lucky: we’re not in lock-down or unnecessarily wrestling over bog-roll in the aisles. No, we are not. Perhaps a hostile military invasion in living memory has made this community slightly more resistant to mass hysteria. Time will tell.
It’ll also be tempting to highlight that we’re on a remote set of islands and surely, therefore, a low-risk location. After all, island nations have a long history of keeping outside issues at sea. This could well be the case if bold, decisive isolationist action were to be taken at the sacrifice of the tourism industry and wider economy. As it is, we have had c.60,000 cruise ship tourists alighting this season and three weekly flights (including one MoD resupply service) that have been continuing to bring people from all over the world to these islands for work and tourism. These haven’t stopped (yet). An element of inevitability is detectable in many communications about the disease here but by the time it is confirmed, of course, it will have been here for some time and so it’ll likely be too late to contain in such a tiny community.
So we find ourselves on an island that has limited medical facilities (I don’t envy the person whose job it is to weigh up numbers of beds, medication, staff,ventilators etc), unable to test for the virus and reliant on emergency medical evacuation to countries that, understandably, may soon refuse international patients on account of infection or capacity. It’s statistical fact that, like the UK, comparatively high obesity levels, alcohol consumption and rates of smoking combined with an ageing population also mean that there are a significant number of ‘at risk’ individuals (elderly and/or with co-morbidities) in the community.
The islands are also highly reliant on the international community: many people need to come and go from the islands for medical care. As well as that, the islands are always host to people from all over the world carrying out work, research or training. The last census recorded people from over 65 different countries here. Several people that we know have either given up attempting to get home already or have been recalled early, having to fly out to avoid being stuck here when borders inevitably come down elsewhere.
So there is significant public concern being voiced on all platforms, with regular updates from our government and medical services. I’m sure individuals have their own plans too: one thing this place has got in abundance is space. Remote settlements and outer islands here have long been ideal hideaways for those hoping to avoid social contact.
Should the government have closed the borders? Will the virus even hit here? What will the effects be? How will people respond? How will our own lives be affected? Will we learn?
The only thing that can and will truly answer these questions is time.
For us, so far, life continues as usual and so we took advantage of some fine weather over the weekend to head out to my favourite spot on East Falkland: Whale Point. It was GREAT to be back out in the 4×4, off-roading and enjoying the sunshine, scenery and wildlife. As well as the St Mary, of course. I do love a good shipwreck story! Only a few obligatory photos taken this time as it’s our 100,000th visit there:
I’ll steer clear of in-depth analyses of this crisis as it unfolds on a global scale; that is the place of scientists and medical professionals and there are already far too many people on the internet weighing in where it is neither helpful nor necessary. Instead, I’ll now leave this as just what this blog has always aimed to be: just a different perspective from a wild and remote community in the South Atlantic.
EDIT: After I wrote this, Time Magazine did a much better job of explaining the whole thing than I did. As I live here, I have to play things differently, but fair play to them: https://time.com/5811309/coronavirus-falklands/