Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
Here with me at the podium is the Minister for Education, Sport & Culture, and on Zoom we have the Minister for Health & Social Care and our Director of Public Health.
Let me start by handing over to Minister Ashford for an update on testing numbers from the last twenty four hours. I know David also has some other updates.
As you can see, cases continue to rise fast. This morning, the team told me that we were now dealing with around 700 close contacts of people who have tested positive. That is an increase of around 200 in the last 24 hours.
The advice that the Council of Ministers were given this morning is that we are still not at the peak of cases. There is more to come and I need you to be ready for that.
Yesterday you heard from our Director of Public Health that all of the cases we have seen in recent weeks have been the Kent variant. We know that the Kent variant is highly transmissible. This is one of the key reasons that we judged that we had to take the difficult decision to go into this lockdown.
And this is why we need to be incredibly careful in everything we do at the moment. I know that this third lockdown is tough. But the way that we ensure that it ends as soon as possible is to follow the rules as tightly as possible. This is in your hands.
I will hand over to our Director of Public Health in a second for her update. Before I do I would like to pick up on something that caught my attention at the Council of Ministers briefing this morning in relation to the increase of positive tests.
I think we need to be careful when we compare the numbers we are seeing now with the numbers we saw back during our first outbreak almost a year ago. Last time, we did not have the on-island testing capacity we do now. It is true that we are finding more at the moment, but we are looking harder and testing more.
Over the next couple of days we will be sharing with you some different graphs so that you can look at some of the data yourselves.
Let me hand over to our Director of Public Health for her view on what we are seeing.
Thank you Dr Ewart. And please pass on my thanks to your team and all colleagues who are working so hard to identify and isolate the virus.
Dr Ewart mentioned the fact that we are seeing large numbers of cases among our young people.
This is why we took the tough decision last night to close our schools today. To create a firebreak.
The virus spreads when people mix and so we need to do all we can to minimise that mixing. We need to break the chains. And I need to reiterate that if you have children, please do not let them mix with children from other households wherever possible. This is crucial to prevent transmission and to let us get out of this lockdown as soon as possible.
I would like to bring in the Minister of Education, Sport & Culture to update us.
Thank you, Alex. And as you say, the Council of Ministers will be meeting over the weekend so that we can give families as much notice as possible of what next week will look like.
When we considered the data this morning, one of the big concerns was around office workers. This was the other environment where we saw considerable spread. This has to stop.
I once again have to ask all employers to ensure that only people who are absolutely essential go into the office. If we need to legislate on this, we will. But I hope that employers will make the right decisions for their community and their Island.
And if people believe that their employers are acting unreasonably and putting them at risk, then they should contact email@example.com
The Council of Ministers this morning considered what else we need to do to break the chains of infection. We carefully considered advice from Public Health and others.
We have decided to make some changes and I want to take you through them now.
We have decided – and you may have seen an announcement earlier today – that we will require all construction work to cease for an initial two week period. While we have not seen particular hot spots relating to construction, we do want to remove as much risk as possible of transmission.
We are content for those who work outside and alone or with one other person – so builders, window cleaners, outdoor painters, and gardeners for example – to continue for the moment provided that it is no more than two people with full mitigations including masks and social distancing in place. Work on vacant properties is permitted, subject to that two person rule. Work on critical national infrastructure can continue.
Construction workers who are now unable to work may be able to claim the Manx Earnings Replacement Allowance from Monday. As announced earlier in the week, the MERA has been increased for this circuit breaker by £30 per week to £230 per week.
This includes workers who are employed, but either made redundant, laid off or placed on nil pay by their employer, and the self-employed who are unable to carry out their work due to these latest restrictions.
Further information about the eligibility criteria for claiming MERA, and a link to the online application form, is available on gov.im, or queries can be directed to the dedicated helpline on 648125.
Employers in the construction industry who now find that they are experiencing a reduction in revenue of at least 25% may be able to claim the Salary Support Payment to assist with salary costs for their employees. For this circuit break this is to be increased by £30 per week to £310 per week per full time equivalent.
We have covered that the way to break the chain of transmission is to stop mixing. I know there is a thriving buy, sell and exchange community on the Island. For now, this activity will need to pause.
These changes will come into effect from midnight tonight.
I know that this will cause disruption. But once again we need to minimise mixing to stop spread. We will of course review regularly. And as we have said before, we will only keep measures in place for as long as we judge they are necessary.
Before I go to questions from the media, I would like to pick up on a really important point.
For many of you staying at home is not easy and for some it might be impossible.
If you find yourself in that position. Help is on hand.
Anyone that is experiencing domestic abuse in their own home – you must not suffer in silence.
It is not an offence to move to another property to flee domestic abuse.
If you’re living in fear of violence then please call 999 and ask for help.
Victim Support and Women’s Aid both offer help and support – so if you, or someone you care about need support – please give them a call.
Thank you for everything you are doing. Right now, the message is simple.
Stay at home. This is the best thing you can do for your Island and the essential services that keep us safe. The more people stay at home, the quicker we can bring this outbreak under control. It is in all of our hands.
If you do have to go out, please wear a face covering as much as possible.
If you feel any symptoms, please self-isolate and call 111 as soon as possible.
Respect the rules and we will get through this. Please make the right decisions for you, your family and your Island.