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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 16 July 2020

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Good afternoon,

Another week has passed without any new cases of coronavirus.

We are getting used to our new normal and life goes on much as it did before.

Routines have resumed, children are back in school, sports fixtures are on the calendar.

Diaries - which have been blank for months - are starting to fill up. We can make plans again.

And others are doing the same. Yesterday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon described the relaxation of COVID measures there as the 'biggest step so far' in exiting the lockdown.

It is indeed a big and tough decision - we too, agonised over reaching that point.

But time marches on and it feels strange watching cautious steps being taken across in the United Kingdom when we have had most of our freedoms for some time now.

The comparison between us and our neighbours highlights what a remarkable position we are in. And reminds us we must not let complacency set in.

One thing that we all share, is the long and difficult road ahead to repair the economic damage wrought by COVID – across the United Kingdom and here.

I will return to that theme later.

But before I do so, I will now hand over to the Health & Social Care Minister David Ashford for the latest numbers.

Thank you, David.

Last week I reflected on the vast sums injected into the United Kingdom economy by Chancellor Rishi Sunak in his summer budget update.

Committing £30 billion to nursing the economy back to health is a bold step. It is designed to bolster confidence, encourage spending and avoid a tide of job losses.

Such measures take time to produce results. And official figures continue to expose the severity of the situation on a regular basis.

Today, we saw news that the number of workers on United Kingdom payrolls fell by almost six hundred and forty thousand between March and June.

The total hours worked in that period dropped to its lowest level since 1971.

United Kingdom job vacancies are at a record twenty-year low.

And the full effect of the pandemic on unemployment will not be known until the United Kingdom government support schemes come to an end in October.

As I have said before, United Kingdom figures do not bear comparison with our own. But like our friends across the water, the Isle of Man is not out of the economic woods.

Yes, our economy has started to pick up more quickly than we expected. But we must be realistic.

We need sustainability in the long term. As our sectors open up they are finding trading conditions have changed and customers are more cautious.

Our approach to navigating the challenges will be outlined next week in Tynwald when the Treasury Minister provides his Budget update.

This will include a comprehensive appraisal of the Isle of Man’s economic position following our sudden and swift response to the pandemic.

Minister Cannan will outline the impact that this – and the six-month reduction in VAT in the tourism and hospitality sector – may have on the public purse.

Not all businesses will be able to adapt to the new economic realities. We have to accept that the unemployment rate is likely to rise.

We know that the health of the economy determines the scope for public spending.

So next week’s budget update is relevant to everyone.

Economic forecasting is difficult at the best of times. And at the moment it is doubly so. We are - as it has been said so often - in uncharted territory.

If the determination and resolve of our people alone could fix things, we would be home and dry.

But we do not know how hard we will be hit by global factors over which we have no control.

The stakes are high. I am sure we will have a lively debate in parliament after Minister Cannan gives us his situation report on the economy.  

I look forward to hearing the views and contributions of my Tynwald colleagues. I will be keen to hear what you - the great Manx public – think about it. 

The changes to our borders policy that I announced last week is almost upon us.

From next Monday, Manx residents will be able to leave and return to the Island for non-essential reasons.

Travellers will need to obtain a Manx Entry Permit and a landing form. These documents are a legal requirement for anyone wishing to return to the Island.

They will be available via Online Services on the Government website - - and the registration process is due to go live tomorrow at midday.

If you don’t have access to a computer, you can ring the Travel Notification Team on 687171.

The Entry Permit and Landing Form will confirm your Manx residency and will tell us where you intend to spend your fourteen days of self-isolation on your return.

It is of paramount importance that everyone intending to return to the Island, knows exactly what the rules are.

I know that a fortnight in self-isolation is a substantial commitment. It is not one that anyone can take lightly.

All sorts of things need to be considered. From food shopping to walking the dog – and much in between.

This will need careful forward planning, especially for those who will be living alone on their return.

Self-isolation means what it says – you must not leave your place of residence for fourteen days.    

As I have mentioned before, there will be checks - by phone and in person - to ensure that everyone is following the rules. 

