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Chief Minister's motion speech to Tynwald - 5 May 2020

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Mr President 

It is now 47 days since the first confirmed case of coronavirus in the Isle of Man. It seems extraordinary to think how of much our lives have changed in this short space of time.   

We have been obliged to adopt new way of living. And we have had to make sacrifices. We have had to make sacrifices to protect our families and our wider Island community.  

We have had to forsake things that had previously been part of our regular lives – a dinner with friends, a game of football, a pint in the local.  

I think that many of us – and I include myself in this description – have realised how maybe we have taken for granted the importance to our well-being of personal contact. Every day, people ask me when they will be able to hug their parents again. I feel this too.  

We are not alone though.   

Nations around the world have taken steps to prevent the spread of the disease. Different steps for different circumstances. And we have taken Manx decisions for our Manx situation.  

Our first priority has always been to protect life. I have been clear about this and stand by this.  

Yes this has meant sacrifice. The great Manx public has shown incredible fortitude and resilience and I am grateful for that.  They have followed the rules and have stayed home. This – along with the sterling work of our health and social care professionals – has meant that we have been successful in containing the spread of the disease. In supressing the curve.  

But this has not been without cost. Particularly in our economy. It is easy to talk about “the economy” in broad terms, but what we really talking about is people. We – as the elected representative of the Manx people – must not forget this.  

People who have lost their jobs. People who have been struggling to make ends meet because their wages have been cut.  

And people who have worked hard to nurture and grow businesses have watched as those businesses come under significant pressures. And some have closed.  

We have brought in ambitious programmes to support businesses and our workforce.  

We have introduced a salary support scheme to help employers retain their staff and a business support scheme to help specific sectors who were immediately affected.  

We have supported tourist accommodation providers and given grants to businesses to help them adapt to the current climate. 

We have made pragmatic changes to work permit requirements. We have provided an initial national insurance holiday for employers together with VAT deferrals. 

And we have developed an earnings replacement scheme for those who are self-employed. 

I am proud of what we have achieved. We have designed and delivered at speed.  

Mr President 

Tragically, this virus and its effects on our society are not going to be gone any time soon. We of course are tracking carefully scientific progress on what are being known as the game changers. These include effective antibody tests, more effective treatments and of course a vaccine.  

But until these endeavours come to fruition, we are going to have to learn to live with the virus. We have to plan beyond the short term.   

We need to ensure that measures are sustainable. The longer we are in lockdown, the more we come under pressure. For the economy our revenues and our reserves will come under increased pressure.  

And for our people, our well-being and mental health – our very social fabric - will come under increased pressure.  

We have already seen signs of this. The lockdown has brought suffering to many. 

We know that domestic abuse has risen during this time. I am grateful to the Isle of Man constabulary and others in the public and voluntary sector who have worked hard to support victims of abuse. The simple fact is though, that while the lockdown continues, so does the opportunity for abuse. 

Mental health issues have increased too. In particular the number of calls from those suffering from anxiety has increased. 

We must also remember that in order to create capacity in the health service as part of our planning for coronavirus, we stopped all non-essential services. We ceased elective surgery and outpatient clinics and we stopped most cancer treatments. 

Many of our decisions will have caused harm, but we took them, in order to protect the whole of our community. 

Mr President,  

It was vital for us to develop a medium term plan. We are not just under financial pressure.  

We all achieved so much in our initial response under our “Stay Home” regime.  This has provided us with the solid foundations on which we can start building our new future.  

We have a plan. A plan that is designed to be flexible and informed by evidence. 

It must allow us to respond quickly – maybe quicker than we ever hoped only a few weeks ago. 

Our second stage of responding is our “Stay Safe” approach. We have developed a framework for decision-making that balances the risk of the virus to our Island against the threats to our economy and the needs of our society.   

It will guide us as we look to return to a form of normality. The new normal which ultimately we hope will be our third stage.  I do not know in any detail what that new normal will look like. I am not sure that anybody does with any certainty.  

I know that this journey towards the unknown is causing anxiety. This is why I believe that a roadmap – to describe the path ahead is essential.  

Mr President,  

I have described what the framework does. I think I should also say what it does not do. 

It does not set out dates when we will change the restrictions in certain sectors.  That would be wrong.  None of us can predict the future. We need to be driven by evidence and careful consideration. Not by a date in the diary.  

Neither does it tell us when we will be back to the normal we used to know.  That is for the long term. This plan aims to guide us through the medium term. 

And it does not aim to be set in tablets of stone. Rather it provides the flexibility to react to a developments. It allows us to recalibrate, to change and to be flexible where the evidence and clinical advice indicates this is the best path.  

Mr President,  

Honourable Members will have seen in the plan that we describe our four principles.  And that we have restated our commitment to be open and consistent.   

Alongside our other meetings, we will always meet at two weekly intervals to review the data available and the advice from our clinicians and experts from other sectors. At this time we will consider what changes, if any, we will need to make.   

And when we have decided we will give people enough time to plan for the changes where possible.  

We will endeavour to deliver change in a carefully considered, measured and manageable manner.   

We will work in phases. A phased return to work, a phased recommencing of health services and a phased lifting of social restrictions.   

We will look at the combined effect of the changes we make. We will use data and evidence to review and inform our next decisions.  

We cannot take chances with the lives of our people. Our approach will be measured and cautious as we transition towards the new normal. We will need time to ensure that the impact of any new measures is carefully assessed which is why we will ordinarily leave two weeks between every phase of major change.  

We will publish the data we are using to make these decisions and we will listen to differing views when coming to our conclusions. This virus and the challenges it brings is new to us all. It is together – with diversity of thought and ideas – that we will develop the best policies and practices.  

Mr President 

This is the start of the next stage of our plan. It is our vision of the road ahead. We cannot see all the challenges that will confront us.  

I firmly believe that we are up to the challenge. The great Manx people is up to the challenge. And I firmly believe that together we are stronger.   

This pandemic has been unprecedented. But the incredible strength of our community is not. It has seen us through tough times before. And I know will do so again.   

During the worst of times, we have seen the best of us. That is why, Mr President, I am confident that, quoconque jeceris stabit – whichever way you throw us we will stand – together. 

I beg to move.