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

Settlement exits Lock-down and MFV Edinburgh reaches Cape Town

 
Tristan da Cunha crest
Update from Steve Townsend on 30th July 2021

When the MFV Edinburgh arrived in 19th July 2021, a number of positive COVID cases were discovered on the vessel. We subsequently decided, on medical advice, to land those passengers who tested negative and allow the vessel to return to Cape Town without off-loading. As a precaution, the settlement of Edinburgh of the Seven Seas went into lock-down on 20th July 2021 for 10 days, and all social activity was stopped. On 29th July, the doctors re-tested all the passengers who had come ashore, and all tested negative. So the lock-down was lifted on 30th July, and the settlement returned more or less to normal.

The Edinburgh has finally reached Cape Town and completed its period of quarantine outside the harbour. It should be docking today (30th July). A majority of those on the vessel tested positive on arrival, and the most unwell were taken ashore separately earlier in the week.

The incident has been a salutary lesson for the island. It was fortunate that Penny Granger, our visiting dentist who was on the vessel, had lateral flow test kits, and was able to test the passengers and crew, and also to identify how much the coronavirus had spread on the vessel.

We would like to thank the medical staff who continued to work during the lock-down, including home visits where required, Lorraine Repetto and her family for arranging delivery of essential orders from the shop during the period, Martin Green who arranged deliveries of supplies from the Agricultural Shop, and all those who were called out to assist their fellow islanders during the lock-down. Some of the essential work had to continue, and we are grateful to those such as Jerry Green and Jimmy Rogers who continued to look after the island's livestock.

Special thanks must also go to the crew of the barge who went out to bring the four passengers ashore, despite their concerns over the virus: Andrew Green, John Lavarello, Nicky Swain and Adrian Swain. Before the settlement-wide lock-down had been imposed, they were willing to go into isolation to assuage the concerns of the islanders.

There are a number of lessons to be learned from this experience, and the Island Council has already met to discuss this. The lock-down was observed well by the majority of the population, but there were some breaches. The island is also looking again at the COVID isolation protocols for all visitors, and we will update the website once these have been agreed.

July MFV Edinburgh voyage curtailed by Covid

 
Tristan da Cunha crest
Report by Administrator Steve Townsend on 21st July 2021

MFV Edinburgh arrived from Cape Town on Monday 19th July 2021 with six passengers aboard. All the passengers were tested for Covid-19 when the vessel arrived, and before any disembarkation started.

Two passengers tested positive. Further tests confirmed those results, and a number of the Edinburgh's crew also tested positive. In view of that, and the shortage of equipment to treat that number of cases on the island, it was decided that the Edinburgh should return to Cape Town immediately.

Before that happened, and following medical advice from here and Cape Town, the passengers who tested negative came ashore, and have now gone into isolation. These included two returning islanders. The barge crew who went out to off-load the passengers were wearing full PPE kit, and all the luggage brought ashore was cleaned down by the doctors and me. So all risks were reduced to the very minimum.

All four passengers have now tested negative on four occasions.

The island has now gone into isolation, as a precaution. The pub will be closed, and there will be no church services on Sunday. The shop is also closed, and anyone who wants purchase will have to contact the shop staff who will deliver it to their gate. We expect this isolation to last until 29th July (ie return to normality on 30th July).

We were not able to off-load any of our supplies from the Edinburgh, so we might face some shortages in the near future. We are working out rations at the moment.

Further updates will be made on the website in due course.

Covid-19 vaccinations Start on Tristan

Photographs from Fiona Kilpatrick

Following the delivery of coronavirus vaccine to Tristan by HMS Forth on 21st April 2021, the first COVID-19 vaccinations have been administered at the hospital.  We are so grateful to all those who made this possible.

Tristanians attend the hospital for their COVID-19 vaccinations A Tristanian receives his first COVID-19 vaccination at the hospital.
Members of the community attend the hospital for their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine.

Tristan Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: April 2021

Tristan da Cunha CrestStatus update from Administrator Steve Townsend on the 23rd April 2021

This bulletin updates the status report we published in July 2020.

