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Covid‑19

Its impact on St Helena

And by the way, the virus. They’re working hard. Looks like by April, you know, in theory, when it gets a little warmer, it miraculously goes away. I hope that’s true.{a}

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Covid‑19 impacted St Helena without actually spreading here{1}

Covid‑19

The Coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid‑19): an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, Hubei, China, and resulted in a pandemic. This page sets out a summary of the disease’s impact on St Helena from March 2020 until the time of writing and will be updated as the situation changes.

Please note that the opinions presented in the quotes from US Presdent Donald Trump are his own and do not necessarily align with scientifically accepted fact or historically verifiable reality.

Impact on St Helena

Below: 202020212022

2020

Emergency flight at the Airport, 20th April 2020
Emergency flight at the Airport, 20th April 2020{b}
2nd flight at the Airport, 31st July 2020
2nd flight at the Airport, 31st July 2020{b}

Measures to limit the spread of the Covid‑19 virus were first announced in the middle of March 2020. These included effectively closing the island to tourists and cancelling most of the island’s forthcoming social events. Interestingly, the island’s bars were not forced to close. During these announcements it was admitted that St Helena did not at that time have any kits to test for the virus - they were expected to arrive within the next two weeks (they actually arrived on 20th April). The MV Helena brought medical supplies (but no testing kits) from Ascension Island in mid-April. With South Africa on ‘lockdown’ flights to St Helena were suspended after the 13th March flight, but an emergency Airbus A318 flight from the UK, via Ghana & Ascension Island, chartered from Titan Airways, arrived on 20th April (photo, right) with testing kits, other medical equipment and a few returning Saints, all of whom were immediately placed in strict quarantine at the Bradley’s Camp. You can see a poster published by the Government of St Helena just after the Camp opened. Additional ventilators were not included in the cargo and were expected on the next call of the MV Helena. The people that arrived on the 20th April flight were released from quarantine on 5th May - untested for Covid‑19 because training in use of the testing kits had still not been completed.

On 19th May a ‘repatriation flight’ brought back Saints stranded in South Africa due to their Covid‑19 lockdown; everybody went into 14-day quarantine at Bradleys. St Helena’s Day was not formally celebrated this year due to Covid‑19 though some local events were organised despite official encouragement to follow social distancing guidelines.

On 4th June it was finally announced that Covid‑19 testing was finally operational on St Helena, eleven weeks after it had been announced that testing would be available within the next two weeks. It was confirmed at the same time that all future quarantine residents at Bradleys would be tested before being released into the community. On 24th June, with no evidence of Covid‑19 having entered St Helena, the Government of St Helena suspended Social Distancing and opened the island to anyone wishing to enter St Helena, subject to the usual 14-day Quarantine period. Flights, however, remained suspended due to restrictions in South Africa.

You know testing is a double-edged sword. Here’s the bad part. When you test to that extent, you are going to find more people, find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down please.’{c}

In July charges were announced for persons staying in quarantine at Bradleys - £30/day for Saints (£420 total), rising to £60/day (£840 total) for others - medical referrals, etc. to be exempt. A second ‘repatriation flight’, again operated by Titan Airways but this time a Boeing 757, arrived on 30th July and departed on 31st.

On 9th September the Government of St Helena announced that arrivals from Ascension Island would no longer have to go into compulsory Covid‑19 quarantine at Bradleys but would instead have to self-isolate in their homes, resulting in public outcry (which was ignored). A third Titan Airways Boeing 757 ‘repatriation flight’ operated in mid-September; the arrivals from Ascension Island were allowed to self-isolate in their own homes. This was repeated on 26th-28th October and 1st-3rd December.

In November it was announced that, with immediate effect, some people would be allowed to Self-Isolate at home rather than being forced into quarantine at Bradleys. There was considerable public concern about this decision, which was seen as a weakening of the island’s defences against Covid‑19.

2021

MV Helena
MV Helena{d}

A further ‘repatriation flight’ was operated on 11th/13th January 2021 with restricted passengers due to the new highly-infectious strain of Covid‑19 spreading in the UK (the Δ variant). The flight brought 100 doses of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, designated for front-line and health staff. On 14th January it was announced that, due to the new highly-infectious strain of Covid‑19 spreading in South Africa (the Δ variant), the MV Helena would no longer carry passengers from there to St Helena (travel to South Africa, and to and from Ascension Island was not affected).

From 18th February all outbound travellers requiring a Covid‑19 test were to be charged £75 (incoming tests remained free). The ‘repatriation flight’ operated at the end of February brought enough Oxford AstraZeneca Covid‑19 vaccine to inoculate the entire adult population. The process began immediately.

