Proposals for a revised approach to easing the Island’s border restrictions will go before Tynwald this week.
The Government’s COVID-19 Exit Framework set out the aim of removing travel restrictions for journeys between the Isle of Man and the rest of the British Isles by Monday 28 June.
The delta variant of COVID-19 – now the predominant strain of the virus in the UK – appears to be easier to catch and is more likely to lead to hospitalisation than previous variants, where someone has not been vaccinated. Given an uplift in cases in the UK, and the North West in particular, and a rise in hospitalisations as a result, the Council of Ministers believes it would be premature to remove the Island’s remaining border restrictions at the end of this month without further mitigations.
Due to the spread of the delta variant, England, Jersey and Guernsey have all announced changes to their plans for borders or reopening in recent days.
The revised approach to the Island’s borders, subject to Tynwald approval, would see restriction-free travel for both residents and non-residents from the UK and Ireland who have had both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at least a two weeks ahead of their proposed arrival. This significantly reduces the likelihood of someone spreading the virus and of them becoming seriously ill.
Existing arrangements will remain in place for those who have not yet received both doses of vaccine.
Chief Minister, Howard Quayle MHK, said:
'We remain firmly committed to restoring unrestricted travel within the British Isles and welcoming visitors to our Island. I know how important this is to residents and our economy. But we have always been clear that any decision will need to be based on data, not dates.
'The exit framework, approved by Tynwald, clearly sets out a number of considerations we must take into account before lifting our remaining border restrictions. These include progress with the vaccination programmes in the UK, Ireland and the Crown dependencies, as well as infection levels and – crucially – the emergence of any variants of the virus that give cause for concern.
'The Manx public will undoubtedly be familiar with the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the UK, particularly of the delta variant. Now the predominant strain, the delta variant is causing an uplift in case numbers and hot spots emerging, notably in the North West of England.
'Whilst we must learn to live in a world with COVID – where we focus on levels of serious illness and hospital capacity rather than raw case numbers – we must tread carefully and not risk all we have gained, particularly as we complete our vaccination programme.'
The evidence suggests that the vaccines are less effective against the delta variant after only one dose, but that they continue to provide broadly the same level of protection after the second dose. Further recent evidence encouragingly suggests that the vaccines are highly effective at reducing the risk of serious illness and hospitalisation when someone has the delta variant.
The Chief Minister continued:
'The timing of further changes to our border restrictions must take account of changes in circumstance. A short delay to removing our remaining border restrictions will enable us to learn more about the delta variant and, crucially, to deliver more second doses of vaccine.
'Subject to Tynwald approval, Island residents who are fully vaccinated will however see an improvement with the ability to travel unrestricted. They will also see an improvement in the way in which contact tracing identifies, tests and isolates anyone who is a close contact of a positive case. Where someone is fully vaccinated two weeks previously, they will not need to be tested or isolate.
'This change would have a significant impact on the number of people indirectly isolating during any outbreak and again is another reason why we are asking everyone who can, to come forward for vaccination.'
If the proposed measures are passed by Tynwald, the Chief Minister will hold a live COVID-19 briefing later in the week and full details of the proposed changes will be made available at www.gov.im/covid by the end of the week.