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Coronavirus / A year like no other

It is now almost a year since the first Coronavirus cases were detected in Shetland. After having been at the centre of these first cases Iain and Suzanne Malcolmson reflect on how the year has been for them.

Iain and Suzanne Malcolmson: 'Covid-19 has put things into perspective'. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

WHEN Iain and Suzanne Malcolmson touched down at Sumburgh Airport following a long weekend in Naples and Edinburgh exactly one year ago today (Wednesday), they had no idea how their lives – and everybody else’s – were about to change.

A few days later the couple were the first two local people to test positive for Covid-19.

As they went into self-isolation the number of local cases spread rapidly, making Shetland an early hotspot for the virus long before a pandemic was declared by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Staying at home for two weeks while suffering from mild Covid symptoms, the couple were at the centre of intense press scrutiny and some pretty wild social media speculation.

Being declared Covid-free around the 23 March, the Malcolmsons were ready to restart their lives at the same time the country went into lockdown.

With the first Covid anniversary approaching the couple agreed to meet up on the terrace outside their home overlooking South Nesting Bay to reflect on “a year like no other”.

“Initially I felt guilty,” Suzanne says. “I felt I had done something wrong, because –in the absence of fact – people were just making things up.

“I thought we would have to leave Shetland, as the backlash would be such that we couldn’t continue living here as people want to point fingers.”

“There is a mentality in Shetland that we are not really part of the big world, we are sort of isolated and things don’t happen to us,” Iain says, adding that on this occasion “the big bad world” came right up knocking at your door saying: “Hello, you got to deal with us.”

Stressful as the period was, they both quickly came to realise that Covid was much bigger and had nothing to do with their own behaviour and circumstances. There is also no evidence that they actually brought it in to Shetland; they easily could have picked up the virus before travelling to Italy.

“We realised it was nothing that we did wrong,” Suzanne says, “It’s just the way it is, and this is going to happen to millions of people.”

After the rollercoaster of the first few weeks, they slowly settled in to what has become the ‘new normal’ for all of us: understanding and adjusting to new rules, accepting restrictions on all aspects of life, different work arrangements and, most importantly, relationships with your nearest and dearest.

“It’s that moment in time,” Iain says, “that has enabled you to put you own life into perspective.

“I find it difficult to cope with the negativity of it all. Before the pandemic I was possibly more adept to look at the negative side of things – but that line in the sand has forced me to make a decision to decide that things can’t be that bad, and the way to get through this is being positive.”

Suzanne says there is no doubt that the last year has enabled both of them to take a step back and re-evaluate their lives.

They have been able to “put things into perspective”, where the world has grown smaller and the more personal things in life do matter a lot more.

“Once we come out of this I feel I will be better, it is almost like therapy. And it is not often in life that you get that chance,” Iain throws in.

“That’s been a real good thing about it, it forced you to look at what you have been doing before and looking ahead; a pause we have been forced to accept.”

The couple acknowledges that there are many people out there who will find it much more difficult to cope with the day-to-day challenges the pandemic throws at them.

And in the circumstances they realise how lucky they have been; their architecture business carries on, albeit through home office work mainly, their two children are both at university…and they had an unforgettable summer.

“The good thing for us was because of lockdown we were given a summer with our kids that we would not have had otherwise,” Suzanne says.

“They would have been off doing their own things, but as it was they were here, so we had this family unit which for them was maybe a bit hellish, but for us it was nice and kind of back to basic family life.

“But it could be so different, and I can’t actually imagine how difficult this is for some people. They must just be at the end of everything.

“We have our moment from time to time, but we realise that there are people much more affected.”

And the future? Yes, there will be changes, and both are convinced that they will not go back to the ‘old normal’ once lockdown restrictions ease.

“There are things you are missing, but there are also things that we did that I am not missing,” Suzanne states.

“When we lived south, before we came up here, we spent a lot of time on holiday in Scotland, camping, hill walking, but since we have been here in Shetland, and because of the cost to come off Shetland, all our holidays have pretty much been bypassing Scotland to go somewhere else, somewhere warmer and more exotic.

“Actually, you don’t have to do that!

“I like being out in the hills, I like walking, and I have done quite a lot on my own here, and it is good to know that you can.”

It’s about doing things, and doing things outside: “Probably what this thing has told me is that you have to spend more time outside,” Suzanne adds.

“Just dress properly for the weather and get out more – it would be great to think that going forward people would actually socialise outside more, get the fire burner going, have a drink outside by the fire in still nights, quite a Scandinavian thing to do.”

Scottish Parliament election, 6 May 2021