So what happens next? Arran and the Pandemic

So What Happens Next? Arran and the Pandemic

By Sally Campbell

Arran residents, especially the parents of the diaspora of Arranites, especially of those younger generation, who are all around the world…Australia, New Zealand, China, America, Europe, are known for their travelling…nothing better than to head off after a busy season or in the depth of the Scottish winter on Arran, and you hear folk wishing for that again, even as Arran has been shut down for weeks. We just desire what was there before, a natural response of being closed in and obedient up until now. But we all live in this time of a sort of entitlement culture that we have been deprived of for weeks. So there is fear of uncertainty for the future. Will we be able to travel the world? Can we have our 400,000 visitors per year to the island? What about our tourist trade, second home owners, and the future for our young people?

For the moment there is tremendous creativity with the volunteers here on Arran, offering amazing help in every corner but all the ways that traditionally have been applied to connect us all are now closed off; coffee mornings, evening classes, meals with friends, swimming at the hotels, the Charity shop which uses volunteers, even the coup. So for communities on islands and I suspect other small communities, far from any large city too, there is fear for the future, for their jobs returning, and our local services, already decimated by austerity; what will happen afterwards to tourism, education, elderly services? Will the web overtake everyone? Will Amazon as a result, through our use, result in the unintended consequences of more closures of Arran shops and amenities? A second clearance of the Highlands and small countryside communities? Already small steps are being taken to “open” up the community…golf, bowls, tennis, small groups. And the debate is now on about ferry services and economics going forward with even a whiff of paranoia around a word we seldom heard before, risk!

On the positive side, the creativity of volunteers, making face masks on the island by the hundreds, and those lucky enough to have outside space, trees, birds, have provided a chance to reconnect to nature. The glorious Spring weather has been a real bonus. Everyone is bird watching, otter watching, dolphin, porpoise watching: Gannets are diving in our waters. The migrant birds are back, some for the breeding here, and some en route much further north. The seeming incompetence shown by our UK government, my own personal opinion, fills me with dread. Now we have hit the downward curve of deaths and new cases, at least the first wave downward curve. I once worked with bacteria and virology colleagues, so I was appalled at how slow the lock-down came. How come we were so ill prepared? Even 50 years ago, in 1969, it was well known that bats arrived with an array of viruses and bacteria, as the lab where I worked was working on them, and that diseases passed from large groups of wild or domesticated animals by mutation to humans…after all the flu of 1918-20 came from a duck/chicken farm on the Prairies in the US, carried by a recruit into the American Army, spread around conscripts training to go to France, carried by troopship to France and the rest is history. More troops died of it than were killed in the First War. My mother told stories of that pandemic.

Now Arran wonders about the future. Writer Mark Honigsbaum spoke recently on animal reservoirs for viruses. What is a virus for a start? Is it a living organism like bacteria? No, but it is capable of replicating essentially through biochemical reaction by interfering with cellular regeneration. Honigsbaum’s interest in bats and their role makes me wonder about the future. Bats are the fifth most numerous mammals in the world. Veterinarian Ecologists have identified 500 new coronaviruses in wild animals, 50 SARS related and suggest there may be 130,000 unknown coronaviruses. He writes about animal reservoirs of viruses that may leap to human populations. As we move into previously remote areas for agricultural practices, especially in China and SE Asia to provide soya, rape seed oil, and palm oil for world products to sell to direct consumers, we also expand industry for logging and minerals too. As we expand the cities to enable displaced people to migrate from their areas overtaken by other human activity we must expect new viruses to make an appearance, often with difficult results for the human populations. The last 10 weeks has shown us how difficult, and we are still in the midst of this Pandemic.

Honigsbaum has written about The Pandemic Century. In the recent past from the mid 1970s there have been a succession of “new” epidemics prior to COVID-19. He suggests we need to be prepared for more frequent Pandemics of new coronaviruses and others in the years ahead, and that this is a foretaste. So here are some recent ones:

In the 1980s AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) is the name used to describe a number of potentially life-threatening infections and illnesses that occur when the immune system has been severely damaged by the HIV virus. This virus jumped from monkeys to the human population. There is still no vaccine but good drugs.

