I am joined at the podium today by the Minister for Health and Social Care and also online by our Director of Public Health.
It has been a few weeks since I last updated you on the COVID-19 situation on our Island, and the gap between briefings reflects the broadly stable situation both here and across the water.
Government has used this time to continue to review the Island’s COVID-19 response, particularly measures in place at our borders.
It has been – and remains – our intention to restore restriction-free travel between the Isle of Man and our neighbours. But we have always been clear that the time and the circumstances – here on the Island as well in the jurisdictions around us – must be right.
The Council of Ministers met yesterday to review our border measures. We did so in the context of a plateau in COVID-19 case numbers here on the Island; the high proportion of our population who are now vaccinated; relative stability in hospital admissions; and broad equilibrium in case numbers between the Isle of Man, the UK, and Ireland.
But we did so conscious of the return of pupils to schools this week and the approach of winter, both of which could have an impact on COVID case numbers and hospital admissions.
We are ever mindful of the need to balance progressing towards normality against the potential risks the virus still poses to our community.
After careful consideration, it was felt that the time was right to take another step forward – but a cautious one – another 'baby step'.
Currently, residents aged 18 and over who are not fully vaccinated and wish to travel to the Island are required to apply for a Manx Travel Permit, whilst those who are fully vaccinated are required to apply for a vaccination exemption.
I am pleased to announce that this process will end for residents with the last flight and ferry this coming Wednesday.
Landing forms will, however, still be required for all travellers as this includes a health declaration.
We also reviewed our travel pathways. Those who are fully vaccinated can travel to the Island without the need to isolate or have a COVID test when they arrive, so long as they have not been to any countries on the red travel list.
Those who are not fully vaccinated can access the test to release pathway so long as they have only been in the Common Travel Area or a green list country. If they have been to an amber list country they can have access to the 7 day pathway. And those who have been to red country must quarantine in the United Kingdom.
After carefully considering these restrictions, again reflecting on the stable position the Island is in, and recognising the impact these restrictions have on residents, we are ready to take another “baby step” forward here as well.
From Thursday 16 September we are removing the requirement for testing and isolation for any resident who is not fully vaccinated where they have only travelled within the Common Travel Area – that is England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands – in the 10 days before returning to the Island.
This, in effect, creates a new Isle of Man resident travel pathway for those who have been in the CTA.
The rules for those arriving here who have travelled from green and amber list countries remain the same and of course direct entry from red list countries remains prohibited.
These measures were originally put in place to protect our community and have served their purpose well. But the Council of Ministers is mindful that they make travelling complicated and difficult for some. They should only be in place as long as they remain necessary as a measure to protect our community and benefit our Island.
These steps take us in the right direction, and whilst they move us forward, we feel they are proportionate, enabling us to continue our process of gradually easing border restrictions. Of course, we want this to be a one-way journey, but I must caveat these changes by making clear the situation remains under constant review. We will monitor what impact these changes have on our community in terms of case numbers and hospital admissions.
In time, we hope that we can look at how measures can be eased for non-residents travelling to the Isle of Man as part of our journey to remove our remaining border restrictions. But we must take care with the number of unvaccinated visitors coming to the Island, particularly around that all-important hospital capacity. And so that is why this change is limited to residents only in the first instance.
The Council of Ministers feels the changes represent a positive transitional step forward.
Despite removing these measures, testing remains vital in detecting cases of COVID-19. I would strongly encourage anyone travelling to the Island to undertake lateral flow tests in the days following their arrival. These are freely available from a number of pharmacies around the Island and can be ordered online for free at gov.im/covid19
In a further step to make travelling less complex and to streamline processes at our borders, I am also pleased to announce that scanners will be installed allowing people to self-serve by scanning QR codes on their documentation. We hope this will improve throughput, although our borders team will continue to check ID and monitor residency status of travellers.
Continuing the theme of making life easier for people at the border, I am pleased to advise that we are partially reopening Peel harbour, also from Thursday 16 September. I must emphasise the word partial. There will be limited windows for docking and booking will be required. Nonetheless the Council of Ministers feel this is another positive step in the right direction. More detail on this will be published next week.
This package of changes are the latest steps in the long journey of this pandemic. Throughout, we have regularly reviewed and adapted our plans to ensure we are well positioned to respond to COVID and its impact on our health, our community, and our economy.
We have again reviewed our approach in light of the changing situation on the Island and around us, and factoring in all we have learnt throughout this pandemic and what may lie ahead.
Today we are publishing our revised plan, titled 'Learning to Live in a world with COVID-19'.
It sets out the current considerations and rationale for Government decision making over the next one to three months. The announcements today form part of this.
It recognises that, while the vaccination programme has contributed significantly to the Island’s defences, the virus continues to represent a threat to Island life, particularly if a new variant, which evades vaccines, emerges and spreads.
You can read the plan online at gov.im/covid19
One final area I want to cover is the number of deaths on the Island from COVID-19.
You may be aware that the Public Health Directorate has recently started publishing weekly COVID-19 surveillance reports.
As part of this work a decision was taken to review all death certificates back to January 2020 – the start of the pandemic.
Our public health team have reviewed over 1,400 certificates for any mention of COVID-19, and – importantly – regardless of whether the individuals had the virus at the time of death.
This process has identified 10 deaths that are now classed as being COVID-19 related – three which were reported on Monday. It takes the total number of COVID-related deaths on the Island to 48. A painful number to see written down and to have to read aloud.
Public Health will continue to monitor causes of the death on the Island on a weekly basis for its ongoing surveillance reports. This will ensure we have the full picture and that all COVID-related deaths are included in official figures and is in line with methods utilised by other jurisdictions.
It is absolutely vital that the Government and the public has the full picture in relation to COVID-19 and the loss of life in our community.
Deaths occur in people’s homes, in care facilities and in hospital – and the processes can differ for each. The certification by doctors, the involvement of funeral directors, the involvements of the hospital mortuary, and sometimes the coroner. What does not differ, however, is that every death requires a certified death certificate which must be lodged with the General Registry. For this reason, the Council of Ministers has agreed that the weekly Public Health surveillance reports will now be used as the primary method for reporting COVID-related deaths going forward.
Whilst this will mean a shift to weekly instead of daily reporting of any COVID-related fatalities, it is important that everyone can have access to accurate data and that they can have faith in the completeness of that data.
I am also aware that sadly there have been three further deaths this week that are likely to be COVID-19 related, so will feature in future reports. This news will be devastating for the friends and families involved and my thoughts and condolences are with them all.
David, perhaps you could go into a little more detail on what work has been undertaken….
Thank you David.
Let’s take some questions…
Thank you for those questions.
That’s all for today, have a pleasant weekend.