By: Hon Howard Quayle MHK, Chief Minister
Mr President, Honourable Members.
Today I am confirming the measures we are taking to mitigate the risk to the Island from an outbreak of coronavirus.
As of yesterday, the World Health Organisation advised that globally there have been 167,511 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 6,606 deaths.
This global pandemic is spread across 150 countries and is without doubt the gravest threat we have faced as an Island in generations.
The world has responded in different ways at different times.
So far, we have followed the excellent guidance and advice issued by Public Health England. We are grateful for the deep relationship we have with them and the support we have received. But yesterday the Council of Ministers agreed that we will now take further steps to safeguard our people.
As an Island we have always been resilient and we are proud of that. But we must also accept that our scale brings with it limitations.
The most significant of those limitations is that of our hospital.
Our critical care services are limited and will not cope with an overwhelming surge of coronavirus patients.
And we cannot assume that we can rely on the UK for critical care services as they themselves may be overwhelmed.
We are in the fortunate position where we have no confirmed cases of coronavirus. This is the right moment to take more stringent action in the best interests of our nation.
That is why I am today announcing that all people entering the Isle of Man, by air or sea routes, will be required to self-isolate for 14 days. This is regardless of whether they are showing symptoms or not.
There will be exceptions to these measures which includes those designated as critical staff.
These new controls will take effect from 11.59pm this evening.
While these are unprecedented measures, these are unprecedented times.
We cannot allow our health and care services to be in a position where they simply cannot cope. We must also protect the most vulnerable in our communities. These measures will help us to do that.
Turning now to the TT.
The Council of Ministers has been reviewing the situation daily over the past weeks.
We had hoped it would not come to this, but it is clear that holding the TT under the current circumstances is not feasible or indeed practical.
So we have taken the difficult decision to cancel the 2020 TT.
This has not been a decision we have taken lightly, but we must consider the national interest.
I am aware that this will lead to a significant impact which will be felt across many sectors of our economy.
I can confirm that the Minister for Treasury the Minister for Enterprise will be coming forward at this sitting of Tynwald with measures designed to support those sectors which will be affected.
The community of the Isle of Man is the thing that many of us hold most dear. Over the next few weeks, we will be asking people to make changes to the way they go about their lives.
We would advise everyone to maintain the highest levels of hygiene, washing their hands regularly with soap, and following the ‘catch it, kill it, bin it’ advice.
In particular, if you are over 70 or over, or if you have underlying health conditions, or are pregnant, then we are advising you to be extra careful. Where it is possible, they should self-isolate.
If you are visiting anyone who may fit this description – whether they are in a care home or their own home, please ensure you are doubly careful. We don’t want to stop these important community links. But we need to ensure our most vulnerable people are protected.
People have asked me what this means. I would say that if you are in one of these categories, please consider where you are going, who you are meeting and whether you actually need to make the trip.
If you are showing the symptoms of coronavirus, then you should self-isolate for 14 days. If you live in a house with other people, and have the symptoms, then they should self-isolate too.
If your self-isolation is purely precautionary and you are not showing symptoms, others living in your house do not need to self-isolate as well. But please follow the self-isolation guidelines on our website.
We do not intend to ban mass gatherings at this time, but we would ask all those who arrange large gatherings of more than 100 people to look carefully at their events and consider the risks that may arise. We all need to consider the risks for ourselves and our people.
We are also starting a programme of home working for those parts of the public sector who are able to do so.
I know that many companies in the private sector are doing the same.
I would like to raise the issue of community. We all have a role to play in this. I am asking everyone to do what they can to look out for one another. If you know a person who is self-isolating, then ask them if they need anything. If we know that there is a vulnerable person who lives alone, then ask them if they’re ok. A simple phone call can make all the difference.
Together we can get through this. But we can only do so if we come together as a community.
I’m sure we are all aware of panic buying. We have heard stories and seen pictures on social media. I have been assured that there are no shortages of any goods. It is panic buying that will put strain on the supply chain. And already is.
By unnecessarily stock piling, we are compromising the most vulnerable in our community who may not be able to make it to a supermarket to buy the things they need.
I would ask everyone to think of others and ask whether they really do need to buy everything they have in their trolley.
My final announcement is perhaps the most significant.
Last night I wrote to His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, advising him that we wish to invoke the powers in the Emergency Powers Act. This will involve a proclamation of emergency by His Excellency. I can confirm that has now been done.
Under our current Emergency Powers Act, we are able to exercise emergency powers only where a proclamation of emergency has been made.
I believe there is sufficient risk to the people of this Island that this is the right thing to do.
We will require emergency powers in the first instance to postpone both the by-election in Douglas South and the forthcoming local authority elections.
We will also put powers in place to enforce the restrictions on those arriving onto the Island that I identified earlier.
This is a significant step, but it will give us the ability to respond quickly and effectively to a fast moving and fluid situation where a fast and positive response is critical.
To summarise, we have one opportunity to get this right. We are taking measures that we believe are robust enough to give us the capacity to respond to the most serious cases of coronavirus, but flexible enough to allow us to keep some semblance of normality in our lives.
We have not made these decisions lightly, but I believe it is the right thing to do. We have a duty, all of us, to ensure the most vulnerable in our community are protected. We must also preserve the critical care capacity of our health service so we are able to respond to the challenges we will face from the coronavirus.
There are likely to be more challenges ahead. We may have to take more decisions in the national interest.
I believe the community spirit here in our Island will be the factor that gets us through the coming weeks. We have already seen examples of individuals and organisations showing leadership.
We will ensure that we regularly update this Honourable Court and our population through our website and regular ministerial briefings.
Mr President, the only place where happiness and success come before work is in the dictionary. We must all work together to ensure the best possible outcome for the people of the Isle of Man.
It is who we are and what we do.