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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 19 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; Minister for Education, Sport and Culture Dr Alex Allinson MHK; and on Zoom by our Director of Public Health Henrietta Ewart. 

Without further ado I would like to hand over to the Minister Ashford for the latest figures and our vaccination programme. 

The Council of Ministers met this morning and were presented with these latest figures and the details surrounding each new case. 

The situation remains very similar to yesterday.  All Isle of Man cases that have been identified are believed to be linked to a single chain of transmission, making up a single cluster. 

As I said yesterday, these are early days, but it is encouraging that we have had no surprises in terms of the cases identified so far. 

Taking this into account and acting on the advice from Public Health and officers, the Council of Ministers determined that – for now – there remained no need to bring in restrictions to Island-life. 

We will, of course, continue to closely monitor the situation and any developments as and when they arise. Our decision is in line with our outbreak management plan and reflects the moderate level of risk posed to our community at the present time. 

I will of course keep you updated over the weekend should anything unexpected appear and whether that may require us to change our approach. 

Since the index case was identified, our contact tracing team have been hard at work identifying close contacts who may be at risk of contracting COVID-19.  Isolation and testing is only one part of this process.  Building up a detailed picture of people that ‘at risk’ contacts have in interacted with, places they have visited, how long they were there for, and what activities they undertook, can be a time consuming and complex process, but a very important one and one we must get right. 

From the seven cases announced yesterday, our contact tracing team were able to identify a number of locations that pose low levels of risk to the public of contracting COVID-19 if they were there within very specific time frames.  This list was published this morning. 

You’ll recall that we have done this before, back at the end of December and beginning of January.  We are following the exact same protocols here.  With all of the locations of interest we have published being deemed low risk, there is no cause for undue concern and no action we need the public to take.  The only reason we issue these lists is to encourage extra vigilance. 

I have spoken of the role behaviours have to play in the fight against COVID-19.  By publishing low risk locations, we can encourage those who were at venues at specific times to be particularly aware of the signs and symptoms of COVID-19.  It can be all too easy to dismiss things: “It’s only a sniffle.”  “It won’t happen to me.”  Or “I’m just making a nuisance of myself.”   I have said before and do so again: we would rather be safe, than sorry.  If you have COVID-like symptoms please call 111 for advice.  If you were at the locations we have listed at the times specified, then all the more reason to do so. 

When we identify low risk locations, we contact the affected businesses and organisations. Some choose to put in place restrictions, or even close for a time, perhaps to carry out deep cleans. These decisions are a matter for each organisation. So I want the message to be clear, every location we have published does not pose a significant risk and these businesses and organisations can continue to trade or operate as normal, should they wish.  If they do not, I of course respect that decision. 

Two further low risk locations we announced earlier this afternoon, and I would like to handover to Minister Allinson to talk a little more about these. 

Thank you Alex. I know this may cause concern, but please remember that the risk is low.  As with the other low risk locations, we are only making this announcement so that those at Ballakermeen or on the number 31 bus last Friday can be extra vigilant for signs and symptoms of COVID. 

In terms of locations that pose a higher risk, we have identified a small number, however we have been able to trace and make contact with everyone who we believe may be affected.  Because of this – thanks to the excellent work of our contact tracing team – we have not had to issue an appeal asking people who visited these venues at the particular times to come forward and make themselves known. 

Dr Ewart, could I perhaps invite you to talk a little more about this cluster and also the European Centre for Disease Control’s guidelines in relation to low and high risk locations and the protocols we use? 

Thank you Henrietta.  I hope that provides some context and reassurance. 

Before turning to questions from the media, I want to address the issue of the isolation rules for Isle of Man based Steam Packet crew members who travel on board vessels between the Island and the United Kingdom. 

It’s clear that there has been a difference of opinion surrounding the expectations of what is required. 

Government’s position is clear: The Steam Packet has been issued with a key worker entry certificate for both Isle of Man and UK based crew.  This provides an exemption to our coronavirus regulations that enables crew on board Steam Packet vessels to travel to and from the Island to keep our vital sea routes functioning. In doing so, however, it also sets out clear conditions which are in place to protect our community and limit the risk of COVID-19 spreading to our Island. 

The conditions apply only to the crew and not to other members of their households.  So children can continue to go to school for example.  This is on the basis that crew wear PPE during their shift and follow other safety protocols. 

The entry certificate issued to the Steam Packet makes clear that the conditions as set out must be adhered to. 

The first and most important condition is modified self- isolation.  This allows Steam Packet crew to travel directly between the vessel and their accommodation, but must isolate outside of work and so cannot attend pubs or restaurants, for example.  Face coverings must be worn when travelling between work and their place of isolation. 

There are investigations underway and these need to be completed.

Officers from Government and the Steam Packet have discussed the matter and are due to meet shortly to discuss the way forward. 

What I can say is that over the last year, the Steam Packet has managed to operate its services for our Island in a safe way. This has been achieved by working in partnership with us and this will continue to be the case. We have a difficult balance to achieve but I am confident that together we can find a solution. 

They remain a lifeline for our Island and so of course we want to work with them to resolve this issue as swiftly as possible. 

At the moment it is not my intention to hold a briefing tomorrow unless the situation changes significantly.  We may see more cases with a clear link to existing ones over the weekend.  The Council of Ministers will continue to closely monitor the situation and will meet as and when required.   If there is a material change I will – of course – keep you updated. Good evening.