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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 18 May 2020

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Good afternoon

As well as the Health & Social Care Minister, today we also have Margaret Knight, the head of our Infection Prevention & Control team to speak to us about what we can all do to stay safe and keep our loved ones safe.

Before that and before I talk to you about changes in our measures, I would like to invite the Health & Social Care Minister to give us today’s numbers.

Thank you, David.

Today saw a significant change in our society. Because of the actions we took as an Island to supress the spread of the virus and the seriousness with which you played your part, we were today able to open more of our retail sector. It was an important step in the gradual return to a more normal Island.

The retail sector accounts for about four thousand jobs in the Isle of Man. Many people – we estimate about half - have of course been working throughout the pandemic ensuring that we had the food and other essentials we needed.

I would like to thank all those retail businesses that have worked with us to think, discuss and prepare for this. You understood why your businesses had to close. And you have engaged with us to work out how to open up again in a way that is safe for your customers and your employees.

Some businesses – big and small - have told us that they are not yet ready to open. That is OK. Right not rushed is the best way in the current situation.

There are some businesses that we are not yet ready to allow to open. These are businesses that require a real proximity between people. They are often referred to as “lifestyle” businesses – hairdressers, beauticians etc.

Discussions with these businesses have already started. We hope to be able to bring them back online in the not too distant future. But we do want to let the opening of the wider retail sector bed in first. This staggered approach should help us space out the impact on areas of our Island where there is a concentration of retail businesses.

As our retail areas become busier, the risk of spread will increase. I am afraid that is the reality of the situation. This is why it will become more important than ever to continue doing those things that you have been doing so well so far.

You know the score. Wash your hands longer and more often than usual. When you are out, keep your distance and use hand sanitiser. If you think there are too many people in a shop, don’t go in. Come back another time. And of course if you - or someone you live with - are not feeling 100% then stay at home.

This is a good time to hand over to Margaret who really has been at the front line. She and the team advise on infection prevention including in critical areas like our hospital wards. They also go in to deal with areas that may have been exposed to the virus.

Margaret Thank you. Such important messages for us at this time. As we move to a new normal for the Island, hand washing and social distancing have to be part of ourpersonal new normal.

On Thursday last week, the Council of Ministers carried out its regular review of the measures we have in place. You may remember that there were a couple of areas on which we requested additional detail before reaching decisions.

The Council of Ministers met on Saturday and was able to move these forward. I will take you through them in three sections. The same three sections that are in our Roadmap document: Health, Society, and Economic.

On Saturday, the Council of Ministers was briefed on the Department of Health & Social Care’s plan to resume those services that they had to pause to be ready to deal with COVID.

It will be a steady and incremental resumption. As the Health & Social Care Minister and I have both said at this lectern, the resumption of these services will be far more complex than turning them off was.

We endorsed the Department’s approach. And initial work is already underway in some areas.

The Health & Social Care Minister will make an announcement – and publish a summary of the plan - later this week. This will contain a high level view of what and when. But I do need to manage people’s expectations. Not everything can happen immediately. We will do our best. But we need to balance this with the need to be ready to respond to COVID challenges for some time to come.

People have been asking us about private therapies such as chiropractors, physios, sports massage etc. Work is underway on this but we are not quite ready to allow them to resume. We will consider this further later this week.

As I told you last week, we are now ready to allow you to see people who are not part of your normal household. We wanted a model that would allow you the maximum amount of freedom to make decisions for you and your family. But we needed to balance this with a need to minimise risk to our wider community.

We needed to do all this with a model that would actually work for our Island community and way of life. Yes – a Manx solution for our Manx situation.

We have decided that with effect from the morning of Wednesday 20 May, the rules will be as follows:

Outdoors: You will be able to get together in groups of up to ten people. These groups can be from different households. We are not going to regulate how many households this can be.

This is the same whether it is in your garden or out in a public place. If the gathering is in your garden, then the limit of ten includes people who live there.

You must keep 2m away from people who aren’t from your household.

People will ask “why ten?”. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, it is a number that our clinicians were comfortable with. Secondly, if someone from that gathering does subsequently develop COVID, ten is a manageable number for fast contact tracing.

Indoors: The clinical advice is that gatherings inside pose more risk than outside. We are inevitably closer together and the risk of touching shared surfaces is there. So what we are ready to allow is more limited than for outdoors.

For the moment, we are ready to allow you to have up to two people visit you inside your home at any one time. Both people visiting must be from the same household.