In March Executive Council, acting as the Incident Executive Group, announced that from May a quarantine-free ‘Travel Corridor’ would exist between St Helena and Ascension Island, subject to certain restrictions: persons must have spent at least two weeks on the island they are travelling from; must have had a negative Covid‑19 test 72 hours before departure; would be kept separate on the flight; and would need to follow PPE and hand-washing protocols. IEG repealed Immigration Regulations that restricted entry to St Helena with effect from 1st April 2021 and, as a result, individuals could now enter St Helena (by air or sea), subject to restricted conditions (including strict testing and a mandatory 14-day quarantine period).

In July it was reported that a person had been fined £2,000 for breaching Covid‑19 home quarantine. The vaccination programme completed on 24th April with 95.1% of the eligible population fully vaccinated, making St Helena the 2nd most vaccinated country in the world (after Gibraltar). In June it was announced that, due to the Covid‑19 situation in South Africa, the charter flights direct to the UK will continue until March 2022.

My plan: we’re gonna crush the virus very quickly. It’s happening already. It’s happening.{e}

In October, as a sign that tourism might be about to re-open after Covid‑19, Tourist Information Office representative Matt Joshua was extensively quoted in a BBC Article about yachties stranded here during the pandemic - the article is reproduced below. In late-November 2021 it was officially announced that Airlink flights were likely to resume in March 2022; the very same day the Ο variant was discovered in South Africa, putting the flight-resumption plan into question.

Two announcements at the end of December 2021 brought hope that the global pandemic might be coming to an end. The Mantis Hotel said that it would reopen in September 2022, having been temporarily closed in June 2020; and the Government of St Helena announced that the air service with Airlink would resume on 26th March 2022 with tickets going on sale from 3rd January 2022 (the monthly Titan Airways service direct to the UK would close with the 7th March service).

I came up with a vaccine, with three vaccines.{f}

2022

A yacht arrived in the first week of January but was turned away because all onboard tested positive for Covid‑19. It was confirmed on 18th January 2022 that a family in quarantine on St Helena were infected with the Ο variant of Covid‑19; the first time this has been confirmed, but not (if rumours are to be believed) the first time it has happened.

A proposed visit in March by VIPs who had requested entry without quarantine was not approved by Executive Council - the VIPs were requested to reschedule their visit for later in the year.

The final charter flight left for the UK on 9th March, prior to the resumption of flights via Johannesburg at the end of the month. The first flight via Johannesburg did indeed arrive on 26th March 2022 - services were planned to be initially fortnightly with no date announced for the resumption of weekly flights. There were no reductions in the island’s quarantine arrangements.

On 14th April it was reported that several cases of Covid‑19 had recently been identified during Home Quarantine but still none in the general community. The procedure for testing arrivals by sea (i.e. yachts) changed in April, moving from ‘last-port-of-call’ monitoring to on-board Lateral Flow self-testing.

On Tuesday 26th April Executive Council agreed a roadmap for returning the island to post-Covid‑19 normality. As a first step, with effect from the flight on Saturday 7th May all vaccinated arrivals will need only to spend seven days in quarantine (unvaccinated arrivals will still spend ten days), and the requirement for a pre-arrival negative test result was removed (tests on arrival will remain). The email, part of which is reproduced below, was issued by the Government of St Helena on 17th May and widely circulated, creating much comment on Social Media about the unique opportunity of living with Covid‑19:

SHG Crest

It has been over two years since the Covid‑19 pandemic began. St Helena’s Response Plan, as well as the cooperation of St Helena’s community, has contributed to the Island remaining free from community spread. The recent reduction in quarantine arrangements was the first step of the roadmap toward St Helena moving to a ‘new normal’ - a normal the rest of the world has labelled ‘Living with COVID’.

Over the coming months the community of St Helena has the unique opportunity to prepare for the eventuality of ‘Living with Covid‑19’.

Read More

Below: Article: The remote British island hoping to see more visitorsArticle: The island where isolation is part of everyday life

Article: The remote British island hoping to see more visitors

By Anne Cassidy, Business reporter, BBC News, 21st October 2021{2}

Alasdair and Gill Maclean say they felt a bit guilty having spent much of the past year happily living on a beautiful, tropical island, untouched by Covid‑19.

The English couple had been sailing around the world prior to the start of the pandemic, when they arrived at the British Overseas Territory island of St Helena, in the middle of the south Atlantic.

We had been due to leave 10 days later, and we ended up spending just over eight months, says Mr Maclean.