We are delighted to announce that our supplies of COVID-19 vaccines have arrived at Tristan da Cunha. We have received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, as the other options have to be transported at ultra-low temperatures which would not have been possible for our supply chain. Even with the AZ vaccine, the logistical difficulties in transporting them here were huge, as they had to be kept in closely monitored fridges all through the voyage. If the temperature went above 8 degrees the vaccines would have been rendered useless. In the end, the vaccines were flown to the Falkland Islands, and brought here by the Royal Navy. We are very grateful to all those involved in planning the logistics, and especially to the officers and crew of HMS Forth for delivering them on the final leg. We had our hearts in our mouths during the off-loading the vaccines from HMS Forth into the island's RIBs. It would have been a minor disaster if the operation had failed at the last moment, but they were brought safely ashore, and put in the hospital fridge. We have also received lateral flow test kits, so we will be able to test people for COVID. However, as we still do not have an Intensive Care Unit we are vulnerable should the infection reach the island.

Tristan's medical team
The medical team, who will be administering the vaccine.
The medical team will start vaccinations in the week beginning 26 April. We hope that the large majority of the island's adult population will have the vaccination, and that we will be able to look forward to a post-COVID world. We would not be in a position to review our quarantine and isolation regulations until the community here had received both vaccines, which would be in about 8 weeks. However we are still very dependent on the situation in South Africa, so we will continue to take sensible precautions, based on the medical advice at the time, and bearing in mind the infection and vaccination situation in South Africa.

Following the sinking of the MFV Geo Searcher we are continuing with only the MFV Edinburgh for the moment. She has been bringing in supplies, and is currently finishing off the fishing round the outer islands for the season. She will then continue with the cargo and passenger voyages, and we are currently looking at one sailing leaving Cape Town in late May 2021, and the next at the beginning of July. We also hope to see the SA Agulhas II in early October.

We have continued to be able to send people to Cape Town for medical treatment. This has been an important life-line for us. We have also been able to bring in a new doctor and nurse, an occupational therapist and a couple of marine biologists over the past few months. These have all been from South Africa, as direct travel between the UK and South Africa has been disrupted, and all had to undergo full testing and isolation protocols.

The RSPB team based on Gough have been carefully following all the COVID protocols. When the SV Urchin arrived at Tristan to pick up the Tristanians who were joining the project, they had already gone through the full quarantine period before setting off from South Africa.

We are not yet in a position to welcome visitors given the limited capacity on the vessels, nor are we able to welcome passing yachts.

The good news is that we have a number of provisional bookings for cruise liners for early 2022. This demonstrates the greater optimism in the global cruise industry, and we will hopefully be able to welcome these visitors once again to the islands.

It is much too early to say that we are returning to normal. But every step forward is a positive sign.

Stephen Townsend
Administrator
Tristan da Cunha

HMS Forth Delivers Coronavirus Vaccines to Tristan

Report from Fiona Kilpatrick, with addition photos from Randal Repetto and Sally Wonner

Wednesday 21st April 2021 was an exciting day on Tristan da Cunha, because the offshore patrol vessel HMS Forth arrived with Tristan's supply of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Getting the vaccines to Tristan quickly proved difficult because of the island's remoteness. They first had to be flown to the Falkland Islands before being picked up by HMS Forth for the final leg. Dr Alex Wonner and the Administrators Fiona Kilpatrick & Steve Townsend went out to collect the ship's doctor and the vaccine. The vaccines arrived safely at Camogli Healthcare Centre, and our team of medics will be starting on the vaccination programme as soon as possible.

The vaccines are delivered to the dispensary at the Camogli Healthcare Centre

The ship's doctor from HMS Forth delivers the vaccines to Vera Glass at the dispensary at the Camogli Healthcare Centre watched by Dr Alex Wonner and Administrator Fiona Kilpatrick.

HMS Forth anchored off the harbour

HMS Forth anchored off Calshot harbour

Co-Administrators Fiona Kilpatrick and Steve Townsend, and Dr Alex Wonner head for HMS Forth on an island RIB

Co-Administrators Fiona Kilpatrick & Steve Townsend, and Dr Alex Wonner head for HMS Forth on an island RIB

The vaccines are lowered down to the waiting RIB

The vaccines are lowered down to the waiting RIB

HMS Forth

HMS Forth

We are very grateful to everyone at the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force, the FCDO, and many others who completed this logistics challenge so smoothly. We wish everyone on HMS Forth safe travels.

