Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
We are now into Day 12 of our circuit break lockdown.
Once again, we have our Director of Public Health joining us on Zoom and the Minister of Health & Social Care here in person.
As I mentioned last week, the Council of Ministers met this morning to consider our progress so far in our efforts to flush the virus out of our community again. I would like to brief you on that.
But before I do, I would like to hand over to the Minister and our Director of Public Health for our regular updates. These are particularly relevant today as together they are a critical part of the context the Council of Ministers considered.
So let us go first to the Minister of Health & Social Care who can update us on today’s numbers.
Let me move without further ado to the Director of Public Health for any additional information she may be able to share regarding the tests and – importantly – what it means for us. I know that Dr Ewart also has an update for us on results received from the tests that we sent to Liverpool.
Dr Ewart and other colleagues joined the Council of Ministers this morning to review our current situation. We wanted to understand the picture that was emerging. And we wanted to understand what might be appropriate and possible to do regarding our measures.
As I have said before, we have to strike a critical balance. We need to get our exit from measures right not rushed. We need to balance remaining risk against our wish for a return to normality.
So at our review this morning, we were encouraged to see that we have now seen our sixth day with no evidence of community transmission.
Yes there are still cases. But for almost a week now, these have been people who were already in self-isolation because either they have travelled or because they had been identified through contact tracing as a close contact and therefore have been asked to self-isolate.
There is of course still some way to go. But it does appear that what you are doing is having an impact.
Dr Ewart and others have told us that we will not know with certainty if we have succeeded - and that the virus is no longer on our Island - until we see twenty-eight days with no community transmission. Two cycles of fourteen days.
But what we also heard is that the longer we go with no unexplained cases, the more that risk reduces.
We have therefore agreed that on Thursday – when we might be beyond seven days – we will consider the possibility of making a modest set of changes to our measures. We do not want to rush and risk ruining what you have achieved. But we do want to take a step forward if the circumstances allow.
We will be looking at changes around outside spaces. This may mirror the approach we took as we eased out of our measures last spring. The scientific advice is that the risk of transmission outdoors is significantly lower than indoors. Especially if social distancing, face coverings and good hygiene are also in place.
We still need to finalise details of what might be included but this may be to allow outdoor trades to return to work - especially those who work alone.
We may also be able to make changes to allow meetings with other people as long as this is outdoors. You will remember deck chairing. It may be something like that.
I cannot say much more than this right now. We have a good idea where we want to go. But we want to ensure that this is tested with our clinical and public health teams and that the time is right.
But I do have to underline that even if we are able to announce these changes later this week, social distancing and face coverings will remain with us and will continue to be important.
I will update you on this as soon as possible.
I would now like to move onto our vaccination programme.
Today was an important milestone in our vaccination programme as we started the deployment of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine into our care homes. You may have seen the wonderful pictures of Sally Murray who along with thirty-two other residents at Southlands in Port Erin got her first jab today. Thank you to those thirty-three and all the team at Southlands for their assistance. It is the beginning of a new phase.
You will all remember that the Oxford vaccine is far easier to handle than the Pfizer vaccine. While for the moment we have had to limit our use of the Pfizer vaccine to those who are at the hospital or who can get there easily, now that we have the green light to use the Oxford vaccine, it means that the vaccine can travel to our community wherever they are on the Island. This is an important step.
Until now, we have had to bring people to the vaccine. Now we can take the vaccine to people.
I know the Minister is keen to share some more details with you about our plans and next steps. But before I hand over, I wanted to make some points of my own that I hope address some of the questions that are circulating.
Firstly, people have been asking why we are so far behind the United Kingdom. It is true that there is a short lag between us. But we always knew there would be. There are some technical and legal reasons why the UK has been able to proceed at such pace while we have had to be a little more cautious. And of course they are in a different situation regarding COVID in their communities.
The UK Health Secretary this weekend said that the UK has now vaccinated more people than have tested positive for COVID. This is of course a positive milestone for the UK. But to put this in context we did this in the first two days of our vaccination programme. Our situations are different.
Second, it is really important to state that we can only vaccinate as fast as the vaccine arrives. I can confirm – as the Minister has already done at these briefings – that we are getting the same as if we were a region of the UK. Our “fair share” as some people have called it. The increase in pace that the UK has signalled to take place over the coming weeks - as more Oxford vaccine becomes available - should be felt here too.
The third concern that people have expressed to me has been that they don’t know when they can expect to get their vaccination. We did publish our priority groups some time ago and these are on our website.
What they do not have – I know - is firm dates by which each group will be completed. In a second, the Minister will take us through some of the challenges that we face on attaching firm dates because of delivery schedules and other factors beyond our control.
It would be easy for me to stand here today and over-promise. To give you dates and deadlines that we then may or may not meet. But I want to give you information that is based on fact and reality.
I can tell you that we do have the stocks on Island to complete a first jab for everyone in our residential care homes by the end of this week.
And we HOPE to have given a first jab to our top two priority groups –residential and nursing care homes, frontline health & social care staff and over 80s - by the end of February.
I am sure that the Minister will be able to take us through the plans in more detail – and the constraints we face.
Thank you, David. Such an important day for the Island. My sincere thanks to everyone involved.
I am sure that there will be plenty of questions so let’s go to questions from the media.
So a day of some positive news with the deployment of the Oxford vaccine into our community.
And also positive that for the moment at least the measures we have taken seem to have identified and isolated the virus. It is early days. And we must not be complacent. But it is right for us to start looking ahead.
We may reschedule the next briefing to Thursday so that I can update you on our review. In any case, we will let you know. As always, if there is a reason to hold one sooner then of course we will.
Thank you for doing what you have done. Thank you for staying at home. Thank you for wearing a face covering as much as you are. And thank you to everyone who is self-isolating. You are making a difference.
If you have any COVID symptoms then call 111 as soon as possible
I will leave things there for today.
Please remember the basics:
- Stay at home;
- Before you go out, ask yourself if it is essential;
- If you do go out, wear a face covering if you can;
- If you have any symptoms then stay at home and call 111 as soon as you can.
Make the right decisions to keep you, your family and your Island safe. And to protect our vaccination programme.