Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
I am sorry that we had to postpone our update yesterday. The Council of Ministers met a couple of times yesterday and we also had important parliamentary business. Including about our local elections. But it is good to be back today.
Today is also the anniversary of the first case of COVID we saw on the Island. A year ago today we reported that someone who had travelled back to the Island from Spain had tested positive. A sad reminder of how long this virus has been affecting our lives.
Here with me today at the podium is the Minister for Health & Social Care. On Zoom we have the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture and, as always, we also have our Director of Public Health. And we are also joined today by a special guest - Ross Bailey who is the Head of Mental Health at the Department of Health & Social Care. Ross is joining us to talk to us about some of the challenges our community is facing regarding mental health and what resources are available.
Before we hear from Ross, let us go through some of our regular updates. I would also like to update you on decisions taken in the Council of Ministers yesterday and this morning. But first of all, today’s numbers from the Minister of Health & Social Care.
Thank you, David.
It is good to see the numbers continuing to move in the right direction. And I am particularly glad that the number of unlinked cases – those that we cannot connect to previous cases – is coming down.
But even though there are only four unlinked cases today, this is still too many. These unlinked cases are what causes the uncertainty in our situation. While these continue, it is tough for us to make bold decisions about changing the measures we have in place. More on that in a second.
There are possible explanations about the 'tail' we are seeing that are connected to the Kent variant and its behaviour. Our Director of Public Health will of course be able to explain far better than I can. Let me hand over to her on this, and any other points on which she may wish to update us.
Thank you Dr Ewart.
The point about behaviour is critical. The vast majority of people in our community are doing the right thing. You are making difficult decisions and making sacrifices by staying at home. You are doing this to protect our most vulnerable, to protect our health service and to protect our vaccination programme.
And you are doing this to ensure that we can exit this lockdown as soon as possible. Every unlinked, unexplained case risks prolonging the lockdown. None of us want that. And that is why we all need to take responsibility.
Do not think that the rules don’t apply to you. Do not think that it is OK for you to pop over and see your friends. Do not think that you will never catch and pass on COVID.
And please just don’t go into work if you have symptoms. The Contact Tracing Team have again had to step into a local business where an employee had been going in with symptoms and subsequently tested positive. I have mentioned this before and have to say it again. If you have any COVID symptoms, stay at home and call 111. I know that at this time of year there are plenty of coughs and colds about. But don’t risk it. Call the clinicians at 111.
I would like to update you on the conversations we had in the Council of Ministers yesterday.
I have always said I will be as frank and honest with you. I want to give you as much clarity and notice as I can.
I need to tell you that as things stand, we cannot imagine being able to make significant changes to our measures before 6 April.
When we came out of restrictions in June last year and January this year we had solid periods with no unexplained cases. Twenty-five in June and twenty-one in January.
Although our vaccination programme is delivering at pace, we still need a decent safety period to know that the virus is under control.
We judge that we are realistically looking at a date of around 6 April before we can safely consider releasing some restrictions and probably 12 April before we could envisage a full release of restrictions.
This is assuming of course that we continue to reduce and then eradicate the unexplained cases.
We will know more over the coming days as we have more data and we see the full effect of the lockdown. But I want to be as clear with you as I possibly can on the likely path ahead.
This means that we not going to be ready for hospitality, non-essential retail, lifestyle or other businesses to open until after the Easter weekend.
The Council of Ministers also agreed that we would only look to reopen schools after the Easter Holidays. The Minister for Education, Sport and Culture and his team continue to work on provision for our most critical workers. He is with us today and can answer any questions on this.
We also know that we are not ready for construction and related trades to return to work next week. We had hoped that this might be possible but the continued unknown cases mean we need to exercise the utmost caution.
We may be able to bring back some outdoor activity for people and we may be ready for outdoor construction to resume as a first stage. Hopefully around 6 April. I hope to be able to update you on this next week.