International COVID-19 Lockdowns Affect Tristan Mail

Mail from Tristan to certain countries is currently being held back because virus restrictions prevent the South African Post Office from dispatching it onward.
9-Apr-2021
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Baltic Trader returns to Tristan service

The Baltic Trader departed Tristan for Cape Town on 26th January 2021
28-Jan-2021
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MFV Geo Searcher Voyage Delayed

The August 2020 voyage will be delayed due to the impact of pandemic precautions on crew movements.
3-Aug-2020
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Tristan Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update, July 2020

Tristan da Cunha CrestInformation from Administrator Steve Townsend on the 29th July 2020
 

This bulletin updates the status report we published in May 2020.

The island continues to remain free of COVID-19. Although there is no social distancing on the island itself, we like to think that 1,500 miles of South Atlantic pushes the concept to the extreme. We continue to monitor the situation in South Africa very closely, because it impacts on the island. We are keen that those Tristanians who are currently at Tristan House in Cape Town are able come back in the Geo Searcher in August. It was a great pity that they were not able to make the July Edinburgh sailing, but the party had to go into quarantine when one of them tested positive just before they joined the boat. But hopefully they are all now healthy, and we look forward to welcoming them back.

The July Edinburgh trip was the first since April, and we needed the supplies of food, fuel and medicine. The weather did not cooperate for a long time, and the vessel spent over two weeks off-shore. But fortunately there was a break in the weather over the weekend of 18th & 19th July, and we were able to complete the off-loading. So we now have enough food, fuel and medical supplies to last for a few months. The hospital has additional oxygen concentrators, which will also help. If the lock-down in South Africa affects our supply line again, the island has enough stock for four to six months. Rationing has now been lifted. We even have enough toilet rolls! There is still a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables as we made a decision to use the space for non-perishables, and the Edinburgh also did not carry any alcohol.

We hope to be able to refill all our stocks with the August Geo Searcher, and then look forward to have the Edinburgh coming out again in September and November. The SA Agulhas II will also be visiting in September, but the lock-down in South Africa means that it will not be carrying passengers.

Economic Impact

Like the rest of the world, the island will continue to feel the economic impact of the COVID-19 crisis. The global lobster market has been impacted, we continue to be closed to visiting cruise liners and yachts, and the closure of the South African Post Office has reduced the sales of stamps. So, like many other places around the world, we will have to tighten our belts for the next couple of years. It is impossible to say how much we will be affected, or when we will come out of it, but we have to be realistic about the challenges ahead.

However the fishing season has started again as planned on 1 July - although the bad weather has meant that there have been no fishing days yet! We would also like to be in a position to be able to welcome those cruise liners which would like to visit next year, and will continue to monitor the global situation and the prevalent medical advice to see how we might be able to open our doors again. Unfortunately the only visitor to the island since April was one of the crew of the Edinburgh who was taken seriously ill with a heart attack and had to be brought ashore to be examined by our doctors. After consultation with the cardiologists in South Africa he was able to return on the ship. Please visit our separate report about the Medical Emergency on the MFV Edinburgh for more details.

We hope that all our family and friends are staying safe.

Mid-Winter 2020 Edinburgh Voyage

Arrival back in Cape Town at the end of the voyage.
27-Jul-2020
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First Overseas Territories Virtual Meeting

Tristan matters to the fore
6-Jul-2020
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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.

Clap for Carers

Report from Sam Lowe and photos from Fiona Kilpatrick

On Tristan da Cunha we are thankfully Covid-19 free however the island wished to pay tribute to all NHS staff and key workers during the current pandemic.

On the 30th April 2020 we gathered together by the famous Tristan da Cunha sign where children from St Mary’s School proudly displayed their hand painted rainbows and signs. This was followed by loud clapping as the community paid tribute to all those supporting others in the U.K and wider world.

The thoughts and wishes of Tristan da Cunha are with you all during these challenging times.

Members of the community together with children from St Mary's School displaying their message of thanks

COVID-19 and Post from Tristan

The global coronavirus pandemic is disrupting post from Tristan, which goes via South Africa.
7-May-2020
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Gough project team members return home by sea and air

Tricky return journeys via Ascension Island and Cape Town
29-Apr-2020
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Governor's Easter Message

Dr Philip Rushbrook sends a special Tristan message
14-Apr-2020
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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.