This new 21st century has seen a succession:

SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is caused by the SARS coronavirus, known as SARS CoV. Coronaviruses commonly cause infections in both humans and animals. There have been 2 self-limiting SARS outbreaks, which resulted in a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening form of pneumonia. Both invaded the human population between 2002 and 2004. Since 2004, there have not been any known cases of SARS reported anywhere in the world. The SARS pandemic originated in China in 2002. It is thought that a strain of the coronavirus usually only found in small mammals mutated, enabling it to infect humans. It quickly spread from China to other Asian countries and there were also a small number of cases in several other countries, including 4 in the UK, plus a significant outbreak in Toronto, Canada. It was eventually brought under control in July 2003, following a policy of isolating people suspected of having the condition and screening all passengers travelling by air from affected countries for signs of the infection. In 2003, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that a novel coronavirus was identified as the causative agent for SARS. The virus was officially named the SARS coronavirus (SARS-CoV). More than 8,000 people were infected, about ten percent of whom died.

MERS (Middle East respiratory syndrome) initially called Novel Coronavirus 2012, and now officially named Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) emerged in that year. The WHO issued a global alert soon after. An update said the virus did not seem to pass easily from person to person. However, in May 2013, a case of human-to-human transmission in France was confirmed and in addition, cases of human-to-human transmission were reported in Tunisia. Two confirmed cases involved people who seemed to have caught the disease from their late father, who became ill after a visit to Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Despite this, it appears the virus had difficulty spreading from human to human, as most individuals who were infected did not transmit the virus. By 30 October 2013, there were 124 cases and 52 deaths in Saudi Arabia.

BIRD FLU, or avian flu, is an infectious type of influenza virus that spreads among birds. In rare cases, it can affect humans. There are many different strains of bird flu and most of them do not infect humans. But there are 4 strains that have caused concern in recent years:
• H5N1 (since 1997)
• H7N9 (since 2013)
• H5N6 (since 2014)
• H5N8 (since 2016)
Although H5N1, H7N9 and H5N6 do not infect people easily and are not usually spread from human to human, several people have been infected around the world, leading to a number of deaths. H5N8 has not infected any humans worldwide to date.

Bird flu in the UK. No cases reported and this includes the type of H5N6 virus recently found in humans in China. Plans are in place to manage any suspected cases. H5N8 bird flu has been found in some wild birds and poultry in the UK. H5N6 has also been found in some wild birds in the UK but is a different strain to that seen in China. It is easy to see how these viruses change character by mutations. They are spread by close contact with an infected bird (dead or alive).
This includes:
• touching infected birds
• touching droppings or bedding
• killing or preparing infected poultry for cooking
Markets where live birds are sold can also be a source of bird flu. You cannot catch bird flu through eating fully cooked poultry or eggs, even in areas with an outbreak of bird flu.

SWINE FLU (H1N1)”Swine flu” was the popular name for the virus which was responsible for a global flu outbreak (also called a Pandemic) in 2009 to 2010. It is a type of seasonal flu and is now included in the annual flu vaccine. The scientific name for swine flu is A/H1N1pdm09. It is often shortened to “H1N1”. The virus was first identified in Mexico and Southern California in April 2009. It became known as swine flu because it is similar to flu viruses that affect pigs. It spread rapidly from country to country because it was a new type of flu virus that few young people were immune to. Overall, the outbreak was not as serious as originally predicted, largely because many older people were already immune to it. Most cases in the UK were relatively mild, although there were some serious cases. On 10 August 2010, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the pandemic officially over. The A/H1N1pdm09 virus is now one of the seasonal flu viruses that circulate each winter. If you have had flu in the last few years, there is a chance it was caused by this virus. As many people now have some level of immunity to the A/H1N1pdm09 virus, it is much less of a concern than it was during 2009 to 2010. The symptoms are the same as other types of common flu. They’re usually mild and pass within 1 to 2 weeks. But as with all types of flu, some people are at higher risk of serious illness, particularly those with underlying health problems. The regular flu jab will usually protect people who are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill. A vaccine programme for children has also been introduced, which aims to protect children and reduce their ability to infect other.

