Thank you for allowing me to make this statement.
My last statement was only a week ago. But in these unprecedented times, a lot of things have changed.
As is my habit, I would like to take a look across the water to the United Kingdom. It has been a welcome development to see that the daily death there is decreasing. The United Kingdom has suffered terribly at the hands of this unforgiving pandemic. I do hope that we are starting to see the early signs of an overall improvement there.
And as the Minister of Health & Social Care so poignantly reminded us at his press briefing on Friday, we must never forget that behind every one of these numbers is a person who has tragically lost their life.
While of course we have been cutting our own trail through the effects of the COVID pandemic, the situation in the United Kingdom does impact us in a number of ways, some of which I will touch on shortly
I am sure that Honourable Members will – like me – have followed the evolution of measures across in the United Kingdom. And interestingly that the four nations of the United Kingdom are approaching their measures in different ways and at different paces. This is in response to the different circumstances that they face in terms of capacity in their health services and the various health metrics.
This is of course what we have done here. The Council of Ministers has considered the Manx situation and addressed our circumstances with Manx solutions.
I believe that it is incumbent on me to remind this Honourable Court of our situation.
Our hospital has capacity. Our staffing levels remain strong. We currently have no COVID patients in intensive care. We have the Personal Protection Equipment we need.
The number of calls to our Covid-111 clinical line remain at a low level. We now have capacity to test more and that has been what has allowed the Department of Health & Social Care to refresh their testing strategy. It is currently being finalised and the Minister will be announcing the detail later this week.
The Minister for Health & Social Care will – later this week – also announce the detail of a plan for a steady and incremental resumption of those services that the Department has had to pause to be ready for deal with the challenges of COVID.
I am grateful to the Minister and his Department for all their work on this. The resumption of these services is far more complex then turning them off in the first place. And Honourable Members will I am sure appreciate the need for a fine touch on the tiller at this moment. While of course we want to return all services for all of our residents, we also need to ensure that we retain the ability to respond to COVID challenges for some time to come.
Because of the measures that we put in place, and because of the seriousness with which our incredible people have taken them, we have been able to amend a number of measures since the last time I addressed this Honourable Court.
Yesterday we allowed the return of more of our retail sector. We estimate that this meant that two thousand people have been able to return to work, to earn a salary and provide for their family.
It is important that I take a moment to pay tribute to the estimated two thousand from the retail sector who have worked throughout the pandemic to ensure we had the food and essential supplies that we needed. They have played an important role in keeping this Island moving during these difficult times.
Yesterday I was able to announce important changes to the measures regarding gatherings.
But before I update this Honourable Court on this, I do need to say a word by way of context. Despite the continuing low numbers of active cases and positive tests we are seeing, the virus is undoubtedly still among us. Although we do have cause for optimism for the future, we also need to proceed with caution.
Our approach on gatherings is that we cannot continue to indefinitely micro-manage the daily lives of our people or what happens in their homes. Nor should we. Yesterday at my media briefing, I quoted Queen Elizabeth the First. I shall repeat it here for completeness:
I would not open windows into men's souls
From tomorrow morning, people will be able to gather in groups of up to ten outdoors – whether that be in a public place or in their own garden. At home, that number ten will have to include members of that household. People will still have to respect the social distancing rules with which we are all familiar now – stay two metres away from people who are not members of your household.
The clinical advice is that the risk of infection increases significantly indoors. The chances of proximity and touching shared surfaces are higher. So is the risk. We have therefore been able to allow people to have up to two visitors at any one time. We do expect those visitors to be from the same household.
We are not seeking to regulate what happens when they are inside those four walls. We need to hand that responsibility to our great Manx public. They have proved they can make the right decisions. We need to trust them to continue to do so.
We will continue to provide our people with advice and guidance on how to minimise risk to themselves and their families. We would advise maintaining social distance when you are visiting friends or family. The longer you stay, the closer you get, the more risk you are running.
But we believe that people are best placed to judge who they are willing to invite into their home. That our people are best placed to judge what best suits their circumstances. That our people will make the right decisions if they have members of their family who are vulnerable or who have been told to shield.
Before I conclude, I would like to address one issue that has caused a great deal of debate in this Honourable Court. That of the repatriation of our residents.
I should restate for the record that I remain of the view that closing the border was the single measure that has made the biggest difference to our ability to deal with the virus.
The Council of Minister has previously committed to review regularly the process by which we allow residents – who are still off-Island - to return.
I stand by my position that I cannot envisage unhindered access to our Island from the United Kingdom for some time to come – and certainly not until there is a discernible change in the situation there.
But the Council of Ministers has asked for options for an evolution to the process to be presented to our meeting later this week. I cannot say much more at this stage and certainly do not wish to pre-empt the outcome of the meeting of the Council of Ministers. But given the interest in this place, I wanted to inform Honourable Members in good time.
Since the arrival of this pandemic onto our Island, we have called upon the public to make the right decisions for them, their families and for our community.
Now that we are taking another step out of people’s lives, we will need to entrust even more decision making to the public. I have faith that they will respond and rise to this challenge.