I have a lot of important information to tell you today. I am therefore grateful that you have taken the time to join us.
You will - I am sure - have seen or heard about the UK Prime Minister’s briefing last night. He painted a bleak picture of the situation. The NHS in the UK is under considerable pressure. Each of the nations of the United Kingdom is now under lockdown. Today the United Kingdom recorded a record breaking number of daily COVID cases – 61,000.
The situation here on the Island is evolving quickly. I briefed you on Sunday about some cases that had slipped through our measures and told you what we were doing about it.
I am afraid that I now need to brief you on further concerns we now have in relation to our Island community. It follows six positive test results that emerged late yesterday and overnight. We have also had one new positive result this afternoon. The positive results are from a mixture of circumstances although, at the moment, there is no indication of any link to the two cases announced on New Year’s Eve.
The Council of Ministers held an emergency meeting this morning and agreed a number of measures on which I need to update you.
None of this will be easy to hear. There remain a great deal of unknowns. I will be as frank with you as I possibly can be. Within of course the important constraints of personal confidentiality.
I am joined today by the Minister of Health and Social Care and our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.
I need to start by telling you that we now have evidence of further spread of infection to others from an index case associated with travel. We now have confirmed cases of COVID-19 beyond the household of the traveller and these cases are associated with a number of different locations involving potential contact with a large number of people. This gives us a significant risk of reseeding widespread community transmission.
We have not yet seen this spread widely into the community. But there is a credible risk that this will happen in the coming days. There is no reason to panic. But there is a need to act decisively.
As always our primary objective is to preserve life. This was of course foremost in the minds of ministers when we met this morning and again this afternoon.
In addition, we now have a new imperative – to protect our vaccination programme. We have to ensure that the plan we have in place to protect our people – starting with our care workers and our most vulnerable – is in no way put at risk.
Before I tell you the measures that ministers have agreed to put in place to deal with this new situation, I would like to invite the Director of Public Health to brief you on the latest situation from a contact-tracing point of view.
It is worth clarifying at this point that we do not yet know whether the cases we are seeing are of the new variant that we have been hearing so much about.
We should know more about this in the coming days. But as you would expect, we have based our response on the possibility that it is indeed the new highly transmissible variant. It is right that we plan for the worst-case scenario.
There are other important pieces of context.
The current vacant bed capacity at the hospital is low. This is of course not unusual for this time of the year but it is important we understand this.
Also, as in the Spring, we cannot depend on friends in NHS England for any resilience – they have their own challenges.
The Council of Ministers has decided to maintain our overall objective of local elimination and this has shaped our decision-making. Given what we understand about the new variant and the context we find ourselves in we have therefore had to be bold in our actions.
The Council of Ministers has agreed to adopt a circuit break approach. I know that this has had mixed success across in the UK. But our starting point is different.
This means we will have to go in hard and fast. This is the approach that worked well for us last Spring.
The Council of Ministers has today agreed that the following measures will come into effect as soon as possible. All of the following measures must be in place no later than from one minute past midnight Wednesday night to Thursday morning. To be clear that is just over 24 hours from now. But if people can put these measures in place sooner than that, then even better.
- The overarching – and most important – point is that we will need everyone to stay at home as much as possible.
- We will require the return to social distancing of two metres everywhere outside the home.
- You will not be able to gather with anyone who is not a member of your household.
- You will be able to go outside for exercise once a day. But we will not limit how long for. But it can only be with people from your household. We would ask you to do your best to avoid any crowded area. And it is strongly advised that you wear a face covering.
- Weddings and collective worship will not be able to take place.
- Funerals may continue indoors and outdoors only with a maximum of ten people and with social distancing and the use of face coverings in place.
- We will be asking everyone who can work from home to do by Thursday and ideally, if possible, before. We will require all employers to take this obligation seriously and do everything they can to facilitate. We know that some companies will need to have a skeleton team in place to ensure core services. But this must be kept to an absolute minimum.
- The construction sector will have to stop work – except for emergency work and essential repairs.
- The manufacturing sector can continue to work if – and only if – it can do so with social distancing and other measures in place.
- There will an orderly closure of schools and nurseries as we re-establish the hub system we had in place before to cater for the children of essential workers and any vulnerable children. We expect this to be in place by Thursday and certainly before the end of the week. Headteachers will be in touch. In the meantime, with immediate effect, school attendance will not be compulsory.
