How the world's islands are coping with COVID-19

·3 min read

In centuries past, the world's islands were used during times of plagues to quarantine the sick. Now, researchers are looking at the way islands, including P.E.I., have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 16 islands responded to a call for data from the Institute of Island Studies at UPEI, which is working on the research project with Scotland's University of Strathclyde's centre for environmental law and governance.

"The idea behind this is to provide a very short, almost like sort of a report or vignette, only two to three pages, on some of the facts on what's happening," Jim Randall, chair of the Institute of Island Studies at UPEI, told Island Morning host Mitch Cormier.

"What sectors that have been most affected in each of those islands, and maybe some of the innovative things that the islands do as they look toward sort of reopening the island post-pandemic."

The series of island insights will feature two islands every two weeks starting Nov. 1 on the Institute of Island Studies' website. The first two islands are Malta off the south coast of Sicily and the Egadi Islands off Sicily's west coast.

Looking at tourism differently in future

As on Prince Edward Island, tourism has been adversely affected on those islands, Randall said.

Institute of Island Studies
Institute of Island Studies

However in Malta, residents said they are enjoying the less congested streets and lower pollution, and so are considering thinking about tourism a little differently in the future.

"That might mean putting restrictions on the number of tourists, or the congestion — or how many tourists in a certain area," Randall said. "Because they've gotten accustomed to what you might call a greener type of tourism."

The Egadi Islands have gone through waves of COVID-19 infections, he said. After completely closing off to outside visitors and eliminating new cases, then opening up to travellers and seeing a resurgence of the illness, officials there are now considering ways to spread out the tourism season.

"Looking at more high-end tourists in the tourist market, as opposed to the sun and sea tourists," he said.

Tourism, fishing hit hard

In northern Scotland, the Shetland Islands also rely on tourism but also have a large fishing industry, which was drastically affected by the pandemic lockdown — they couldn't export to major markets in continental Europe. The sector is now beginning to recover, Randall said, but is nowhere near pre-pandemic levels.

Trinidad and Tobago were hit with a "double whammy" of the pandemic and low oil prices — their economy relies heavily on revenues from oil exploration, he said. Officials there are trying to figure out how to pay for money they're having to pump into the economy due to COVID-19.

In many of the cases, islands have not taken a bubble approach like P.E.I. has, requiring visitors to quarantine for two weeks. This has resulted in community spread from travellers on those islands, Randall said.

Caribbean islands such as Jamaica and St. Lucia have attempted to restart tourism using a variety of measures, such as restricting visitors to certain areas, or requiring tourists to have negative COVID-19 tests before arriving. However even pre-pandemic, these islands were in debt, and spending on the pandemic has created a burden that could take decades to repay, Randall said.

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