It is good to be back with you today, alongside our Minister of Health & Social Care.
Through your efforts, we have reached the point where we can say with as much certainty as possible that we are COVID free.
It is a milestone of great importance and you have got us here - but more on this in a second.
First, I will ask the Minister to bring us today’s numbers and I know he also wants to update us on dentistry.
Thank you, David.
Today, our Island has broken through a significant barrier in our fight against this invisible enemy.
A fight which led to the tragic loss of twenty four people within our community and caused suffering to so many. People have lost loved ones – others have lost livelihoods. People have been under real personal pressures. This must never be forgotten.
Yesterday, we recorded our 28th day without a new case and went one further today.
But why is this significant?
It is significant because we are now more than double the 14 days, widely considered to be the maximum incubation period of COVID-19.
Thanks to your incredible efforts and sacrifices we have reached the stage described as ‘local elimination’ of the virus by our Public Health colleagues.
As we near a full month without a new case - the likelihood of the virus circulating in our community is exceptionally low – and we are as close to 100% free as is possible without a vaccine.
For the moment, this is as good as it gets.
This week, our Island became the first place in the British Isles to remove social distancing. With this we are handing the baton back to you to make sensible decisions to continue to protect yourself and your loved ones in this new ‘Manx normal’.
From today, the final restrictions have been lifted within our valued hospitality and leisure industries. This means that this evening we can have a pint in our local or a dinner out with our family. Once again you will now be able to enjoy trips to the theatre or marvel at the latest blockbuster in the cinema.
For those who prefer push ups to popcorn – gyms can open as normal, as can swimming pools. Our social fabric has been under huge amounts of strain over the last twelve weeks. I hope that today’s changes will undoubtedly help stitch this back together.
This is a freedom that a few weeks ago we could only dream of. Altogether darker scenarios were possible.
And now through your efforts - it is a reality. We encourage you to embrace this freedom and support local businesses who have been unable to function normally during this pandemic. Our local businesses play such an important role in our economy. And they need our support now.
As our economy gears back up – so will our schools. School staff have now returned – classrooms are being prepared - and yesterday children of key workers who had been attending fourteen educational hubs since March – went back to their normal schools.
Yesterday, the Minister for Education, Sport & Culture was able to confirm that all children, who wish to, will be able to return to full-time education on Monday. I am sure that this will be welcome news for parents – and hopefully children.
Things are starting to feel normal again.
I would like to thank parents and children for their patience. I wish you all well as you embark upon this new chapter.
I would like to thank the school leadership and their trade union representatives for working with us to get our children back to their classrooms - to reclaim at least some of this term.
So with schools back next week and our economy reopening, I hope that we can now return to living life as normally as possible.
I know that for some people, this is not going to be straightforward. I know that there has been a lot of anxiety in our society – and a certain amount of fear. I know that switching between the stressful times we have lived over the last three months - and a more optimistic future - is far easier said than done. Some of us will need some time to adjust. Some of us will need support.
There are a number of good resources out there to help. Our COVID website has some great videos and links to a range of help available for adults and children - such as Kooth and Quell. If you have found the last three months tough, please do go and see for yourself.
And as with so much of our time dealing with COVID in our community, we all have a role to play. As individuals we need to be kind and supportive to each other. We have all lived different experiences through this. Some people will feel the need to maintain some physical distance from others. We need to respect this.
To this end – the Isle of Man Samaritans will join us for our briefing tomorrow to discuss some of the issues people are experiencing. This Government is listening. We know there will be an increased demand for support as we exit this pandemic. We are gearing up for this.
Employers have a role to play in all of this. As staff come back to the workplace, some will find it easy. Some less so. Please do everything you can to support them.
Our community spirit has been amazing throughout. I know that this will continue.
Some of the anxiety in our community I am sure stems from the concern that we may not have seen the last of COVID on our Island. And yes we may see other cases. We cannot rule this out.
This week we saw this happen to our friends in New Zealand. We have all been so impressed with the way that they have managed the virus. And I still am.
It is not a sign of failure - but is a timely reminder that we must remain vigilant and ready to act swiftly should new cases present themselves on our shores. It also reminds us that we need to be incredibly cautious when considering any future changes to our border controls. And the importance of the fourteen day home quarantine.
As I have mentioned before, if we do see the same happen here, we will be ready. We have the testing and contact tracing ready to go. This will enable us to break the chain if we do see new cases.
But I urge all businesses to stay prepared. We need you to be ready to tackle an outbreak if it happens. And of course if any of us develop any kind of COVID symptoms – a loss of taste and smell - a fever or a sustained cough – we need to stay at home and call the 111 line.
So what comes next on our journey?
Last Monday, I talked to you about the final measures that remain in place.
This Monday coming – the 22 June - the temporary 60 miles per hour speed limit will be lifted and we will return to our pre-COVID situation.
Once this is done, I hope to be in a position where I can invite the Lieutenant Governor to lift the state of emergency. Our aim is to be able to do this by about 23 June.
The Emergency Powers Act was used to help protect the population against the spread of the coronavirus. It gave the Government greater flexibility through strengthened legal powers. The decision to invoke these powers was not taken lightly - but was a necessary evil in this extraordinary and unprecedented time in the Island’s history.
And that just leaves our borders.
The continued closure of our borders is ultimately what is allowing us to open up our society. We have created a Manx bubble where our schools have been able to open, our economy is able to gear up and we are able to hug our loved ones again.
We are keeping a close eye on what does appear to be a steadily improving situation in the United Kingdom and many other countries, and the Council of Ministers will discuss borders formally towards the end of June.
To be clear, we are not ready to open the border. The excellent position we find ourselves in cannot be undermined at any cost. I will not put our nation’s health and wellbeing at risk.
The Health & Social Care Minister and I are happy to take questions now.
I do have a couple of shout outs this evening.
Firstly, I had a request from colleagues at the police to thank Steve Crowe and Mr Mark Corlett from the Isle of Man Paramedic Service.
During the pandemic, the police have been unable to secure dates for First Aid Training for new Police Officers with their existing training provider. As a result of this, Steve and Mark stepped in to support the police to ensure the training continued.
Secondly, not really a shout out but I would like to wish all our young people a wonderful return to school on Monday.
Thank you for joining us this evening. It has been another week of change. But I do hope that you can go out and enjoy the weekend. Let’s hope the weather holds up.
No one can say there is no risk. But your incredible commitment and sacrifices have given us an Island that is as safe as it possibly can be.
Keep on making responsible decisions for you and your loved ones.
Have a great weekend. And please stay safe.