Good afternoon everyone.
Thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.
First, I would like to reflect on the situation here in the Isle of Man. I am pleased to be able to report that since my update this time last week, we have had no new cases of COVID-19 detected in the Isle of Man.
Of the four cases detected in recent weeks – all are people who were already self-isolating – only one of these cases is still active and that individual remains, of course, in the extended fourteen day period of self-isolation.
As I have said time and again, respecting the rules – which have been put in place to prevent the virus from taking grip and once again circulating in our community – is our most important line of defence.
If you are a returning resident or a key worker, upon arrival in the Isle of Man you must go directly from the airport or the sea terminal to your home or accommodation.
It is disappointing that there has again been instances this week where people have failed to follow this clear and simple rule.
But we must remember, despite instances such as this, the vast majority of returning residents and key workers coming to the Island do follow the rules. My thanks to all those who are behaving responsibly and helping to protect our community.
Turning our attention to the United Kingdom, it has been another difficult week. Yesterday the Prime Minister described the UK as being at a "critical moment" with a rising number of cases, hospital admissions and, very sadly, deaths.
The north of England continues to struggle with the virus, with Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle having over four times the average UK level of infection. Indeed, new, stricter rules in these areas have been unveiled today to help tackle the spread of the virus.
The United Kingdom this week reached a new high for the number of COVID-19 cases detected in a single day, at seven-thousand one-hundred and forty-three. We must put this in the context however, with the significant increase in testing in the United Kingdom in recent months compared to the peak we saw in May.
But as the Prime Minister made clear, despite this context, there is no room for complacency. Cases, hospital admissions, and deaths are rising. The encouraging news is that the spread of the virus appears to be slower than the worst-case scenarios set out last week by the UK's scientific advisers.
Last week, I set out the Council of Ministers intention to review our borders framework – in particular, splitting level three into two parts. Level three A would allow residents to sponsor immediate family members to come to the Island, with level three B allowing businesses to sponsor visitors.
Given the situation in the United Kingdom, it is clear that now is not the time to relax our border restrictions and so we remain on level four of our borders framework.
I am pleased to advise, however, that this morning the Council of Ministers further explored how a move to level three A and three B might work in practice. We need to ensure that we have the appropriate processes and procedures in place for when the time is right. I hope to be able to talk about this in more detail at a future briefing.
Looking more broadly, this week saw a sombre moment in the global struggle against the virus with deaths reaching one million, according to researchers at Johns Hopkins University. The UN Secretary-General called it a "mind-numbing" figure and "an agonising milestone".
These developments, both close to home and further afield, serve as a stark reminder that despite the position we find ourselves in here in the Isle of Man – with local elimination of the virus achieved and one-hundred-and-twenty-one days since a new case was detected within our community – the battle is far from over, especially as the northern hemisphere approaches the winter months.
And that is the topic I wish to focus on today – being prepared for winter, where each year, every country sees a spike in hospital admissions and, very sadly, deaths.
Protecting vulnerable groups against winter flu is one of the most important ways of saving lives and reducing hospital admissions during the winter months. And that's why, for many years, we have provided vulnerable people with a free flu vaccination.
We are COVID-free at the moment, but as we know, a return of the virus and its circulation in our community will see an increase in hospital admissions, placing a significant strain on our health and social care services. Should the virus return to our community, we must be prepared, and protecting vulnerable people against flu is vital to those preparations.
Before turning to questions from the media, I would like to take a minute to touch on a different topic.
With all that we have been through over the last six months, it is easy to forget that the other issue that was taking up so much of our time at the start of the year - namely the UK's negotiations with the European Union. The United Kingdom of course left the European Union in January this year and they – and in effect we also – then entered a transition period while the two sides worked out their future relationship. The arrival of COVID caused delays and disruption for a few months but then face to face negotiations resumed at the end of June.
The United Kingdom has been negotiating on behalf of the Isle of Man and the other Crown Dependencies. The lines of communication between us have been solid.
Those who have been following this through the UK media will know that the negotiations have been challenging. And it seems that every week is a "crucial week".
Over the next few weeks, we should have a clearer idea of what deal the two sides might agree – and what the impact on the Isle of Man will be. As soon as we know, I will let you know.
There is of course a possibility that the two sides cannot agree a way forward. If this happens, I want to reassure you that we will have plans in place. We planned for a No Deal outcome at the end of last year and this would be very similar. Again, if this happens, I will talk to you about it.
In the meantime, there are a number of things to think about regardless of the outcome of the negotiations. If you travel to the EU, export to the EU or come from the EU there could be something you need to do. Again, much of this we talked about at the end of last year. We are updating our website and reissuing the guide that I know many people found helpful last year. You will see some messages from us on social media and in the media. We will come back to it in these briefings as well.