- All hospitality venues will have to close as soon as possible but no later than one minute past midnight Wednesday night to Thursday morning. This includes all licenced premises, all cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs and clubs. The only exception to this will be for take away or delivery of food and alcohol only. No eating in.
- All non-essential shops will have to close from the same time. For most, this will undoubtedly mean at the end of business tomorrow. Only food shops and pharmacies are considered essential. We have however agreed that for the moment at least hardware and garden centres can also remain open.
- On supermarkets and food shopping – please shop responsibly. Although the measures being introduced today haven’t applied for the last six months, remember the United Kingdom has been in varying degrees of this situation for many months. Supply chains are stable.
- When you go shopping, please minimise numbers, it should be one person or one person and a child only if you’re a single parent.
- Please do be considerate and leave supplies for others – there is no need to stock up. Our freight continues to flow and you will recall there were no problems with supply in the spring during our first lockdown.
- All lifestyle businesses – you will remember that this is broadly hair and beauty businesses – will have to close.
- Face coverings will be compulsory on all public transport. We have also recommended to taxi operators that they should not to pick people up unless they are wearing face coverings.
- In addition, we strongly advise face coverings to be used by everyone anywhere outside your home when you will be in close proximity to others.
- All indoor leisure facilities will close. This includes gyms and swimming pools.
- At this stage, we will not be putting in place an all-Island speed limit as we did last year. But we would ask everyone to drive carefully and bear in mind the pressure any incidents can have on the hospital. We will revisit this if necessary.
- With immediate effect, we are asking those at significant clinical risk – those who shielded before – to do so again for an initial period of one week and then we will review and be in touch.
- We will be ramping up our support for vulnerable people who will need assistance with shopping.
- We have asked all care homes to stop visits with immediate effect. This will be for an initial period of one week while we evaluate the situation further.
- We are moving to Level 5 of our borders framework. We strongly discourage any travel off island. If people do decide to travel after tonight, we cannot guarantee when they will be able to return.
- Those who do return from one minute past midnight Wednesday night to Thursday morning – again just to be clear in just over 30 hours time - will be required to undergo a new testing regime. This will be three tests. One on day 1. Another on day 6 or 7. A third test on day 13. Those returning will have to pay £50 for each test. If people are not prepared to do this, they will have to self-isolate for 21 days.
- Returnees will no longer be able to self-isolate with anyone other than those they have travelled with. There will be no financial support for any returnees.
There will be some changes to our wider healthcare provision as you would expect. I would like to invite the Health & Social Care Minister to brief you on this.
We are unlikely to know the full extent of any community spread for maybe two weeks.
We are putting these measures in place for an initial period of twenty-one days. As I said, this period starts from one minute past midnight Wednesday night to Thursday morning. I hope that it will end on Wednesday 27 January. Within that period we will of course regularly review. And I will keep you updated as often as possible.
We will be turning back on some financial packages. The salary support and MERA – our Manx Earnings Replacement Allowance – will return for this initial three week period.
I know that these measures may appear severe to some. But ministers today agreed that we needed to take decisive and bold action without delay. To protect what we have achieved already. And importantly to protect our vaccination programme. There is no need for panic. But neither can we afford to delay.
I know that there will be a lot of questions. And we will need to provide more detail. I will do my best to answer questions now. And the team is working away this evening to get additional detail available on or website. To remind everyone that is gov.im/covid19
From 8am tomorrow morning the COVID Community Line will be up and running again. I know that was a big help last time. The number is 686262 for any non-medical queries. Of course if you show any symptoms then you need to stay at home and call 111 immediately. But please do not call 111 with general enquires. We need to let these people do their job.
But the broad parameters are clear. Stay at home if you can. If you can’t then ensure you do everything in your power to be safe. Remember the basics that you did so well in the spring. Wash hands. Keep distance. And this time we are also going to ask you to use face coverings as much as possible.
Last time you made the right decisions for you, your family and for your Island. I need to ask you to do that again. To protect what we have achieved – and this time to protect our vaccination programme.
We have done this before – you know what to do to keep yourselves, your family and friends and our community safe – and together we can do it again.
Stay safe. Be responsible and whenever you can please stay at home.