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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 15 March 2021

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Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
Here with me at the podium is the Minister for Health & Social Care, and on Zoom we have the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture and our Director of Public Health.
Thank you for making the right decisions over this last weekend. I know that it is not easy to live with the restrictions that are currently in place. I know that there are challenges and hardships. But what you are doing is making a difference.
Let me start this briefing by asking the Minister for Health & Social Care to give us today’s data.
So the trend in the numbers is a continuing fall of new cases. And that is of course a good thing to see. And this is because of the measures in place and the way that the Great Manx Public has responded.

I will hand over to our Director of Public Health in a second for her update and her analysis of what the numbers tell us.

Just before I do, I would like to share an important point.

I know many of you are carefully following the number of "unexplained" cases. Like me, you will have noticed that they continue to pop up. Our Director of Public Health will be able to bring more context to this but we do know that some of this has been about people still going about their business – including going into the workplace – when they are showing symptoms.

This has to stop. As we have said at these briefings before, responsibility here is two fold. Employers must ensure that they only require their employees to go into
work if it is absolutely critical. They also need to ensure that the workplace is as safe as possible.

For employees who are critical and who do need to go into work, they must not do so if they show the slightest symptoms. If you go into a workplace with COVID, you could be putting lives at risk - perhaps even your own.

And you could be putting your organisation at risk. Contact tracing recently had to entirely close a local business because of someone who had been going into work despite having COVID symptoms.

We need to identify and isolate the virus. The more people stay at home and stop mixing between households, the sooner we will be able to do this. And then the sooner we will be able to remove measures.

Let me pause and hand over to Dr Ewart for her view on what the numbers are telling us.
Thank you Dr Ewart
We have spoken about the pressures on our critical services. The Council of Ministers this morning heard about the considerable pressure our health system is working under.
The vaccination programme is proceeding at pace. The team gave over seven thousand doses last week which is a great achievement. As we stand here, over twenty two thousand people on our Island have had at least one dose.
And over seventy-five per cent of people in our first six priority groups have now been given – not offered – at least one dose.
And I know this week is looking to be extremely busy too.
The swabbing and lab teams are also working at an impressive pace. Over the past week, they have done more than 4,000 swabs and COVID tests.
A lot of the testing this week has been in relation to existing high risk contacts. Over the last four days, over 900 people have taken their Day 13 exit tests. And more will have done so today. As long as there is a negative result it means that their self-isolation can end. I would like to publicly thank those who have followed the self-isolation rules. You have played a crucial role in protecting our Island.
So despite the numbers pointing in a positive direction, the hospital does remain a concern. Any COVID case requires significant staffing and space in the hospital. Let me invite the Health & Social Care Minister to come back in to give you some more detail on this.
Thank you, David.

I know as this outbreak continues many have questions about the direction notices issued to the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company.

I have said at previous briefings that I have requested that the Chief Secretary commission an independent review into the circumstances under which direction notices regarding self-isolation and any other requirements have been issued to the Steam Packet.

I am pleased to advise that the terms of reference for this independent review have been finalised and have today been published, available on Stephen Hind, the Director of Audit Advisory in the Treasury, has been appointed to conduct the review.

The review will be undertaken completely independently of the Cabinet Office and will be afforded full access to all records held by and personnel employed by the Isle of Man Government and all its agencies.
Before handing over to the media, I do want to address the question that I know is on everybody's mind – how long this current circuit break will last.

It is a tough question to answer at this stage. I have said before that it felt unlikely that we would be able to exit after exactly twenty-one days.

Despite the uncertainly around so much of this, we do want to give you as much clarity as we possibly can.

The Council of Ministers looked at the data this morning and heard from our contact tracing, public health colleagues and other senior officers.

We agreed that despite a cautiously optimistic outlook, we would not be able to end safely the circuit break as planned on 23 March. We have therefore decided to extend the lockdown for a week to allow us hopefully to see the data we need to make that decision. So this means that as things stand, the lockdown will continue until at least the first minute of Wednesday 31 March.

I know this is not what you will want to hear. But we judged that it is the right thing to do to protect our Island's critical services – not least our hospital and the vaccination programme.

We will of course continue to review the situation. It may be that between now and then we are able to slightly change the measures – for example to allow outdoor activities as we did after our first lockdown.

But equally, if we continue to see "unexplained" cases then we cannot rule out needing to extend the lockdown further. This is the last thing the Council of Ministers wants. We only want the measures in place for as long as they are necessary. Not a day longer.
And thank you to everyone who has done the right thing for their Island and their community over the last two weeks already.

I remain confident that together we can get through this. I have faith in the Great Manx Public.

Let's keep focussing on the basics and we can put this circuit break behind us.
Please stay at home as much as possible. This is the biggest single thing you can do right now. Do not go into work unless you absolutely have to.

And please if you show any symptoms at all, do not brush it off. Stay at home and call 111.

Continue to make the right decisions for you, your family and your Island.