Good afternoon everyone and thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.
I am delighted to be joined today by the Minister for Health and Social David Ashford MHK and our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.
As many of you will be aware, since my last update, our community has – tragically – endured a further death from COVID-19.
Myself and David extend our sincere condolences to their family and friends and, I am sure, all of our thoughts are with them at this most difficult time.
It takes the loss of life from the virus in the Isle of Man to twenty-five, reminding us of the continued danger COVID-19 poses to our Island and our community – particularly those who are the most vulnerable.
This past week, we have detected six new cases of COVID-19 in the Isle of Man. The number of active cases is nine, meaning that we have two new cases.
I know there has been debate about these most recent cases and whether it means that the virus is spreading in our community.
Using the definition of “community transmission” as set out by the World Health Organisation is one thing, but we must – of course – bear in mind what this terminology means to you, the public.
I have always set out to be honest with you at these briefings, so I do not intend to quibble over semantics and technical definitions.
To be clear, yes, some of this week’s COVID-19 cases have come about from on-Island transmission of the virus.
It is always a concern, although not a surprise, to see sporadic cases of the virus being detected on our Island as a result of people travelling here. That we have seen a continued trickle of cases being detected demonstrates the prevalence of the virus in the UK and further afield.
What we have seen this week with new cases can be described as a cluster – broadly similar to what happened in Guernsey a few weeks ago that led to the air bridge being suspended. However, unlike the cluster in Guernsey, we have been able to identify the source.
What I can assure you is, that each and every case that has been detected this week is in the same chain of transmission, which can be traced back to someone travelling to our Island who has – unknowingly – carried the virus with them.
All of the high risk contacts have been traced and are now self-isolating for fourteen days. Self-isolation is mandatory, even in the event of a negative test result, as high risk contacts could be incubating the virus and therefore not yet showing a positive test result for the virus.
This is why the gold standard of fourteen day isolation – and adhering to it – is so important.
At the moment, anyone travelling to the Island must self-isolate; whether that’s for fourteen days at home or, for visiting key workers, by following a number of very strict rules to enable them to safely undertake the work they have been brought to the Island to carry out.
What has not been required when someone travels to the Island, however, is for other members of their household here on the Island to self-isolate.
To date we have not seen any spread as a result of not making whole households isolate.
But, given the resurgence of the virus in the UK, the second lockdown in England, and the numbers of students we are expecting to see return in the coming weeks, the Council of Ministers has been considering whether the policy of not requiring whole households to isolate remains the right approach.
We have sought advice from Public Health and the Clinical Advisory Group. Their advice and recommendation was clear: given the factors I have just listed, we should now seek to introduce whole household isolation for anyone travelling to our Island.
The Council of Ministers has taken this advice and recommendation on board and has agreed that, from one minute past midnight next Thursday the 19 November, as well as anyone travelling to the Island having to self-isolate for fourteen days, everyone in their household will have to do likewise, as a precaution.
Some of you will welcome this move, some of you may not. As I have said time and again, the Council of Ministers seeks to balance risk. Given the prevalence of the virus in the UK at the moment and the increase in travel related cases here, the Council of Ministers has determined that – for now – this change in approach is the most appropriate course of action to keep our community safe.
We will review this position, as we do with all our policies, every two weeks.
The Council of Ministers is acutely aware that this change may be difficult for some households and families. It may result in children having to be off school and people having to be absent from work.
We want to help make this easier, and so, I can announce that a one-off package of support will be available to offer alternative accommodation to returning residents, to avoid whole households having to self-isolate.
How will this work? Government will seek to establish a framework with tourist accommodation providers from the private sector and will make rooms available to individuals returning from the UK. The Government will make a contribution of up to two-hundred and fifty pounds a week towards the cost of this accommodation, which the provider will bill Government for directly. Any costs beyond this amount will need to met by the individual.
Now I want to be clear. This will be a one-off package of support, so it can be used only once.
This decision has been made today and so there are several elements of the scheme currently being finalised. More detail will be released by tomorrow night. Please bear with us until we finalise this and please do not contact the COVID 111 Service or the Travel Notification Service for details.
Turning to other developments this week, you will have seen encouraging news on the vaccination front. One of the many COVID vaccines being developed has been tested on more than 40,000 people in six countries, with no safety concerns raised.
There is still a way to go in the approval process, but it represents a significant milestone along the road to developing a safe and effective vaccine.
We must bear in mind, however, that a mass vaccination programme is still some way off, but planning is well underway here in the Isle of Man to ensure that we can deliver a programme – effectively and efficiently – when the time comes. We will continue to work closely with the UK NHS in the coming weeks and months.
This development offers a glimmer of hope for 2021, and is a tribute to the incredible work underway by so many scientists.
Despite this promising sign, we cannot allow complacency to creep in. We cannot let down our guard and so we must continue to adhere to the basics, if we are to keep our community safe: being aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19 so we know when to dial 111 to request advice or a test; practicing good hand and respiratory hygiene; self-isolating for 14 days when instructed to do so. These basic measures will continue to play a vital role in the fight against the virus for some time to come.
Now to questions from the media and I would like to remind everyone that for reasons of patient confidentiality, we cannot be drawn on individual cases and their circumstances. My thanks for your understanding on this point.