Good afternoon everyone and thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.
Once again, I am joined by the Minister for Health and Social Care David Ashford MHK and our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.
It’s been an unusual few days, with the Island in the international spotlight following the prosecution of a seemingly love-sick jet skier who took the decision to travel from Scotland to the Isle of Man at the weekend. The story captured the attention of news outlets around the world. Whilst many portrayed the story from a romantic or tongue in cheek angle, it has certainly piqued the interest of international journalists into our community’s success at containing and eradicating COVID-19.
We are all for ingenuity here in the Isle of Man, but this individual broke the law and potentially put lives at risk – not least his own.
Given the sea conditions at this time of year, things could have ended very differently, with others being called upon to risk their lives in what could so easily have been a search and rescue – or worse – a recovery operation.
This individual arrived on the Island with no exemption notice or entry permit. He failed to declare his arrival and also failed to self-isolate. This individual was aware of the law and showed a flagrant disregard when he chose to break it. He went on to mix in packed bars and nightclubs, once again potentially putting lives at risk.
It was an incredibly reckless, dangerous endeavour.
He has been sentenced to four weeks in custody as a result. I hope this sends a strong signal to others who do not take our laws seriously or who are mistaken in thinking that the rules do not apply to them.
I am pleased to say that the circumstances have been investigated and Public Health are satisfied there is no wider risk to the public. But we could have been in a very different situation right now had things not turned out the way they did.
Upon release from prison, the offender will be taken to the sea terminal where he will be advised to return to the UK.
If he does not return to the UK then he may be in breach of our entry restriction regulations and could be liable for arrest and prosecution.
This week we have seen three new cases of COVID-19 detected on the Island.
I’ll hand over to David for a little more detail on these.
Thank you David.
Turning now to vaccinations. Earlier today we announced that, yesterday, we received our first batch of COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine was transported by courier to the Island and has been safely transferred to a specialist medical freezer where it will be stored at a temperature of minus seventy degrees ahead of roll-out.
The delivery consisted of two trays, each one containing nine-hundred and seventy-five doses. Getting two trays was crucial for us to be able to begin the vaccination programme.
Two doses are required for the vaccine to be effective. The second dose needs to be given twenty-one days after the first.
As we have to defrost each tray in its entirety – all nine-hundred and seventy-five doses, which must be used within five days – we needed the second tray in our possession so that we could be absolutely certain we could provide the second dose at the right time.
This means that for any Pfizer jab given throughout the vaccination process, we will always need to be in a position of having the second dose in our possession and on-ice ready to administer in three weeks’ time.
We receive our vaccine on a per-capita basis through the NHS supply chain. At the moment we can place an order once a week as batches of the vaccine are released for drawdown. We have ordered our third tray and hope to be in a position to order our fourth tray next week. When this arrives it means we will have that all important second dose and will be able to vaccinate a further nine-hundred and seventy-five people.
The first phase of the vaccination will focus on health and care staff, care home residents and workers and the over-80s.
This protects those most vulnerable and our health and care professionals who we rely on to keep our care system operating smoothly.
As I said last week, our aim has been to begin vaccinating next week or, at the latest, the 4 January. At the moment, we are on track to achieve this.
It is vital that we do things properly, not quickly. Unlike our neighbours who have commenced vaccinating, we have no community transmission here in the Isle of Man.
Administering a vaccine en-mass is a complex logistical exercise that requires thorough planning.
Preparations are well underway for the training of health care professionals; managing the coordination of vaccinator teams; and receipt of final documentation from the UK government.
In the first phase, expected to last eight weeks, vaccinators will visit care homes to give residents their jabs, while health and care staff will be vaccinated in their workplace, or be invited to attend Noble’s or Ramsey Cottage Hospital for their jab.
Later on in the programme, Island residents will be invited to a vaccination hub, as priority groups are called. An area at the Isle of Man Airport is being developed to serve as this hub and work to provide all necessary facilities for staff and patients is now underway.
We will, of course, keep you updated on developments.
Turning briefly to the situation in the United Kingdom, things there continue to be challenging. Wales has announced it will return to lock-down after Christmas following a surge in cases.
Earlier this week the pressures that COVID cases are placing on health services came to bear with every Emergency Department in Northern Ireland seeing ambulances having to queue with patients.
Earlier today it was announced that some areas of England would see restrictions eased, moving to lower tiers. But some, including London, will see stricter measures imposed.
Also this week, it was announced that a new strain of the COVID-19 virus had been detected in the United Kingdom.
I’d like to invite Henrietta to talk a little more about this.
Thank you Henrietta.
One final point I wish to cover before turning to questions from the media. Our residents returning for Christmas and, in particular, our students.
Everyone who has returned home has done a fantastic job in following the rules and helping to keep our community safe.
I have received messages of concern from some people who worried that the vigour of youth might mean that returning students would not take the measures we have put in place seriously. These concerns have proven to be unfounded. The fact is, our students have witnessed precisely what it is that we are protecting our community from. They have been forced to live in household bubbles; to wear facemasks when they leave their accommodation; they have endured prolonged social distancing and lockdown measures – all of which have disrupted their studies and impacted on what should be one of the most exciting chapters in their lives.
My thanks to everyone who has played by the rules and helped to protect our community.
And now to questions from the media.
Thank you for those questions.
My intention is that this will be the final scheduled COVID briefing this year. But, we await – of course – the outcome of the trade negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union – so we will see what the next fortnight has in store.
Looking back, 2020 has been bleak and sorrowful in so many ways. And yet, this year has brought out the very best in us.
Despite the scale of the challenges we have faced, our community has rallied together, refusing to be cowed by the pandemic and the impact it has had on our lives. I could not be prouder of all we have achieved together, and it is an honour to serve as your chief minister.
I believe 2021 will be a brighter year, and hope we continue to sustain the remarkable and infectious community spirit that makes the Isle of Man such a special place.
My plea to you is to continue to do what you have been doing all year as we enter the festive season. Look out for each other. Christmas and New Year can be a lonely time for some people. This year we know there are those who may not be with loved ones as they had hoped. Please do keep an eye on your family, friends and neighbours – check in on them. Are they OK? It really can make a world of difference.
One final very important matter before I go. I know there has been some concern about our border restrictions and what this means for Father Christmas.
I am pleased to announce that a special exemption certificate has been issued for Father Christmas and his eight reindeer. Rest assured, he will make it through.
On behalf of the Council of Ministers, may David and I wish you all a peaceful Christmas and a very happy new year.
That’s all for today, thank you.