We are now into Day 5 of our circuit break lockdown.
The Minister of Health & Social Care is here with me to provide another update on the vaccination programme. We also have the Director of Public Health on Zoom.
I know that many of you will be keen to hear the latest on the cases that were being looked into by our contact tracing team.
Just before I hand over to Dr Ewart, I am able to confirm that the test results that we were waiting for in connection with St Mary’s Primary School have now all come back. We conducted over 90 tests and they are all negative.
Now this is encouraging and I am sure it will be reassuring to many. And of course it is. But as we have said on a number of occasions, a test is only a snapshot of a moment in time. Those who were identified as close contacts will still have to self-isolate until we are sure that there is no longer any risk.
I would like again to thank the head-teacher, all the staff and the parents for doing the right thing and enabling the Contact Tracing Team to do their job.
I would like now to hand over to our Director of Public Health for an update on cases and contact tracing.
We are starting to understand how the virus has been spreading in our community. We have often talked about the challenges we face dealing with a disease that is all too often invisible. If everyone showed symptoms, this would be far easier to identify and isolate.
But this is not the case. In maybe a third of cases, people will not show any symptoms at all. And others may have symptoms that they shrug off as something else.
And we have been working hard to shut down each possible infection chain as we see them. This is of course an incredibly tough job.
As you have heard from Dr Ewart and others recently, the most powerful weapon we have is our behaviour.
We have done almost one week of our circuit break lockdown now. We brought this in because of the perceived risk to our most vulnerable people and our vaccination programme.
The Council of Ministers met this morning to hear from our clinical and public health professionals. We heard about the situation in the United Kingdom and how – in the words of the Chief Medical Officer there: “the next three weeks will be the worst of the pandemic”.
We also heard from the Chief Executive of the Department of Health & Social about the significant pressures on our hospitals. Winter is always a tough time for bed space. This winter is no exception. Capacity is stable but extremely limited.
The Council of Ministers agreed that we cannot afford to sit and wait to see what the impact on our health and social care services will be in two weeks.
Some of this is for government to do. But success is in your hands.
I know that many of you have taken the circuit break period seriously. But this, the measures that we put in place, and your response to them, was based on a risk. Something that we worried might happen.
But what we now have is a threat. Something that we know is happening. We now know that the virus is in our community and spreading.
We have therefore decided to make some changes to the measures in place.
We are not at present suggesting that we are going to extend the length of this lockdown. But we need to take another step to tighten the measures in and around our Island.
We have done one week well. But for the next two weeks, we have to do even better. We need to turn the screws another notch and lock down a little harder.
We can get back to normal but only if we get the next two weeks absolutely right.
The Council of Ministers decided this morning to revise a number of the measures we have in place. These will come into effect from one minute past midnight Wednesday night into Thursday morning.
Let me start with education.
In those education facilities that are still open, we will be further tightening our processes.
The first point to make is why the hubs are there. They are there for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers when this is essential – where they have no alternative possible arrangements.
We will be reinforcing bubbles within schools. This is about keeping together children of the same age groups or those who have come to the hub from the same school.
We will be issuing further advice on face coverings in schools today. This will continue to strongly advise face coverings for all adults and secondary age students where they can. We do have small numbers of face coverings available but our preference would be that students bring their own. If primary age children have a mask of their own, we would encourage them to wear it also.
We have also considered whether we needed to make changes to retail. We were satisfied that broadly speaking people and businesses are following the current guidance.
We are not proposing major changes to current measures but we will be requiring garden centres to close.
We will also require all hardware and building suppliers to close to the general public. They can remain open for trade customers. They can continue to offer click & collect services to others.
The message here is clear – essential shopping is allowed. But please do not go shopping for things that are not essential.
Borders I know continue to cause a great deal of debate. We carefully considered whether we needed to further tighten our borders. We believe that the changes we brought in from 23 December are proportionate and appropriate to the threat. To remind everyone, this is three tests on days 1, 7 and 13 and a self-isolation that can only be with someone you travelled with.
These measures work if people respect the rules. Self-isolation means just that. Given the rates of infection across in the UK and beyond, we have to assume people travelling here are at a high risk of infection and should be treated accordingly. Yes, you can drop things off for them but any contact with them is a breach of their legal direction. And it puts you, your family and your community at risk.
If you are considering travel off-Island, please think very carefully before you do. We are not at this stage going to prevent people from leaving the Island. But as I have said before we cannot rule out closing our borders at short or no notice. In short, if you leave, we cannot guarantee how easy it will be to return in the future.
We will keep all of these measures under regular review as you would expect. If we need to tighten them, we will.
But the important message I would like you to take away today is that while a certain amount of this is for government to do, success is in your hands. I need you to think before you act in everything you do.
The UK’s Chief Medical Officer Chris Witty has used a phrase that I think is important to us. He has asked everyone to act as if they were infected with COVID.
I know the situation across is not the same as here. But this is the right way to think.
Every time you are considering leaving your home, think again about whether your journey is really essential. If you were infectious, how many people might you be spreading it to?
And before you get in your car let’s not forget, any incident on the roads can put tremendous pressure on our health and emergency services. They are under enough pressure from COVID. Do you want to risk adding to that?
And even if you are just going out for your daily exercise, do you really need to drive there? Exercise locally if you can. Respect the space of others as you want them to respect yours.
We have been receiving reports of certain of our outdoor spaces becoming crowded at some times of the day. Please use common sense. If there too many people, go somewhere else or come another time. Again, take a moment and picture what you would do if everyone was infectious. Walk on by.
At the moment we do not want to limit exercise or close sites. We are hoping that people will see that this is the responsible thing to do. But if we need to, we will.
And if it is essential – to pick up food or medicine – surely the best thing would be to assume you are infectious – keep your distance, wear a face covering, wash your hands.
If you are tempted to allow someone to come into your home – even if it is someone you know well or if it is for something essential like care or an emergency – consider what it would mean if they were infectious. You don’t know if they are infectious or not. Assume they are. Do you want to put yourself and your family at risk?
We have asked people who can, to work from home. Any person to person contact increases the risk of spread. If it can be avoided then it must be. This is a call out to employers. Do everything you can do to enable your employees to stay at home. Do you want your company to become the next cluster? Please do the right thing.
We must not forget why we are doing all this. Yes we want to get back to normality as soon as we can. But it is critical that we protect the roll out of our vaccine programme.
The situation on this changes regularly so I would like to invite the Health & Social Care Minister to give us an update.
I know that it is important for us to get clear information out to the public as soon as possible. We are doing our best within the constraints of confidentiality that I am sure you will understand.
We plan to hold these briefings on Wednesday and Friday this week. Of course if there are important developments that need sharing immediately, we will do so.
I know that as well as being an important tool, social media can lead to great anxiety and occasionally misinformation. Please ensure you get your information from trusted sources.
If you do need information, please visit gov.im/covid19. Or call the Community Support Line on 686262. Or email Covid19CommunitySupport@gov.im. Use these lines so that we can keep the 111 line free for those who need it.
I will leave things there for today.
We can get through this if we work together, support each other and make the right decisions. And if we remember the basics:
- Stay at home;
- Before you go out, ask yourself if it is essential;
- If you do go out, wear a face covering;
- If you have any symptoms then stay at home and call 111 as soon as you can.
Make the right decisions to keep you, your family and your Island safe. And to protect our vaccination programme.