Information 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.
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.