As well as the Health & Social Care Minister, today I am pleased to have with us the Minister of Infrastructure, Ray Harmer. I look forward to his update.
We have a lot to get through this afternoon so without further ado, I would like to ask the Minister of Health & Social Care to cover today’s numbers.
I would like to move onto the update from the Minister for Infrastructure. At this press conference we have talked about the excellent work that the Department has done to support the Department of Health & Social Care, to keep our Island running and to shore up our critical national infrastructure. As we move into a new phase in dealing with the pandemic, the Department will be too.
Just before I take you through this morning’s meeting of the Council of Ministers, I would like to touch on some news that many of you will have seen this morning relating to antibody testing.
Prof John Newton, national coordinator of the UK coronavirus testing programme has described the test developed by Roche as a “positive development” and its initial testing had a high level of accuracy. This is encouraging news after many previous products from different companies have failed.
Just to remind you, this is the test – in this case a blood test - that will be able to tell whether you have ever had COVID-19. We have often said that it would be a key tool in the management of the virus in our community.
The United Kingdom are not yet able to confirm when it will be rolled out. But I can confirm two things to you today.
First that once final verification of accuracy of the test is formally received, we will benefit from that roll out as a full partner of the NHS supply chains.
Second I can also confirm that we already have the ability – with some light changes - to start antibody testing once we have the product.
So yes there remain a number of unknowns. But it is a positive development. The Health & Social Care Minister and I will update you as we know more.
The Council of Ministers has – as you know - been meeting regularly. This morning, we were briefed on the latest situation regarding active cases, capacity at the hospital, staffing, personal protection equipment and other relevant information.
I am pleased to report that the indicators remain strong. This is the result of hard work by so many people across the Island. Thank you.
We reviewed the current measures in place to see if we were ready to make changes. I would like to take you through the outcomes.
Gatherings: As promised, we took another look at this. It is an incredibly complex area that we need to get absolutely right. We have looked at a number of models to allow for families to see each other and for friends to gather.
We are close to being able to making changes. You have shown us that you understand the importance of social distancing and the risks if we get this wrong.
We also recognise that the current restrictions on gatherings impact on so many aspects of our Island life. We know the emotional challenges we all suffer from not being able to see friends and family. I feel that too.
We know that it is also impacts more widely. On sports and recreation, but also on important moments like worship, weddings and funerals. We need to consider all of this and we are doing so.
The approach of the Council of Ministers is that we want – as far as possible - to step out of your home and social lives and trust you to make the right decisions for your circumstances. We will of course provide you with the best guidance we can. But you are best placed to know the needs and vulnerabilities of you and your family.
I do however need to ask you to be a little more patient on this. The Council of Ministers has asked for some further clarifications. We will go through this again at our meeting on Saturday. I will make an announcement on Monday.
Meanwhile, do remember that you can still pop round to see a family member or someone in your community who you think might need support. Just please remember the rules:
- Keep your distance
- Don’t go inside
- Only go alone or with one other person from your household
And deckchairs are not obligatory.
Property. Earlier this week we published guidance for estate agents to allow them to visit homes with certain precautions in place. This morning the Council of Ministers considered whether to allow the resumption of property sales, lettings and viewings to support the property market resuming to a full extent.
We agreed that these businesses will be allowed to resume their full operations including viewings, with effect from Monday 18 May. Public Health England has published guidance to the industry on this. Our Public Health team has reviewed this guidance and on this occasion has recommended that we align to it.
The headlines of this are:
- Initial viewings should be done virtually wherever this is possible
- Physical viewings should be limited to as few people as possible and members of the same household
- If possible, vendors should vacate the property whilst viewings are taking
- Anyone involved should of course practice social distancing and high levels of hygiene at all times
We will publish these guidelines on our website and have already shared them with industry representatives.
Retail: Last week I told you that the Council of Ministers would look at the resumption of more of our retail sector. We duly did this today. We agreed that where retail businesses were ready to do so, they could open from Monday 18 May. We have already published guidance to assist our retail businesses in ensuring that their premises are safe for customers and staff.
Some businesses may judge that they are not yet ready to open. That is perfectly OK. This is an opportunity for them to open – not an obligation. Like so much relating to our work against COVID, we want our businesses to get this right not rushed.
A lot of work has taken place with local authorities and the retail sector to get this right. There may be teething problems at the start. But if as a community we continue to show patience and - most importantly – respect for others and their personal space, we can make this work safely.
There are some businesses that we are not yet ready to reopen. Essentially those that would result in large numbers of people coming together – bars, clubs, cinemas, gyms etc - or where there is proximity of people – businesses that we often call “lifestyle” so hairdressing, beauticians, etc. We will publish a comprehensive list later this evening.
Schools: As announced by the Minister for Education, Sport & Culture, in his briefing on Monday, with effect from Monday 18 children of workers in the construction, trades and horticulture sectors – those who we allowed to return to work from 24 April - will be able to send their children to one of the existing hub facilities. Dr Allinson asked those people to contact their head teacher to discuss this so that they can better understand the numbers involved. If you have not yet done so, please do.
Nurseries: The Council of Ministers considered the question of allowing an expansion of nursery provision. We fully understand that there is pressure on this especially from those who are returning to work. There was a lengthy debate but we agreed that we were not quite ready to allow this.
The issues around social distancing in a nursery environment is incredibly complex. And our clinicians want to see the data from the schools – especially on the increased take-up of places in primary school - before making a final determination.
The work between our Public Health colleagues and the sector will continue and we will review again on 21 May. I know this may be frustrating to many people but we do want to get this right. Right for our children, for nursery staff, for parents and for us all, as we carefully balance a series of incremental changes being made on a measured basis.
Sport. We have continued our process of bringing sports and recreation back online. This follows successful work with sporting associations and clubs to produce sensible and credible plans on how they will do that safely. This morning we were able to approve archery, target shooting, paddle-sports, crown green and lawn bowls. Where possible, please check with your club or association to understand what arrangements you may need to follow.
I know that there are other sports that want to resume. Some of course are more difficult than others of course. Some also depend on the rules relating to gathering. We know that the resumption of sport is important to people and we will continue to work with sporting bodies to bring them back when it is safe to do so.
I will now take questions.
Thank you. This has been a long briefing so just one Shout Out this evening.
To you. The great Manx public. I want to send a big shout out to you all.
You have got us to where we are. And as I look around the world at what is going on, I know – and I hope you agree – that there is nowhere I would rather be right now.
As we move further into this new phase, we need you to keep up the good work. Keep your distance. Keep supporting each other. Keep making the right decisions for you, for your loved ones, for our Island.
Have a good and safe weekend.