Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
I am here at the podium with the Minister for Education, Sport & Culture. Our Director of Public Health joins us on Zoom as does the Minister for Health & Social Care.
I do want to brief you on some important decisions we took at the Council of Ministers this morning. Before I do, let me hand over to the Minister for Health and Social Care for his update on today’s data. I know he has a couple of other points to cover.
Thank you, David.
Over the last week, the data has all been heading in the right direction. The rolling averages have been dropping in a way that suggests to us that this outbreak is under control. And this has of course been our goal from the outset. Local elimination is what we ideally want to see – at least until our vaccination programme has made a little more progress. But for now, I am pleased that the current outbreak – for the moment at least – seems to be on its last legs.
It was only twenty-five days ago when we saw one hundred and fourteen cases in a single day. Just two weeks ago, we had 865 active cases – 843 in our community and twenty-two in hospital.
Today, things are different. With 294 active cases and that number decreasing every day – it is starting to feel like the beginning of a new chapter.
I know people will have been disappointed that we saw a single unknown case this week. I was too. The contact tracing team have been working hard to try to understand where the infection came from and – importantly – if there has been any onward transmission.
They have carried out surge testing around the individual concerned. Given what the individual has told us and our analysis of the context, we have a reasonably high level of assurance that this chain is now contained.
We always knew there would be a risk of odd cases popping up. And the contact tracing team was ready to move quickly. We may not know for certain if the chain has been broken. Only time will tell for sure. But from what we know today, we are cautiously optimistic.
I will come on to the decisions taken by the Council of Ministers this morning. Before I do, I would like to invite our Director of Public Health to give us her update.
Thank you Dr Ewart.
So onto this morning’s Council of Ministers meeting.
Together with advice from our Director of Public Health and other senior officers, we considered the data of the last two weeks. We were briefed on the context around the unknown case from 29 March. And we heard about the status of our hospital – which I am pleased to report has been able to start its journey back to business as usual.
We also carefully considered the intense strain that our community is under from this and previous lockdowns. We know that people not being able to see their loved ones is incredibly hard. We need to take our mental health as seriously as our physical health.
As I said in Tynwald around a year ago, I am worried about the scars this pandemic has already caused and those we have not yet seen.
But – and there is a but – we need to balance this with our wish for a transition out of lockdown to be a one way journey. I certainly do not want us to go through this again.
We are not ready to end the lockdown. But we do want to do what we can to lighten the load.
For some time now we have been talking about a gradual and safe exit from measures. More than maybe ever before, baby steps has to be the right approach for the situation we are in today.
So this is what the Council of Ministers decided this morning. A slow and steady journey back towards the relative normality that we enjoyed for more than two hundred days over the last year.
We heard this morning that the relative risk of the virus spreading in outdoor environments is significantly lower than indoor. It is lower again if social distancing and good hygiene is followed. And lower again if face coverings are used.
We therefore agreed that with effect from first thing tomorrow, we are ready for you to meet people from other households outdoors. We cannot yet permit household mixing indoors – where the risks are that much higher. For the moment we will also be limiting outdoor gatherings to ten people.
We need people to see this for what it is. This is for families and friends to see each other. This is to make these tough days that little bit easier.
But please just so this is absolutely clear, this is meeting up outdoors. Please don’t be tempted to pop inside. And please do everything you can to keep your distance and wear a face covering if you can.
If we get this right and get through another week of low or no new cases, we may be able to go further.
I hope this helps to bring our community a little closer together again. On a personal level, I know how much I am looking forward to sitting in my parents’ garden and catching up with them.
You may remember that last spring, one of the first things we were able to open up again was the construction sector and related trades. We decided this morning that we are ready for this to resume on 6 April – after the Easter weekend.
For construction that is outdoors, this can resume as long as good practice on social distancing and face coverings is respected.
Some work that is indoors is already permitted. Given the difference in risk between outdoors and indoors, we are only going to change the measures slightly. From 6 April, we are ready to raise the limit for work on a vacant property to one person per room. Again, rules on social distancing and the use of face coverings must be respected to ensure a safe working environment.
In line with this, we are also ready for garden centres to open from 6 April – with social distancing in place and face coverings strongly recommended. Some retailers may insist on this.
This mirrors the position we had in January. We wanted it to be as familiar as possible. Detailed guidance will be available later today and we are already talking to industry representatives.
Another important aspect of returning to a more normal society will be the return to school and pre-school for our young people. I know you are keen to know what the situation might look like after the Easter holidays.
Let me hand over to the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture to take you through our current thinking.
Thank you Alex.
Getting our young people back to school as soon as it is safe to do so has to be a top priority for us.
These are the changes that we are able to announce today.
We still need you to work from home where you can. We still need you to keep your distance and respect others’ space. And please wear a face covering as much as you can.
As I said, the lockdown is not over. But we are now on what we aim to be a steady, safe, one-way journey.
We will keep all these measures under regular review. As we have said on a number of occasions, we will only keep measures in place for as long as they are necessary. So tomorrow we can resume some outdoor activities. From the week beginning the 12th, we hope our schools will start a phased return. And then - subject to the situation remaining under control - we can look to a broader reopening on or around 19 April. That is our hope.
But as ever, I do need to be clear that things can change fast. If we need to slow this transition, we will. Whether that is a light touch on the brakes or a complete halt. Let’s hope we won’t need to.
And it would be wrong for me to stand here and promise that all restrictions, all social distancing and face coverings will be gone from 19 April. We will have to see where the data takes us.
Before we go to questions, I would like to share a more solemn moment with you. In so many societies, 1 April is traditionally the time for fun and pranks. But for me it will always be the anniversary of the most difficult speech I have ever had to give. It was the day last year that alongside His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor, I had to announce the first death on our Island linked to this pandemic. I remember that moment well. And always will.
It is for each of you to decide how to mark this sad anniversary. These things are very personal. I will take a quiet moment this evening in thought and prayer for all those who have lost a loved one over the last year.
But I will also remember the incredible community spirit we have seen across our Island over the last year. The challenges of these past twelve months have brought out the best of so many people. The generosity, resilience and strength of the Great Manx Public has been truly remarkable. We must never forget that.
Let’s take some questions.
Thank you for those questions.
Please enjoy the Easter weekend. If you do take your deckchair to sit and catch up with loved ones, you might also need a warm blanket.
Please do everything you can do to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe. Only meet outdoors. Keep your distance. Let’s keep the hugs for another time – hopefully soon.
We will be back on Tuesday, after the long weekend, unless there is a reason to do something sooner.
Until then, please continue to make the right decisions for you, your family and your Island.
And of course call 111 if you have anything that might be symptoms. Don’t delay – every day matters.