It is good to be back with you today, alongside our Minister of Health & Social Care.
Today I will be looking forward. Forward to the changes that are coming up soon. Some of these you already know about and there will be at least one that will be new to you.
I would also like to just take stock of what few restrictions remain in place and give you a clear line of sight on when those might change.
First of all, I will ask the Minister to bring us today’s numbers.
Thank you, David.
So twenty two days with no cases. Does this mean that we have eliminated COVID from the Island for the time being? Possibly. It is really difficult to be categorical about that. But even the most cautious of us agree – and David is one of the most cautious of all – that even if we do have any transmission still happening among our Island community, it can only be at an exceptionally low level.
Will we see the odd case pop up again in the future? Possibly. But as the Health Minister reminded us all yesterday, if we do see the odd case or two over the coming weeks or months, that is not a sign of failure.
If we did have a small outbreak in the future, would we have to go back to full lockdown? Unlikely. We have testing and contact tracing ready to go. We might have to bring back some measures in some places – a particular area or a school or business for example. And we may have to bring in some measures across the Island. But it would be difficult to imagine us going back to where we were in March.
But does the current situation mean that we can be a lot bolder in removing the measures we have in place? Definitely.
We want to get out of these restrictions as soon as we can. We want to get our society and economy going. This was the clear message at the meeting of the Council of Ministers this morning. We have all done an incredible job getting to where we are.
Some people have accused us of keeping restrictions in place for too long. People have compared us to other jurisdictions. At the start it was Germany. Sometimes it was South Korea. Other times it was our Channel Island friends.
More often now it is New Zealand. And for good reason. The people and the Government of New Zealand have done an exceptional job of which they should be proud.
But as you have heard me say all too often, the solution for our Island community was not German, Korean or Kiwi. We chose a Manx solution for our Manx situation.
We have trod a cautious line so far. I know that and make no excuses. I believe that on the whole we made the right decisions at the right time to protect our Island from the virus.
The time has come for us to take a new set of decisions. This time to protect our society, our economy and our very way of life.
I had already made a number of announcements about changes that were due on Monday – 15th June. It was always going to be a significant day.
From Monday, restaurants and cafés will be able to offer indoor as well as outdoor dining. Pubs that can operate as a restaurant – with a food driven service - can also do so from Monday.
From Monday, gyms can open. We are going to just ask that those high intensive aerobic activity class just hold off for a short while yet.
From Monday, all nurseries, playgroups and child minders can accept all children as long as they have appropriate risk assessments in place.
You know all of this already.
But given the strong position we find ourselves in at the moment, the Council of Ministers decided to take a long hard look at the restrictions that we still had in place. I have told you before that we don’t want to be meddling any more than we absolutely need to. The time has come to take a big step out of your life.
Today we have given the green light to all the changes we had already announced. And have decided to go further.
What do I mean?
Early next week, you will have achieved twenty eight days without a new case on the Island. Why is twenty eight significant? Because it is double the fourteen days that is widely considered to be the maximum incubation period of COVID.
This is the point where we would be able to say that we have achieved what Public Health colleagues have described as “local elimination” of the virus. But this long period of no new cases would tell us that the likelihood of the virus circulating in our community was incredibly low. That we were as close to 100% free as is possible without a vaccine.
The Council of Ministers carefully considered what this means for us. We have decided that we are ready to remove any legal requirement for social distancing from 15th June.
We know this is a bold step. We believe it is the right one at the right time.
Our principal objective from the start of this pandemic has been to protect our most vulnerable people. This has not changed. We have therefore decided that while the removal of the legal obligation for social distancing would be removed across all aspect of our community, we would maintain it – and the need for PPE - in health and care environments, in care and residential homes and other environments that protect our vulnerable. We will keep this under review.
We know that this will make a real difference to all our lives. It will allow our society to come back together. It will allow our economy to thrive. It will also help our schools as they start to increase the numbers of children coming in each day. This will allow greater flexibility for head teachers to increase numbers which I know will be welcomed by many parents.
I know this might take some getting used to. Social distancing has become such a part of our lives.
And let me be clear – it may well come back to one metre as we had originally planned if our cases increase once again to a level of concern. I would ask everyone to continue to bear this in mind and be ready for it.
For now though - as we have increasingly said - it will now be up to you – more than ever – to make the right decisions. It will be for you to decide where you are comfortable being and who you are comfortable being with. And if you do want to keep people at an arm’s length for the time being then that is for you to decide. You know your own personal situation better than government does. This includes those who are clinically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable – who will have received a letter from the Department of Health & Social Care earlier this week.
But government has decided that given the incredibly low risk– or quite possibly zero risk- that we currently face – as shown by twenty two days with no cases, it is right for us to take this most important step out of your lives.
We will still need you to remember the basics. Even with this bright outlook, if you feel you have flu like symptoms, you must stay at home, call 111 who may want to test you. If you cough or sneeze, we still want you to do it into a tissue or the crook or your arms. We will still want you to wash your hands over and over again. We still want you to keep your wits about you – there is a serious global pandemic out there.
But if you and those who you live with feel 100% and you feel comfortable doing so, then we want you to get out and about and return to living your life as normally as possible.
The basics got us here. Even if we are able to remove the need for social distancing, the basics will be no less important.
So what is left? I think there are three main areas. Borders, gatherings, and the rest of the leisure and hospitality sector.
So firstly borders. Closing the borders at the end of March is what has allowed us to get through this pandemic so well. And it is what has allowed us to open up our society and our economy so soon. We are keeping a close eye on what does appear to be a steadily improving situation in the United Kingdom and many other countries. The Council of Ministers will discuss borders formally towards the end of June. But to be clear, we are not ready to make significant changes to the border yet.
Secondly, on to the question of the rest of leisure and hospitality – so pubs, clubs, theatres, cinemas and the last aspects of sports.
In light of our current situation, the Council of Ministers is minded to remove all remaining restrictions sooner rather later. We are doing some detailed consultations – including with industry where this is important - on how soon that may be able to happen. I hope to be able to make announcements early next week in order to give people enough time to prepare.
We will also be refreshing all of our guidance. We will do this as soon as possible. But be ready for guidance that is far more general than you have seen before. Less about us telling you what to do. And more about things for you to consider.
And thirdly, we know that we need to make changes to what we have referred to as gatherings. This is the people you can have in your home and people you can meet up with outdoors. The Council of Ministers will be discussing this on Monday. If you could please keep to the “two inside-ten outside” over this weekend, I hope to have positive news for you early next week.
I know there has been a lot here. I will be making a statement to Tynwald on Tuesday. I hope by then I will have been able to give full clarity on when we will be lifting those last remaining restrictions on our Island. We are boldly heading towards our new Manx normal and I expect to get there before the end of June.
I am now happy to take questions.
I won’t do shout outs this evening. But one thing I have to do is wish Dave Molyneux – known to many of us as Molly - all the very best as tomorrow – Senior Race Day. He and other members of our community will tackle the TT course on bicycles. They are doing all this to raise money for the Manx Solidarity Fund. And I have been assured they will be reaching incredible speeds approaching thirty miles per hour. They have a JustGiving page so do go and check that out.
I made an undertaking to you that as soon as it was safe to do so, we would step out of your lives. We think the time is now right to make these changes. No one can say that there is absolutely no risk. But your incredible commitment efforts have given us an Island that is as safe as it possible can be.
The rest is up to you. Up to you to decide who you allow into your home and your personal space. Up to you to decide where you are comfortable going. Up to you to decide.
Keep on making the responsible decisions for you and your loved ones.
Have a great weekend. And please stay safe.