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Chief Minister Press Briefing on COVID-19: 3 January 2021

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Good morning everyone and thank you for watching and listening – Happy New Year.

Today I am joined by the Minister for Health and Social Care David Ashford and our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.

On New Year’s Eve the Government announced that two people had tested positive for COVID-19.  What made these positive results unusual was they came after the two individuals had completed a fourteen day period of isolation because they had travelled to the Island.

The news has caused some concern in our community, which is completely understandable.  A risk in managing a response to any pandemic is that the public become complacent – or, worse – indifferent.  It is both encouraging and reassuring to see that our community remains vigilant and engaged in our efforts to keep the Island COVID-free.  Thank you.

Before I go into detail, I want to make it clear that the two individuals who tested positive, followed all of the rules and have done all that has been asked of them.  Upon arrival to the Island they self-isolated, as required, and did so for the specified period.  There has been a great deal of speculation over the past two days about these two cases, especially on social media.  For these two individuals, I am sure it is not easy when the local community is discussing your actions and movements, understandable though this is.  Both individuals are – of course – self-isolating again because of their positive test results.  I am sure you will all join me in wishing them well and in thanking them for being responsible and following the rules.

What I want to do this morning is talk to you about three things.  The first is to go over exactly what has happened.  The second is to explain our response.  And the third is to detail what happens next.

Before I go on to this, I want to reassure you that this briefing is not building up to bad news.  On Saturday and Sunday, we received three-hundred and ninety-eight tests results.  Many of these were from people who had come forward as a result of our announcement on New Year’s Eve.  I am pleased to advise you that all three-hundred and ninety-eight test results have come back negative.  As of last night, all swabs had been processed and test results reported.  There will, of course, be more swabbing today and tomorrow.  These results do not mean that we can say that there has been no community transmission, but I am sure you will agree that the results – in such a significant number – are an encouraging sign.

So then, let me set out exactly what has happened.

The two individuals who tested positive, arrived in the Isle of Man, accompanied by another person, on Thursday the 10 December.  All three began the required fourteen day period of self-isolation in shared accommodation.  Having displayed no symptoms of the virus, the self-isolation period ended at noon on Wednesday the 23 December and all three individuals were free to go about their business. 

On Wednesday the 30 December, one of the individuals called the COVID-111 service to report that they had COVID-like symptoms.  They were told to self-isolate and were booked in for a test.

That test result came back the next day – New Year’s Eve – and was found to be positive.  The individual was required to self-isolate and the contact tracing process began.  Eight close contacts were initially identified.

As a reminder, a close contact is someone who is at high risk of exposure to the virus and therefore more likely to catch it.  Like many countries, we use the guidance set out by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.  The ECDC’s definition of close contact covers a number of different scenarios, such as face-to-face contact for fifteen minutes or longer at a distance of less than two metres apart, or people who live together, for example.

All eight individuals were quickly contacted and served direction notices to self-isolate and were offered tests, of which all availed themselves.

The 111 team, the swabbing team, and the team in the lab at Noble’s Hospital pulled out all the stops to get the swabs taken and the tests processed that same day, for which I thank them.

Seven of the tests came back negative and one came back positive, although that individual had no symptoms of the virus.  All continue in self-isolation regardless.

The contact tracing process identified a number of locations that the two individuals who tested positive had visited between their initial period of self-isolation ending on Wednesday the 23 December and them being required to self-isolate again.

The locations, dates and times of the visits the public need to be aware of were as follows:

“A Café” on Duke Street in Douglas on Wednesday the 23 December between 12:30 pm and 1.10 pm.  Also on Wednesday the 23 December, the Terrace Chippy on Prospect Terrace in Douglas between 7.40 pm and 8.40 pm.

On Thursday the 24 December, the Majestic Chinese Restaurant on Central Promenade in Douglas between 7.30 pm and 8.30 pm.

And on Saturday the 26 December, the 1886 bar, grill and cocktail lounge on Regent Street in Douglas between 11.00 pm and 2.00 am the next morning.

On New Year’s Day the details of two further locations were released. 

The casino at the Best Western Palace Hotel on Central Promenade in Douglas on Thursday the 24 December between 9:00 pm and 10:00 pm and again on Monday the 28 December between 8:15 pm and 9:45 pm.

And finally, on Tuesday the 29 December, Robinsons on Cooil Road in Braddan between 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm.

We identified only one close – or high risk – contact from these venues – taking the total to nine.  They are self-isolating and, I am pleased to say, have tested negative for the virus.

If you were at these locations, on the dates and at the times I have stated you are at low-risk.  This includes staff.  However, if you have any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 – now or in the coming days – then please self-isolate and contact the COVID-111 service to notify them, to get advice, and to arrange for a test should you want one.

