'We’re in fine fettle': joy on Isle of Man as Covid lockdown ends

As pubs and cafes bustle back to life, islanders are thankful for ‘that bit of water between us and UK’

The White House Hotel, a pub in the seaside town of Peel on the west coast of the Isle of Man, was bustling with life hours after the island’s coronavirus lockdown was lifted.

“It’s wonderful to be back in here,” said George Kneale, a 75-year-old blacksmith, as he sipped a pint of beer. “We’re in fine fettle. Having that bit of water between us and the UK can really help sometimes.”

Peter Halsall was doing a bit of shopping when he spotted that the pub was open. “It seemed rude not come in. It feels wonderful.”

One of the pool players in the pub, Feeagh Joughin, 19, said there was a “real buzz” around the island. He puts the Isle of Man’s success in the battle against Covid down to its size: the population is about 85,000. “It’s all about scale, isn’t it? When you’re smaller you can sort anything out.”

The Isle of Man brought in a “circuit-breaker” lockdown on 7 January following a cluster of Covid cases. On Monday, the restrictions were lifted after the government declared no community transmission was taking place.

Social distancing measures have been lifted and face coverings are no longer required. There are no time limits for exercise or leisure activities and non-essential shops have reopened, as have schools, nurseries, colleges and entertainment venues.

At Davison’s cafe and ice cream parlour on Peel promenade, pots of homemade vegetable and red pepper soup were bubbling away. Ian Davison, the director of the business, said the mood was jolly. “People are glad to be back. They don’t have to wear masks or worry about social distancing. It’s as if a weight has been lifted over everyone’s shoulders.”

Davison said he believed the Isle of Man’s government had done a good job. “I think they have been more proactive than Boris Johnson.”

The island, a self-governing British crown dependency, has not been untouched by Covid-19: there have been more than 400 cases and 25 deaths. But it maintains strict border controls and, most agree, has reacted nimbly to challenges posed by the virus.

The chief minister, Howard Quayle, praised the way islanders had responded. “There’s a collective determination, a sense of duty and community spirit. The public have followed all the rules.” He said many groups and individuals had done their bit, ranging from the rugby club that had carried out food deliveries to the arts staff who joined test-and-trace teams when their venues were closed.

Emma Callin, the head of VillaGaiety, which runs a theatre and cinema in the island’s capital, Douglas, dropped off her children before heading into the office to help with a rush for tickets. “We’re expecting all our events to be very well attended,” she said. “People are keen to get out again.”

The inner harbour in Douglas, Isle of Man
Douglas, the capital of the Isle of Man. Photograph: Nicholas Townell/Alamy

The Broadway Cinema will reopen from Friday and is showing films including the fantasy drama Come Away. Travel restrictions mean that, for now, the live productions only feature local people, but there is enough talent on the island to keep people satisfied. Forthcoming attractions include a community production of The Wizard of Oz and a ballroom competition.

“I know people are feeling very proud at what we’ve achieved,” said Callin. “The community is small, we know each other well and are good at looking after one another. It feels like we’re back to normal today.”

The rules are being strictly enforced. Dale McLaughlan, a 28-year-old who crossed the Irish Sea from Scotland on a jet ski to visit his girlfriend on the Isle of Man, was jailed for four weeks for breaching Covid-19 laws. There are also stringent rules on isolation and an efficient test-and-trace system.

Adrienne Burnett, the headteacher at Ballakermeen high school in Douglas, said the school knew how fortunate it was to be fully open. “That sentiment applies equally to our students too; they have returned determined to make the most of being in classrooms with their teachers and peers. It is very noticeable how focused the whole school is today. I didn’t realise quite how much I missed the buzz of a full school with boisterous laughter and lots of cheerful faces.”

Back over on the west coast, Peel Golf Club was busy. The secretary, Sue Milne, said members had been able to carry on playing during lockdown but in tightly controlled circumstances.

“But we’ve been completely open again today, which has been wonderful. The first golfers teed off at daybreak. I know it’s very difficult for people elsewhere who are still in lockdown. We are in awe of how lucky we are.”

Contributor

Steven Morris

The GuardianTramp

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