He adds that he and his wife were conflicted about updating friends back in the UK about their good fortune. How do you tell them you’re having a lovely time, freely going to restaurants, and partying when they’re all in lockdown?

Located some 1,200 miles (2,000 km) west of the African nation of Angola, and 2,500 miles east of Brazil, St Helena has a population of around 4,500 people, and is 47 sq miles (121 sq km) in size. To put that into context, it has about the same landmass as Jersey in the Channel Islands.

St Helena’s claim to fame since March 2020, is that it remains one of only a handful of places on Planet Earth to have not reported a single case of coronavirus.

This meant that when the UK government introduced its Covid traffic light system back in May, for countries (and overseas territories) that people could visit, St Helena was always one of the few on the green list - meaning you wouldn’t have to quarantine upon your return.

The island hopes that this spotlight has encouraged more potential tourists to visit.

Matthew Joshua, the St Helena Government’s head of visitor information services, says this already appears to be the case. We’re getting an increase in inquiries. It has put St Helena on the map.

But how exactly do you get to St Helena? Prior to the opening of the island’s airport in 2016 the only way to reach the island was by sea.

Then for the first year of the airport’s operation it was unusable due to safety concerns about high winds over the approach to the runway. This led to the facility, which cost the UK government £285m, being dubbed the world’s most useless airport.

However, after a number of trial flights, the airport was eventually passed as safe to use, with the first commercial flights starting in October, 2017.

Mr Joshua says the issue got unfair press coverage. We don’t have tropical storms like you do in the Caribbean, but there is wind.

Before the pandemic, St Helena was served by weekly flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town, but these routes are still on hold due to coronavirus restrictions in South Africa.

Instead, St Helena is currently served by Titan Airways charter flights every three weeks to and from London Stansted Airport.

For many people, St Helena is best-known as the place where French military and political leader Napoleon Bonaparte was exiled to, and where he died in 1821.

Visitors to the rocky, steep-sided island can see the house where he lived, which is now a museum. Other attractions include sea fishing, diving, hiking, the colonial era streets of the capital Jamestown, the warm weather, and exploring the fauna and flora - the island is home to more than 500 species of plants and animals not found anywhere else.

Back in 2019, St Helena had 5,135 overnight visitors, plus the odd day-visit by cruise ships. This number then fell to 2,071 in 2020, mostly before the end of March, and then down to 696 from January to July of this year.

Currently all visitors have to quarantine for 10 days.

The island has just two hotels, which remain closed. Sasha Ella, communications manager for the largest - Mantis St Helena Hotel - says that times have been tough, and they will only return to normal when the world puts coronavirus behind it.

It is our feeling that when access and frequency of the flights to the island, and relaxation to the quarantine restrictions, take place, only then will a positive effect be felt on the island, she says.

St Helena also has a number of private guest houses.

Another very remote, and Covid‑19-free British island that was permanently on the UK government’s green list, is South Georgia. Located in the south Atlantic, some 800 miles south east of the Falkland Islands, it is 1,362 sq miles (3,528 sq km) in size.

Only accessible by sea, the island has no permanent human population. Instead there are two government officers, and two dozen or so staff from the British Antarctic Survey, the UK’s polar research institute.

Like St Helena, South Georgia is now waiting for tourists to return. Prior to the pandemic, it would be visited by cruise ships going to and from the coast of Antarctica.

In the summer of 2019/2020 (its summer is during winter in the UK) it had 12,568 visitors, but this fell to just two people in 2020/21.

In a normal year, tourism accounts for around 20% of our income, says Ross James, visitor management & bio-security officer for the Government of South Georgia & the South Sandwich Islands.

The island has no overnight accommodation available for visitors, who instead only stay for a few hours, and have to follow strict rules during their visit designed to safeguard the natural habitat.

Prior to their arrival people are also encouraged to watch a video guide to the region, narrated by David Attenborough.

All cruise firms that travel to South Georgia are members of the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators. Amanda Lynnes, the organisation’s director of environment & science coordination, has this advice for visitors: Use your experience to be an ambassador for South Georgia’s continued protection.

South Georgia has dramatic snow-topped mountains for visitors to see amid cold temperatures - even in its summer months it struggles to go above 6C.

By contrast, St Helena enjoys highs of 34C. Yet Mr Maclean says it is not just the pleasant weather that makes it special. St Helena is up there as one of the friendliest communities in the world, he says.

Article: The island where isolation is part of everyday life

By Mike MacEacheran, 7th August 2020{2}

Geography has shaped the way of life and culture of far-flung St Helena for centuries. Now, cut-off from the world again because of Covid‑19, how is the tiny British Overseas Territory surviving?