If you were there but have no signs or symptoms, you do not need to be tested because the risk is low.  This is fully in line with best practice and guidance and is the recommended course of action by Public Health.  You can of course call the COVID-111 service for advice and reassurance.

Because the risk is deemed to be low, there has been no need to direct the premises we have identified to close.  The risk to the public in going to any these venues is minimal and they are free to remain open and trading.  If they wish to close temporarily or to undertake additional cleaning – as some have chosen to do – then that is a matter for those businesses and organisations.  But I must reiterate the risk is low and that their actions are not a result of Public Health advice.

Dr Ewart, would you like to say a little more on low and high risk contacts, the risk at these venues, and the protocols we have in place…

Thank you Henrietta.

I would like to make a point here on the timing of our announcement on New Year’s Eve.  As I have said, our teams worked quickly that day to identify potentially affected close contacts, to get them swabbed and their tests processed, and to identify locations visited.  Before making an announcement we needed to make sure we had all the facts, that we had informed people of their results, and that we had contacted all of the affected businesses – by telephone or in person – whose details were going to be released to the public.  It was late into the evening by the time all of this work had been completed, but we did not want to delay any announcement.  So, as soon as everything was in place, the announcement was made.  At 11:45 pm on New Year’s Eve.  Needless to say, it was far from the sort of New Year’s message the Government would have liked to issue.

Some people thought the timing peculiar.  I have even seen comments suggesting it had all been scheduled hours earlier.  I can assure you this was not the case.  People were very much working on the issue up till midnight on New Year’s Eve.  The timing was unusual, but a decision was made not to hold the announcement until the next day, despite the lateness of the hour. I firmly believe issuing the information, as soon as we were able to, was the right decision and I stand by this.  I have always set out to be open and honest with you and to share information as soon it is possible. 

As was our hope, word quickly spread that night and it meant we could immediately begin arranging swabs from 8 am on New Year’s Day.  I am ever conscious that many of our critical public services run twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, three hundred and sixty five days a year.  Nonetheless a considerable number of people worked late into the night on New Year’s Eve and again on New Year’s Day, at short notice and without complaint, getting on and doing what needed to be done – just as countless others have done throughout this pandemic.  My thanks to everyone involved.

I would like to touch upon something that I know caused some confusion on Friday and Saturday.  Our message on New Year’s Eve was clear and in line with Public Health guidance and protocols: if you were at the venues we identified at the dates and times specified, your risk of contracting COVID-19 was low.  This meant that we would only offer tests to those who were there and felt they had COVID-like symptoms.

Many people who were at these venues on the dates and times we specified – particularly those at 1886 – contacted the COVID-111 service despite having no symptoms.  The level of response reflects the sense of responsibility and duty that has been evident in our community throughout this pandemic.  And of course, despite having no symptoms, these individuals were understandably concerned and were seeking reassurance and advice, which the team at the COVID-111 service were all too happy to provide.

Given the volume of people who came forward but who did not have symptoms, a decision was made on Saturday to offer some of these individuals a test and to use the data for what is termed viral surveillance.  As these individuals had no symptoms they did not have to self-isolate despite having a test.

Many of the people who contacted 111 were sharing their experiences on social media and the fact that some people without symptoms were being offered tests whilst others were not quickly came to light.  The fact that some people were told to self-isolate – that is those who were tested because they had symptoms – and some were told they did not need to self-isolate – that is those had no symptoms and were simply offered a test for surveillance purposes – also came to light.

I fully appreciate that this inconsistency in approach caused confusion and concern.  It is something we will learn from, as we have done throughout this pandemic.

Dr Ewart, would you like to say a little more on the decision that was taken to use this as an opportunity to carry out some surveillance and the benefits this brings not just here in the Isle of Man but in the global fight against the pandemic…

Thank you Henrietta.  Whilst the confusion caused is regrettable, I hope you can see that it was done with the very best of intentions and my thanks to those who, despite having no symptoms, took up the offer of a test for this small surveillance study.

One other point I would like to make is around the volume of people awaiting test results, which attracted some attention yesterday.  This figure has been steadily increasing, but it is not, by and large, related to people coming forward from those venues we identified.  Our new day one and day thirteen testing regime for people travelling to the Island began on the 23 December.  When a person is booked in for the day one test, they are booked in for their day thirteen test at the same time.  These are therefore included in the figures for people awaiting a test, even though that test may not be due for a fortnight.  We will not have our first day thirteen test until this coming Tuesday, which is why the number has been creeping up.  We continue to have good testing capacity and are seeing a good throughput in our testing system.

Now, I appreciate we have talked at some length there, but I felt it was important to fully explain the circumstances of what has happened.