Clearly, self-isolation will be more of a challenge in a small home with others living there than in a larger house, or for those on their own.

Only the traveller has to self-isolate – other occupants are not confined to the house but must do everything possible to stay apart from the person self-isolating.  

That means being in different rooms at all times. And where kitchens and bathrooms are shared, it means using them at different times and ensuring facilities are thoroughly cleaned in between.

This goes back to the strict regime we put in place at the start of the pandemic. The Government website has updated guidance, so please remind yourselves.

Self-isolation is our key defence against a fresh outbreak of COVID-19.  

If someone returns from the UK carrying the virus, they probably won’t know about it. Isolating at home for fourteen days is how we stop it spreading.

Self-isolation is an effective weapon.

We can enjoy greater freedom AND continue to protect our most vulnerable people by acting responsibly.

So to all those planning to head off, please make sure you understand what is expected, follow the rules and prepare in advance for isolating when you get back. 

I have deliberately laboured the point. We are taking quite a significant step in relaxing border restrictions.

We’ve done it for entirely positive reasons – to help those who have waited patiently for the chance to travel off-Island.

I should say here that the rules just outlined do not apply to visitors from Guernsey.

We have created an air bridge with Guernsey because both our islands are COVID free – that is why it is safe to visit each other without the restrictions we have put on travel to the UK and beyond.

Both the Isle of Man and Guernsey are maintaining border restrictions for non-residents – a policy which has worked for us both.

I look forward to welcoming the first visitors from Guernsey, and I am confident this unique partnership - borne from extraordinary circumstances – will be a success.

And now to questions from the media.

Thank you for those questions.

I would like to pay a special tribute to the coronavirus testing team at the Grandstand.

The original team – affectionately known as the Swab Squad – will work their final shift together this Saturday.

The Squad officially opened the doors on the 20 March – I am sure we all recall the intense interest this attracted at the time.

Large numbers of people in cars descended on the drive-thru facility – a sight the island had never witnessed before.

A total of forty seven staff have worked there over the months – many of whom were student nurses. Unit Coordinators Amanda Phillips and Bernadette Devlin tell me they were nothing short of amazing.

It has certainly been a hands-on training experience like no other: one which will be invaluable to the next generation of nurses as they start their careers.  

Amanda and Bernie also want to convey thanks to colleagues from other areas who contributed to the success of the project and made their lives so much easier – staff in Microbiology, the 111 call centre, as well as portering, catering and laundry staff from Noble’s. Teachers from UCM also went to the Grandstand to help out.

Thank you. You showed what team work really is!

What I think is particularly impressive is that, despite COVID positive patients attending the unit from day one, not one of the staff team contracted the disease.

From Monday onwards, the facility will be run as a community swabbing centre – mainly handling tests for pre-operative patients. This is a vital safeguard against infection, as routine work resumes at the hospital.  

The team will continue to take samples from any symptomatic patients too.

So, Saturday marks the end of an era. I want to thank all involved for the immense effort, dedication and commitment given to the project.  You have played a vital part in our COVID-19 response – working long hours in challenging circumstances.

You did your jobs with professionalism and pride and helped the community through a scary time.

It is my pleasure to thank you, and all health and care staff, for your service to our community.

We may have stopped clapping but we haven’t stopped appreciating our NHS heroes.

Finally, before I exit ‘stage left’ I would like to say HAPPY BIRTHDAY to our precious Gaiety Theatre.

The Gaiety Theatre opened its doors 120 years ago today and I called in earlier to join staff and supporters marking the occasion.

The theatre has been closed during the pandemic, so they’ve found another way to celebrate.

A diverse range of memories have been sent in by the public over the past few months to form a unique online collection. It includes pictures, programmes, anecdotes and reviews reflecting the Gaiety’s colourful past.

From the Young Farmers’ concert to drama festivals, and from plays, ballet and opera to stunning performances by local groups, the Gaiety has a prized place in Manx community life.

The collection is still open if you have something to submit – do visit the site at:

Many happy returns to the Gaiety – may the curtain continue to rise for another 120 years!

It is good to finish on something so positive.

Have a good weekend everyone.