EBOLA. Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) is a rare and deadly disease in people and nonhuman primates. The viruses that cause EVD are located mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. People can develop EVD through direct contact with an infected animal (fruit bat, porcupine or nonhuman primate) or a sick or dead person infected with Ebola virus. EVD, formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever, is a severe, often fatal illness affecting humans and other primates. It spreads in the human population through direct contact with the blood, secretions, organs or other bodily fluids of infected people, and with surfaces and materials (e.g. bedding, clothing) contaminated with these fluids. The average EVD case fatality rate is around 50%. Case fatality rates have varied from 25% to 90% in past outbreaks.

The first EVD outbreaks occurred in remote villages in Central Africa, near tropical rainforests. The 2014–2016 outbreak in West Africa was the largest and most complex Ebola outbreak since the virus was first discovered in 1976. There were more cases and deaths in this outbreak than all others combined. It also spread between countries, starting in Guinea then moving across land borders to Sierra Leone and Liberia. It is thought that fruit bats are natural Ebola virus hosts.

Zika virus is a mosquito-borne flavivirus that was first identified in Uganda in 1947 in monkeys. It was later identified in humans in 1952 in Uganda and the United Republic of Tanzania. Outbreaks of Zika virus disease have been recorded in Africa, the Americas, Asia and the Pacific. Brazil and South America reported about 9,071 Zika virus cases up to the end of July 27, 2019. … Some characteristics of the Brazilian epidemic were helpful in establishing the link between Zika infection and microcephaly (small brain) and other congenital malformations of the central nervous system.

So what for Arran in the next two years? Covid-19 is not going to disappear. No matter how you phrase the statistics the figures are still grim, lives lost, families in grief, hospitals stretched; other urgent medical needs on hold. Inverclyde has been the hot spot in Scotland. We cannot live in fear, but we do need to remain cautious. We hear the argument either side, both driven by fear, loss of businesses, our economic well-being on the island, versus fear of the virus coming since it is clear there are still many cases in the communities around the UK, Europe and the world. How will our medical facilities cope? Personal fear and community fear. If we stop day trippers it will seriously affect places to eat and retail. If social distancing continues, the ferry will be affected, hotels and B&Bs whilst hosting some visitors will not make a profit or grow in economic health.

I sat reading a review of Dr Rachel Clarke’s “Dear Life” and she writes so clearly that it is a fact that a whole swath of our most vulnerable citizens in the UK have been abandoned once already, to coronavirus, by the initial approaches by the government; she adds that whilst our society is endemically unequal, no one is expendable. These are 50,000 lives lost unnecessarily, often before their time and each one not just some mathematical statistic but a member of a family, a friend and part of a community. We need on Arran a good reliable, resilient and efficient test, track and isolate scheme which I understand is on its way soon. Great news! Do nothing until that is in place and we all need to support this as much as possible. Use Arran as a COVID-19 research island with background checks on all residents to begin with, but also, we need to think creatively. If this is going to continue for at least another 18 months to two years, perhaps a scheme to rent out properties to longer term tenants, frequently public employees teachers carers, health service staff, unable to source decent accommodation on the island. Long term tenants may not bring short term profitability to owners, but will provide longer term income. Solve the long term problem for the island without unnecessary building?

What is the longer term future for Arran? We will probably have to face much higher levels of unemployment, particularly with young people entering the jobs market. Do we need to advance more apprenticeships? As a community we need to think through much longer employment opportunities on the island, not just in tourism; some of the Eco Savvy proposals need to be fast tracked particularly in sustainable energy terms, perhaps promotion of local agriculture, marine environment initiatives, sustainable forestry management. We must work together, across all ages from young people in High School to vulnerable residents, across all business sectors, education and vitally health and social care too. We will all make choices on our behaviour. This is not about who has the most power, but working collaboratively. Vital for the long term health, culture and community of Arran.

Mark Honigsbaum (2019) “The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris.” Hurst Publishers. A new edition due out in June with an extra chapter on COVID-19.
Dr Rachel Clarke (2020) “Dear Life”. Little, Brown Publisher

Sally Campbell
May 2020