I would now like to turn to the second point – explaining a little more about our response to these two cases and why we have taken the approach we have.

I said earlier that we use the guidance issued by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control to plan our response to clusters and outbreaks.  Our approach in the past few days has adhered to this guidance, and also what they do in New Zealand – another country with a strategy of maintaining local elimination of COVID-19.

We have worked to develop our plans on how to manage clusters and outbreaks and these have served us well.  That is reflected in our COVID-free status.

Our plans and the ECDC guidance is based on risk and proportionality.  What we have at the moment is a household cluster of two cases clearly related to each other and associated with travel.  We have no clusters – two or more cases – associated with any of the venues visited by either case.  If we were to identify any cases in people who had been at one or more of the venues then we would move quickly to implement additional targeted measures – as set out in our outbreak plan – such as wider testing and self-isolation of those present and the closure of specific premises if indicated.  We would also begin to consider wider measures, such as the reintroduction of social distancing and asking people to wear face masks.

Dr Ewart, perhaps you could say a little more on how we deal with clusters and outbreaks and how they differ…

Thank you Henrietta.

Finally, the third point I want to cover is what happens next.  It is a waiting game.  We have received several hundred test results in the past few days, many of which are people who came forward having been at the venues on the dates and times we announced on New Year’s Eve.  As I said at the start of this briefing, as of last night, all of those results have been negative.  This is encouraging, but it does not mean we are out of the woods yet.  As we have said throughout this pandemic, a test is only a measure at a single point in time.  If we take a swab whilst someone is incubating but not shedding the virus, then the result will be negative – even for those gold standard PCR tests.  Because it is a point in time, a single test is no guarantee – that is why a fourteen day self-isolation period remains in place even if someone with symptoms or a close contact of someone with the virus tests negative on their initial test.  This is why we introduced the day thirteen tests in addition to day one tests for people travelling to the Island.  It gives us test results for two points in time, increasing the confidence rate as to whether someone does have the virus.

This new day one and day thirteen testing regime – or twenty-one days of self-isolation for those who do not wish to be tested – plus the additional restrictions on our borders and the exemptions we issue to allow some non-residents to travel here, were put in place on the 23 December to reduce the chances of the virus being imported.  This was in response to the heightened thread from the new variant of virus and the increasing rate of transmission being seen in the United Kingdom.  In the United Kingdom, the self-isolation period following travel into the UK from overseas remains at just ten days.

Testing will continue today and tomorrow, but given the dates that the two individuals were out and about, these past few days are the point at which anyone who had caught the virus is likely to have symptoms and the point at which testing is most likely to detect the virus.  The fact we have had no positive results to date does give us reason for cautious optimism.

If the worst happens and we do detect a case as a result, then we will trace and test in line with our plans and I will keep you fully updated.

With that tone of optimism in the air – albeit a cautious one – and before turning to the media for questions, it is only right to note that tomorrow is a big day in our battle against COVID-19.  Monday will be V-Day in the Isle of Man as our vaccination programme gets underway.

We will begin the roll-out of the Pfizer vaccine and, following the good news last week that the Oxford vaccine has also now received regulatory approval, we will receive our first supply of this in due course.  The Oxford vaccine will be much easier to manage in terms of logistics as it can be kept at fridge temperature unlike the Pfizer one which, you may recall, needs to be kept at minus seventy degrees Celsius and defrosted in batches of nine-hundred-and-seventy-five.

I will handover to Minister Ashford who can tell you more about our plans for tomorrow and the days and weeks ahead.


Thank you David.  The silver bullet is loaded, the gun is cocked and tomorrow we get to pull the trigger.  I cannot think of a better start to 2021.

And now, to questions for the media, who have been waiting patiently. 

Thank you for those questions. 

Whilst New Year brought news of those two unusual COVID cases, it also brought good news in the form of the New Year’s Honours.  Her Majesty The Queen recognised seven people from our Island for their outstanding public service and dedication to our community.

Three of the seven honours are specifically to recognise the contributions made in response to COVID-19.

I would like to extend my congratulations to Jane Glover, Christian Varley, and Susan Waddecar who received MBE’s for their efforts during the pandemic.  I would also like to extend my congratulations to John Riley and Charles Guard who also received MBEs.  And finally my congratulations to Edna Clarke who received the British Empire Medal and to our Chief Constable Gary Roberts who received the Queen’s Police Medal.

You are shining examples of selflessness and public service, which is in such abundance in our Island community.

Before I go, I’ll finish with a reminder of the basics on good hand and respiratory hygiene.  Regularly wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water for at least twenty seconds.  If you cough or sneeze, do it into a handkerchief, tissue or the crook of your elbow, then wash your hands or use hand sanitiser.

Please stay responsible.  Thank you and enjoy the rest of your Sunday.