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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 18 February 2021

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Good evening everyone and thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.

I am joined by Minister for Health and Social Care David Ashford and on Zoom by our Director of Public Health Henrietta Ewart.

As you’ll be aware from our announcement earlier, we have, unfortunately, detected cases of COVID-19 on the Island. These cases are not related to individuals who have travelled here and immediately entered self-isolation.

Let me update you on the situation.

On Tuesday, an individual contacted 111 to report that they had COVID symptoms. They were immediately offered a test and instructed to self-isolate along with other members of their household. They took up the offer of the test, which the 111 team arranged on Wednesday. Late yesterday the result came back as positive. At this point, the other members of their household who were identified as close contacts were also offered tests, which all agreed to. Again these were quickly arranged by the 111 team.

Whilst these additional tests were underway, further contact tracing began work to identify anyone who had been in close contact with the index case. Fifteen people were quickly identified. All have been contacted, immediately instructed to self-isolate, and offered tests.

All fifteen contacts have now undergone testing. Six of the results came back as positive and nine came back negative.

These six cases appear to have a clear and identified train of transmission back to the index case. This means that – for the moment at least – we have a single cluster and no unexplained cases of COVID-19 in the community. Whilst this is encouraging, I must stress that it is early days.

All fifteen people identified through contact tracing have been instructed to self-isolate for up to 21 days, regardless of whether their test result was positive or negative. Other members of their households have also been instructed to self-isolate. They will be offered further tests on day fourteen of their self-isolation.

With these six additional positive results comes – of course – more contact tracing. That process is currently ongoing, but rest assured, the team is working quickly to identify and contact individuals. Our swabbing and laboratory teams stand ready. Part of this work is identifying any locations of interest which is ongoing and we will announce these as and when the picture becomes clearer, which is likely to be later tonight and through into tomorrow.

So how did the index case contract the virus? As was confirmed this morning by the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company, it is a member of their staff who tested positive. They work on board the Ben my Chree but are not in a customer facing role, and so the likelihood of any contact between this individual and passengers appears low.

For those travelling, our community has the safeguard of self-isolation upon arrival. For the crew there are strict measures and hygiene requirements to help prevent transmission of the virus. As the cluster extends beyond a single household, there is clearly work to be done in identify how this situation has arisen. For this reason it is not appropriate for me to speculate further here today.

Our transport links remain the only route for the virus to reach the Island. We know the majority of positive cases have been among returning residents, who developed symptoms while self-isolating.

The obvious wider risk has been the potential for the staff and crew of our air and sea carriers - particularly those who reside in areas where transmission levels are high – to bring the virus to our Island as we have seen over the past twenty-four hours.

A week ago, Council of Ministers asked for an options paper on whether vaccinating the crew of our air and sea carriers could increase our resilience.

That paper was considered this morning and the Council of Ministers agreed that this is a sensible and responsible move which will strengthen our defences against the virus.

Vaccination is therefore going to be offered to crew at the Steam Packet and Mezeron, the Ramsey-based freight operator, as well as Loganair, which operates regular flights to the Island, and our air ambulance crews.

This will help to reduce the risk to our crews who travel between the Isle of Man and the UK, or who work with UK-based colleagues, from becoming seriously ill as a result of contracting the virus, and potentially unwittingly spreading infection to Isle of Man passengers, and possibly more widely on the Island.

There is growing evidence that the vaccines may reduce transmission, although the extent of which is still to be fully confirmed.

However, the possibility of reducing the risk of transmission will add an extra layer of defence against the risk of imported cases leading to a return of community transmission.

Council considered that it was important we now add an extra layer of protection around our critical national infrastructure such as our air and sea services.

The first line of defence of course remains the protocols in place by our carriers to mitigate risks of transmission of the virus, and now we will add a further layer of protection.

We believe this will further help mitigate the risk to our people, and help protect the freedoms we have enjoyed.

So the question is – what action, if any, will be taken in response to this cluster?

The Council of Ministers has met twice today to discuss and evaluate what is a fluid and evolving situation. With contact tracing continuing and our belief that we understand the chain of transmission, we have decided that we will not be bringing in any restrictions today. Instead we will continue to monitor the situation and the Council of Ministers will meet again tomorrow to review the latest information. I will, of course, keep you fully up to date on any developments. This decision is fully in line with our COVID-19 outbreak management plan. It is always difficult to know whether the right decisions are being made. The Council of Ministers can only go on the evidence and judging the balance of risk.

Although no restrictions are being announced this evening, it may be that individuals make their own decisions on precautions they wish to take. You may see more people wearing face covering or wishing to keep their distance from others. This is understandable and a matter of personal choice which should be respected. I know, as we have seen so often through this pandemic, that our community will show consideration and kindness in equal measure.

Human behaviour is the frontline in the fight against this virus. The actions each of us take make a difference. If you develop any COVID symptoms, please self-isolate immediately and contact the 111 service for advice. Please don’t dismiss symptoms. We would much rather be safe than sorry.

Please be responsible and stay safe. Do what is right for you and your family. I’ll speak to you again tomorrow.