Good afternoon everyone.
Thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today. I said that we would come back together in September to provide an update and so it’s good to be able speak to you all once again.
As has become customary, I will start by handing over to the Minister for Health and Social Care, David Ashford, who will bring you up-to-date with the latest coronavirus figures.
Thank you David, that’s great news.
It has been five weeks since our last coronavirus briefing and we are fortunate that the Isle of Man remains free of COVID-19.
Along with our friends in Guernsey, we remain the only two jurisdictions within the British Isles to have achieved local elimination of the virus.
Since the air bridge between the Isle of Man and Guernsey opened, we have welcomed many visitors, including the island’s Chief Minister Gavin St Pier, who I know very much enjoyed his visit here.
I was lucky enough to be able to reciprocate, making a three day visit to Guernsey, where I, and many others from our island, have received the warmest of welcomes.
But despite Guernsey being our only air bridge, the Channel Island was not the be all and end all of holidaymaking this summer.
Staycations have surged, with thousands of you taking the opportunity to enjoy a break at home, right here, in the Isle of Man.
It has been fascinating and heartening to hear so many stories of people who have booked into our hotels, gone glamping, or taken out a holiday let and enjoyed what is right here on our doorstep, 365 days a year.
I have heard of people from “the south” who have gone “down north” for a long weekend and genuinely felt that as though they’ve had a holiday.
This staycation boom has greatly helped our struggling hospitality sector at a difficult time and has ploughed money back into our economy with that all important multiplier effect.
Serving almost as a crescendo to all of this, as the summer draws to a close, was last week’s four-day Supermanx Weekend – a series of events to celebrate the return of a sense of normality and to honour our key workers.
It got off to the very best of starts when, on Friday, the Isle of Man reached the milestone of one-hundred days without any new cases of coronavirus being diagnosed.
I have said so before, and I do not hesitate to say so again. This is down to you, the great Manx public. Your efforts to protect our Island and our community have made all the difference in our fight against this virus.
I would like to extend my thanks to all of the community groups, local authorities, charities, volunteers, and businesses that made the Supermanx Weekend such a roaring success.
One of the highlights was Saturday’s Key Workers Thank You Parade. I attended, along with Minister Ashford, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to say a few words before the parade was flagged off from the grandstand.
The notion of a key workers parade likely conjures images of our emergency services. But this event – like so much of what we have seen and experienced in recent months – served to remind us that key workers are more than our hard working health and social care professionals, police, fire officers, civil defence, and the coastguard.
It’s equally about the people who carried on going to work, day in and day out during a pandemic, so that our children could continue to learn; so that we could shop for food and essentials; it’s about the people who kept the lights on and the water running; who emptied our bins; maintained our roads and critical infrastructure; who reported the news; kept our financial services running; delivered our mail and parcels; who maintained the flow of freight to the Island; people who answered helplines; who processed applications for financial support; and so many, many more.
Our Island’s heroes.
It was a poignant moment, and one that will last in my memory from my time as your Chief Minister.
And whilst many of the weekend’s events focussed on celebrating and cherishing the best of Manx life, it was also an opportunity to reflect.
On Friday, I attended a moving multi-faith National Service of Reflection at St George’s Church in Douglas, which also recognised the hard work and sacrifices of our key workers. But the service was also to remember the twenty-four Manx men and women who tragically lost their lives to this virus. We must never forget them.
I have spoken in the past about the Manx bubble we have been able to create for our Island. A bubble that has enabled us to restore near-normality to our lives.
I am aware that – on the one hand – there are those who are understandably nervous about any changes in our approach to coronavirus, and who are keen to maintain the status quo and protect our bubble.
But we must acknowledge, that despite the benefits of a sense of normality returning for many, this is not the case for everyone. Hardship and worry, arising from coronavirus and our restrictions, continue to be felt by some parts of our community and in our economy.
Unemployment is significantly higher compared to a year ago, with over eleven-hundred people registered as unemployed during July, compared to 330 the year before.
Whilst our hospitality and leisure businesses have been buoyed by staycations and visitors from Guernsey, many continue to struggle due to our border restrictions, and this is impacting other parts of our economy too.
And there are those who wish to, or need to, temporarily leave our Island, for a multitude of reasons, such as visiting family and loved ones in the UK after many months apart. Whilst this has been possible now for some time, the fourteen day self-isolation upon return means that, for some, a trip away is simply not viable as it would require a further fortnight off work.
These pressures mean that there is also a group of people keen to see Government exploring other potential options, which will maintain the safety of our community, whilst providing more freedom and flexibility to those wishing to leave our shores.
The job of the Council of Ministers then, is to balance the need to protect our Island from COVID-19, whilst being mindful that the restrictions we have put in place to achieve this, are having an impact on some parts of our community.
From the beginning we have had to judge the balance of risk. But we must recognise that there are those who are content with where we are now, but also those who are becoming frustrated.
You may recall at the last briefing, at the end of July, I spoke about work being undertaken by Government to explore the possibility of modifying self-isolation for returning residents.