I know that the Treasury Minister and his team are working to put in place extensions to our support schemes. He will be joining our briefing on Monday and will update us then.
I know that isolation is hard. And the news that we need to continue our circuit break a little longer will be hard to hear. Not seeing our loved ones is tough. I know that myself. But a longer lockdown will be even harder on our society.
The Council of Ministers this morning considered how we can support those who may feel most isolated during this extension of the circuit break.
Currently, people who are vulnerable – those who genuinely cannot look after themselves – are able to have someone come in to support them.
The Council of Ministers today agreed that given the fact that this lockdown will continue for longer than we had originally hoped, we are ready to allow those who are living alone or lone parent families to access support – whether that is emotional or practical – from another single household. This does not mean a free for all. This means a one-to-one relationship with another household.
This is a good time to hand over to Ross Bailey for his thoughts. We asked Ross along today because we know that people are struggling. And we want everyone to know that there is help and resources out there to support you.
Thank you, Ross.
It is so important for people to know that you don’t need to get through this alone. There are people and resources out there to help you through this challenging time.
And I hope people see that there is a path forward. If we see an end to these unlinked cases, we can start to move forward with more pace and purpose.
Yesterday Tynwald endorsed our longer term approach towards really getting back to normal. I am not talking about this lockdown but far beyond that. This is the exit plan that we have discussed here before. As I said yesterday in Tynwald, this is very much a living document. We will revise it as we have a clearer view ahead. I hope this gives you an idea of where we are heading and what the milestones might be. And what data is important to our decision making.
Some of this relates to the situation in the United Kingdom and, to an extent, beyond that. The news in the UK is positive. Cases, hospitalisation and infection rates are decreasing daily. And their vaccination programme is moving ahead well.
Our own hospital is under incredible pressure at the moment. We know that peaks in hospitalisations will often follow around ten days after peaks in cases. And this is where we are. I will ask the Minister of Health & Social Care to update us on this and other matters.
Just before I do, I would like – again – to congratulate everyone involved in our vaccination programme – not just those jabbing arms but also those booking appointments, generating the mailing lists, transporting members of the public, and everything in-between. It is a team effort across Government and our community. More than twenty five thousand people on our Island have now received at least one dose. And they have put nearly fourteen thousand doses into people’s arms since just 8 March.
Let’s go to the Minister for his updates.
Thank you, David.
Just before we go to questions from the media, I should say that because the JCVI 'risk group' I fall into is now being invited for vaccination, I had my first dose today. I received the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which you’re likely aware has undergone a further thorough and careful review by UK and EU regulators in the past few days, with the conclusion that people can have confidence in the vaccine.
As someone who is – shall we say – 'needle shy', I can happily report that I genuinely did not feel a thing as the vaccination was given to me. I would personally like to thank the whole team and would reassure anyone who may have any concerns to go ahead and get it done.
Let’s go to questions from the media.
Thank you for those questions. As things stand, we will be back as normal for our regular media briefing on Monday. If we need to hold a briefing sooner then of course we will.
In the meantime, James Davis has recorded another session with questions directly from members of the public focusing this time on vaccinations.
Just this morning, he put your questions to Kathryn Magson - the Chief Executive of the Department of Health & Social Care - and to our Director of Public Health. We will broadcast that tomorrow at 5pm.
In the meantime, please do the right thing for your Island.
This weekend, please stay at home as much as you possibility can. Every time you step out, you increase the risk to yourself and your community. And the next few days will be critical.
If you do go out, please wear a face covering.
If you do go out to exercise – and we have heard how important this is – please consider carefully whether what you are doing might impact on our emergency services. They are already working under real pressure. Each time they deploy, this puts additional strain on them and potentially exposes them to the virus. Please think of them. Exercise locally. And exercise safely.
And please if you show any symptoms at all, do not brush it off. Stay at home and call 111.
Please continue to make the right decisions for you, your family and your Island.