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Concern is growing that Arran could be hit by a second outbreak of coronavirus as the island opens up to the outside world.
There not been a new case of Covid-19 on the island for 10 weeks and health chiefs are concerned that the islanders have become complacent in sticking to the current rules and guidelines of the Scottish Government’s route map.
This is particularly worrying given the relaxation in ferry travel on Wednesday which has seen many residents travelling to the mainland for the first time in months, and the arrival of the first tourists and second home owners this weekend.
As a result an urgent public health message is being produced to re-emphasis compliance with the rules and guidance. And a visitor message is also being compiled by the Arran Recovery Group conveying that Arrran is Covid-19 free and that the island is depending on everyone, visitors and residents, to keep it that way.
Chairman Tom Tracey told the Banner: ‘If we are expecting a high degree of compliance from visitors, we need to start demonstrating it ourselves.’
Talks are also ongoing with a view to expanding Arran’s new Covid-19 testing centre at Brodick Health Centre to accommodate visitors, if needed.
Meanwhile, there was scramble for ferry tickets when the new relaxed timetable opened for bookings on Tuesday. Queuing started at Brodick Ferry Terminal half an hour before it opened at 9am and the, socially distanced, queue was soon half-way round the terminal building.
Other customers spent said they spent hours online or made many calls or faced long holds on the telephone to get a precious booking. The first visitors were also trying to book on the mainland with the Auchrannie Resort lodges and retreats reopening today (Friday) along with other self-catering accommodation.
The numbers seem fairly limited on the first weekend but it is expected to be much busier from next weekend, ahead of hotels, restaurants, bars and the rest of the tourism sector opening from July 15. Beer gardens can open from Monday.
There had been widespread condemnation of CalMac’s 14-day rolling window booking system which extends daily, but is frustrating holidaymakers who can only book the outward leg of their trip and not the return at the same time.
However, the Banner understands this procedure was agreed to allow residents an opportunity to book short-term travel and ensure essential services and supplies are being assured. All foot passengers are also strongly advised to book.
The biggest challenge to CalMac is capacity, given the government’s continued insistence of the two metre social distancing rule, but they say they are ready to move quickly if there is a change.
Talks are also continuing with groups, including the Arran Ferry Committee, on extending the use of outdoor space to extend capacity. And that remains key if Arran is to have any viable tourism in 2020 with businesses arguing that they need 50 per cent of 2019 passenger levels to survive.
As recovery group plan states: ‘We are currently 55 per cent behind last year’s tourist revenue with the balance depending on achieving the requested capacity and a booking/ticketing system, both at best, uncertain. We will continue to work on this and, in parallel, we need the government, at all levels, to urgently establish an Island Survival Plan.’
The next phase of the extended timetable was due to have been published yesterday (Thursday), after the Banner went to press. This will run from July 15 and cover the rest of the summer season till October. It will see the arrival of the second ferry, the MV Isle of Arran on the Ardrossan to Brodick route giving nine return sailings a day. The Claoniag to Lochranza service also resumes on that day but will not be bookable at present, although car passengers will remain in their cars to allow additional foot passenger capacity.
Ironically, as a result, the much smaller MV Catriona may have more capacity than the MV Caledonian Isles.
A CalMac spokesman said: ‘We are managing our bookings on a rolling two-week window because this allows us to carry the optimal number of passengers while implementing official social distancing guidelines. They’re designed to keep customers and crew safe, and they dictate the number of passengers we can carry. Our capacity per vessel is limited because of these safety measures. Should they change, our capacity per vessel will also change.