We want you to continue to make the right decisions for you and your loved ones. You know who you are comfortable inviting into your house. You know if you have someone in your home who is vulnerable or who has been told to shield. You know what the right decision is for your circumstances.

We will be refreshing our guidance to give you the information you need to make those decisions. Remember it is about space and time. The longer you stay, the more risk you are both running. The closer you get to the person, the more risk you are both running. The European Centre for Disease Control recommends that you limit indoor contact to fifteen minutes. It of course also recommends that you maintain two metres distance and handwashing on arrival.

Why is this so important? Well, because the virus has not gone away. Just because you are free of symptoms, it does not mean that you are free of the virus. Although exact figures are debatable, one thing on which scientists do agree is that significant numbers of people will either have extremely light symptoms or even none at all.

And just to state the obvious - if you or if anyone you live with is sick – stay at home. Don’t visit people or have visitors unless you are 100%.

I know that from Wednesday, many of you will want to go round and see that friend or family member you maybe haven’t seen in person for weeks. And maybe you will want to hug that person.

But please think before you hug. Yes, take them some flowers. Take some shopping for them. But think – how sure are you that you are not taking them the virus? As we start to stay out of your personal lives, you need to take responsibility for the decisions that are right for you and your family. Ultimately it is your choice.

Last week I announced that the Council of Ministers had agreed to the expansion of our hub schools to support those families who were returning to work in the construction and related trades. That started today. Thanks in no small part to the excellent work of our teachers and school staff, this has gone very well.

I am now pleased to be able to confirm that from Wednesday 20 May, nurseries will be able to extend their provision to people from the same sectors.

I know that there will now be pressure from those who have returned to work in the retail sector to have school and nursery provision. This will be a focus of discussions with teachers and the nursery industry this week and I – or the Minister of Education, Sport & Culture - will update you when we have more details.

Again, I need to extend my thanks to our teachers and school staff and those in the nursery sector. They continue to work with the Department of Education, Sport & Culture on how we deliver a careful and safe return of our children to our schools and nurseries. This of course is in addition to the provision already in place. I am very grateful to them.

We have been asked about weddings. As soon as they are ready to do so, the General Registry will be able to take forward the administrative aspects of weddings. In terms of religious wedding ceremonies, we are content for these to take place with appropriate social distancing in place. But the final decision is for that place of worship themselves and the guidance being issued by their relevant religious bodies.

For the moment, we were not ready to make any other significant changes.

We will continue to support office-based companies as they plan for a possible phased return soon and as they consider how to do so in a safe manner. For the moment, we are grateful to all those who have enabled their staff to continue to work from home. We need you to keep doing this as much as possible please. This has made a real difference in controlling the spread of the virus. The Council of Ministers will consider this further later this week.

At our meeting on Saturday, we considered – in light of our changes on gatherings – what other business we were ready to allow to return to work.

With effect from Wednesday 20 May, domestic cleaners – like commercial cleaners - can resume work as long as they can do so in a manner that is safe for them and the household where they work.

We have also agreed that in line with the opening of retail, auction houses can open with immediate effect as long as they have appropriate social distancing measures in place.

In the course of our discussions and reviews in the Council of Ministers, we have considered a number of activities that were previously prohibited.

We have agreed that from 20 May - as soon as they are ready to do so safely - libraries can open to the public.

A number of sports will be positively impacted by the changes to our measures on gatherings. The Department of Education, Sport & Culture will now be working with relevant associations and clubs to agree what this means for them. Some may need a change of regulation so the changes may not be immediate.

One that I can confirm today is that we are ready to allow campsites to reopen with effect from Wednesday 20 May. We are also content for those with motorhomes to travel around the Island subject to the same rules as before the pandemic. On both camping and motorhomes, I should make clear that the gathering regulations do of course apply. If we see groups larger than ten, we will take action.

That may have been a lot to digest. It is a good time for me to pause and take questions.

Thank you.

I know that for many people, the changes we have made to gatherings will come as a huge relief. You will now be able to see your nearest and dearest. But please please only do so in a way that is not going to put their health at risk.

The less contact you have and the less time you are there, will mean less risk. Simples. I know that for some, this may lead to an increase in anxiety. People need to continue to do what is right for them. What they are comfortable with. If you don’t want people in your house, that’s OK. If you don’t want to go into a shop because you think it is too crowded, that’s OK.

It is through the commitment, grit and determination of the great Manx public that we are in the position we now find ourselves. As we move forward, Government cannot micro-manage your daily lives and your homes. We will need you - more and more - to make the right decisions for you, your family and our Island community. The future is in your hands.