News of how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting Tristan da Cunha.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) Situation on Tristan

Tristan da Cunha CrestInformation from Administrator Steve Townsend on the 14th May 2020
 

We are the most remote inhabited island in the world, with a population of about 250 people. As our nearest neighbour is over 1,200 miles away, we are used to quite a lot of isolation! However we still follow the news on the television, and are very concerned about the risk of the virus reaching the island. We are still coronavirus free, and we are keen that it stays like that.

Travel to and from Tristan

The island does not have an airport and visitors can only arrive by boat. The Island Council decided in March that we would not allow any vessels to land visitors (except in an emergency). So the only vessels that are allowed to come to the island are our supply vessels from South Africa, which are run by Ovenstones, the company that operates the lobster factory. They bring all our supplies including food, fuel, medical supplies and building materials. They also bring back Tristanians who are in South Africa for medical treatment. The last boat arrived in April, and the next is expected to leave Cape Town with passengers and cargo on 19th June.

The only route off the island is also by boat to South Africa. However it is very difficult to enter South Africa at the moment because of the measures they have put in place to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

We do not know about future shipping dates yet. Everything is up in the air in South Africa at the moment, so we do not have any firm dates, nor do Ovenstones. Much will depend on a number of external factors, including how the virus is affecting South Africa and what quarantine/isolation restrictions there are in place. We will say more when we have more clarity. This will also potentially affect sailing dates for the annual Agulhas II voyage, normally in September.

Preventative Measures

We only have limited medical facilities on the island, so it is important to prevent the virus from arriving. The island is discussing the arrangements to ensure incoming passengers are free from the Covid-19 virus with the South African authorities and the shipping company. The sailing time from South Africa to Tristan da Cunha is a minimum of 7 days, so we ensure that those arriving on the regular sailing vessels have spent the correct time in quarantine, either by self-isolation in their homes on arrival or quarantine before sailing. In April, we also made sure that all the Tristanians unloading the cargo were protected with masks and gloves, and there was the minimum of contact between the boat's crew and the Tristanians unloading. (The harbour here is too small for the supply vessel to come alongside, so passengers and cargo are unloaded from the boat onto a barge, which take them into the harbour.) All passengers were also checked on arrival by our resident doctors. The procedures worked for the last boat, and we are still COVID-free. We have received support from the British Government in the form of PPE equipment sent on the last boat, and we expect to get a ventilator in June.

Effects on the Economy

Like the rest of the world, Tristan da Cunha will be affected by the coronavirus. The global economic slowdown will have an impact on the sale of lobster (the island's main export). It is more difficult for us to obtain the goods we need from South Africa because they have been in lockdown. As reported last week, we are also unable to send out Tristan stamps because the South African postal service has been suspended.

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Coronavirus Update - Tristan free of Covid-19 cases

Tristan da Cunha Coronavirus Update: 10th April 2020

The Tristan da Cunha island community, consisting presently of 253 people, 230 resident islanders and 23 expatriates, is free from cases of coronavirus Covid-19 at present. 16 resident islanders are currently overseas: 9 in England and 7 in South Africa.

Visits Suspended

On 9th March the Tristan da Cunha Island Council made the decision not to allow passengers to disembark from visiting cruise ships or yachts which may call at the island until further notice. Therefore, visits ashore by cruise Le Lyrial and Silver Cloud in early March and Plancius scheduled for 12-15 April were cancelled.

Geo Searcher March April Voyage

The scheduled visit of the Ovenstone fishing vessel MFV Geo Searcher was carefully managed.
Passengers, all returning resident islanders, were assessed by medical staff on arrival on 21st March and were all found to be well after the seven-day passage from Cape Town. Despite seeming to be well, they entered an isolation period during which their health continued to be monitored. On Friday 27th March they were free to enter into normal village life, some 14 days after departure from Cape Town.

The MFV Geo Searcher departed from Tristan da Cunha on 4th April.

A number of people who had planned to travel back to South Africa, including both expats and islanders requiring medical treatment, decided to postpone their journeys and stayed on the island rather than go to Cape Town or on to the UK.

Future shipping

Now the 2019-2020 fishing season is complete, and as Tristan prepares for winter, this is a quiet time on the island and the next scheduled ship is two months away as MFV Edinburgh is expected to start a return passenger and cargo trip on 14th June. Any special arrangements to ensure incoming passengers are free from the Covid-19 virus will be made in due course, informed by developments in the outbreak in the coming weeks.

It will be management of those who may travel on the incoming voyages of MFV Geo Searcher, MFV Edinburgh and particularly SA Agulhas II (usually with about 40 Tristan passengers) scheduled for August and early September which bring the geatest risk of introducing the Covid-19 virus. Nevertheless, there is time to assess the situation and those planning to travel should be in touch with the island.

Island Life

Day to day life on Tristan continues normally, with the extended Easter break able to be enjoyed by the community by attending gatherings in homes, church services and looking after their stocks of cattle, sheep and poultry. All are able to move freely around the Settlement Plain without the restrictions that affect daily life in many other parts of the world.

Island Council takes steps to protect island from coronavirus

Tristan da Cunha Government announces ban on visitors due to coronavirus contagion fears

The Tristan da Cunha Island Council made the decision on Monday 9th March 2020 to not allow passengers to disembark from visiting cruise ships at the island. There were three cruise ships booked to call at Tristan this season: Le Lyrial and Silver Cloud in early March and Plancius scheduled for 12-15 April. The companies and ships concerned have been made fully aware of the decision.

The isolated Tristan da Cunha community is particularly vulnerable to the introduction of any new virus as there is very limited immunity amongst the people. Therefore, even with common colds, epidemics occur locally which cause the hospitalisation of the most vulnerable.

In fact, a Tristan flu epidemic, probably introduced from the last ship visit, affected the island in early March. This has put pressure on Tristan da Cunha’s healthcare services and so steps must be taken now to minimise the risk for coronavirus to be introduced to the island by visitors.

The coronavirus is particularly serious for older people and Tristan’s population has a disproportionate proportion of older people, many of whom have underlying respiratory disease which places them in the most at-risk group.

The ban will apply until further notice and will also extend to any other ad hoc visiting vessels, eg yachts. Crews of yachts needing urgent assistance should contact the island in advance using the detailed advice on the website: www.tristandc.com/visitsships.yachts

It is reassuring that everybody has been supportive and understanding that the decision needed to be taken. The coronavirus has now been declared a global pandemic and now that the TV service has been reinstated to the island following 2019 storm damage islanders are fully aware of the effect on other communities across the globe. Clearly every country is making their own decisions to protect citizens and Tristan’s new policy will come as no surprise at this time.