This would involve a test for COVID-19 on the seventh day of self-isolation and – if the result was negative – it would mean that someone could leave their home, but with significant restrictions in place to minimise the risk of any inadvertent spread of coronavirus in our community, in the event of a false negative.
Over the summer we have reviewed and prepared the ground for what we would need to have in place in order to establish this modified self-isolation and testing regime.
This morning, the Council of Ministers met to consider the findings of that review, and we were satisfied with the preparations that have been made.
I am pleased, therefore, to announce that from this Monday the 7 September, we will introduce an option for returning residents to book a test for COVID-19 on or after day seven of their self-isolation.
This approach has worked well in Guernsey, where it has been in operation for several weeks. In that time, no positive cases of coronavirus have been detected following seven days of self-isolation.
Let me take a moment to explain how the process will work and to emphasise some very important points.
A resident who has returned to the Island and entered self-isolation will be able to call the 111 service between 8am and 8pm each day, to request a test for COVID-19 to be done on their seventh day of self-isolation.
On the seventh day, with a test appointment confirmed, they will then be able to leave their house where they must travel directly and only to the testing facility at the grandstand, at their allotted time. There they will have a swab taken from their throat and nose, before returning straight back home to complete their seventh day of self-isolation.
The sample will be taken to the lab at Noble’s Hospital and tested for COVID-19.
The following day – day eight of self-isolation – the 111 service will contact the resident to give them their test result.
As has always been the case, where a result comes back as positive for COVID-19, that individual must continue to self-isolate for a further fourteen days, meaning they cannot leave their home.
Where a result comes back as negative for COVID-19, that individual will be allowed to leave their home, but they must adhere to a number of restrictions for a further period of six days. These will include no attendance at indoor venues such as restaurants, cafes, pubs, gyms, swimming pools, theatres and cinemas.
These restrictions will be set out in a modified direction notice issued by the 111 team on confirmation of a negative test result. I must remind you that returning residents are legally obliged to follow the direction notice.
In terms of what will be permitted. People will be able to return to their place of work – if their employer is happy for them to do so – so long as they do not have a role that requires them to interact with the public, for example: teachers, retail assistants, and receptionists. You will also be able to shop, but only for essential items such as food and medicines.
Whilst testing for COVID-19 is reliable and robust, with pick-up rate of ninety to ninety-five per cent, it is not infallible. There can be both false positives and false negatives.
The modifications to self-isolation in days eight to fourteen are there to act as a safeguard – a buffer – to minimise the risk of the virus spreading in the community in the event of a false negative.
If a test result comes back as inconclusive, that individual will have to undergo another test and await the second result.
These additional tests will, of course, come at a cost to the public purse. Bearing in mind that people leaving the Island will be doing so by choice, there will be a contribution of fifty pounds towards the cost of a test for each returning resident.
Those who do not want to pay this fee can, of course, continue to self-isolate for the full fourteen days.
The contribution will need to be paid by card, over the phone, when contacting the 111 service to arrange a test. For the safety of staff, payment by cash and cheque will not be possible.
I am conscious that I have given you quite a bit of detail there. Our COVID-19 website – covid19.gov.im – will be updated with full details by tomorrow evening, giving plenty of time over the weekend for people to familiarise themselves with the detail before the new service goes live on Monday.
Can I please ask that you do not ring the 111 service to make an appointment before the service launches on Monday as arrangements and processes are in the final stage of being rolled out.
Moving on to borders, the Island has been at Level 4 of our borders framework for some time now. Despite the announcement I have just made, I know there are many who are waiting for a move to Level 3, particularly because it would allow close family members to visit.
This morning, the Council of Ministers discussed our border arrangements.
We have been clear throughout that our approach to borders will be influenced by coronavirus infection levels in the UK – our nearest neighbour.
We have examined the latest data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics, which shows an estimated UK rate of coronavirus infections of around one in every two-thousand people, over the past six weeks.
As set out in our borders framework, for a move from Level 4 to Level 3, we would need to see a reduction to a rate of one in every five-thousand people. The UK still has a considerable way to go to reach this.
The level of cases in the North West of England, and the need for local lockdowns in areas such as Blackburn, is also a cause for concern given our close connections and key transport links with the region.
As such, the Council of Ministers has decided that we will remain at Level 4 of our borders framework for the time being, but we will of course continue to closely monitor the situation in the UK.
I have spoken before about baby steps. With pupils returning to schools in the UK, people returning from summer holidays, and the increased demand this change in testing will have on our lab and swabbing teams, I hope you will agree that it is prudent to take this one step at a time, one change at a time.
Before turning to the media for questions, next week will see children return to the Island’s primary and secondary schools for the start of the new academic year. And many students in tertiary education will be heading to the UK, Ireland and further afield to start or continue their studies.
I would like to invite Minister Allinson to update you on these two topics.
Thank you Alex. May I wish the very best of luck to those who are starting primary and secondary school next Wednesday, as well as to those heading to university for the first time.
And now to questions from the media.
Thank you for those questions.
As I’ve said full details will be available from tomorrow evening and I promise to continue to keep you updated on any new developments as soon as I can. I remain committed to continuing with these briefings as and when we have announcements to make.
That’s all for today. Thank you again for your time.