St Helena is the other side of British life, the one that very few travellers ever see.

It is a place of unimaginable extremes with sub-Saharan savannah, Jurassic rainforest and English country gardens. It exists in a bubble, a headache-inducing distance off the coast of southwest Africa in the middle of the South Atlantic. Go farther west and you are on a coconut-fringed bay in Brazil. Neighbours here aren’t easily won.

St Helena came to tourism only in 2018, when direct flights from South Africa made it easier to get to and from Europe. The resulting connections, via Johannesburg and Cape Town, saw visitor numbers sharply rise. Last year, more than 5,100 arrived for wildly-remote hiking, scuba diving and out-of-this-world stargazing.

Even so, Covid‑19 has abruptly stopped all that. The island remains cut off - lock, stock and barrel - with international flights not expected to resume for some time from the new terminal at Bradley’s Camp. But that’s just the beginning of the problems for the island’s fledgling tourism industry. St Helena is already one of the most isolated islands on earth, but it’s also one of the last places with zero Covid‑19 cases. Currently, ‘welcome’ is a dirty word.

Struggling to stay afloat

For Colin and Marlene Yon, who run The Town House guesthouse amid the historic swirl of island capital Jamestown, the local industry could take years to recover. As much as we want the virus kept away from the island, it’s a real drain for the business, says Colin. The last time we had a booking was back in March. No one is making any money here right now.

The field has never been truly level for St Helena and there is a definite sense that the future is fragile. To survive, the Yons have repositioned the hotel as a takeaway. We’re doing curries, fishcakes, tuna, wahoo - the market is flooded with fish right now because there’s more than islanders could ever eat, says Colin. But there are also real food shortages and shopkeepers are enforcing rationing. Potatoes and rice are like gold.

Considering how isolated St Helena is from the rest of the world, the global pandemic continues to have a knock-on effect on daily life. Covid‑19 remains absent, but social distancing was in full effect until recently, with islanders - or Saints as they’re also known - acting as if the island was in the throes of an epidemic. Which is just as well: because with its elderly population, any outbreak would be devastating. Health resources on the island are finite.

Plenty of other tourism businesses are feeling the impact too. South African-born brothers Keith and Craig Yon, who run diving and deep-sea fishing operation Into the Blue, have also moved into the food business. Until March, however, their whale shark snorkelling tours were wowing wide-eyed visitors. Now? Nothing.

The story is the same right across the island, says Shelley Magellan Wade, St Helena Tourism supervisor. We remain open and we are accepting visitors, but any travel here is classified as non-essential. So it’s come to a complete halt. As a safety precaution, local government restrictions continue to enforce two weeks of quarantine, barring time spent at sea.

Unexpected guests

Two British sailors who did arrive, however, have since decided to stay longer than first planned. They anchored for a two-day stopover, but have been here for three months now, says Shelley. They planned to sail onwards to Brazil, but instead have integrated into island life, renting a house and helping out in the grocery store.

As for the future, St Helena Tourism is working on a new post-COVID 19 recovery strategy, including creating a virtual tour so the rest of the world doesn’t forget about the far-flung outpost.

What is also new is the attitude: islanders once resistant to change are now full-heartedly embracing an outward-looking approach, After two years of regular flights, we stopped feeling so isolated, says Shelley. We’ve become used to a constant supply of visitors and goods. All those little things that we took for granted are sorely missed now.

Oh, and there is another silver lining: the island has grown far closer as a community, with the buzz words being solidarity, connectivity and communal goodwill. The distilled essence of St Helena - the warmth and hospitality Saints are famous for - is a singular reminder that this remote outpost will survive, as it has done since the 16th century. For me, our isolation has been our saving grace, concludes Shelley. Now, there’s more appreciation for what we have and it’s made us realise how fortunate we are.

St Helena’s allure is to witness a different way of life and the island’s pipsqueak size helps pare down that relentless holiday urge to see everything. Here, you really can do it all.

Plus, fair dues to the Saints. To build a tourist industry at the end of the world takes guts. And it’s going to take far more than a global pandemic to stop them from doing that.

LOL

Credits:
{a} US Presdent Donald Trump, 10th February 2020#{b} St Helena Airport Limited{c} US Presdent Donald Trump, 23rd June 2020#{d} Government of St Helena{e} US Presdent Donald Trump, 14th October 2020#{f} US Presdent Donald Trump, 23rd December 2020#

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Footnotes:
{1} Statement correct at the time of writing.{2} @@RepDis@@

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