Good afternoon everyone and thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.
I am joined by the Minister for Health and Social Care David Ashford MHK and our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.
Since I last spoke to you a week ago, we have identified three new cases of COVID-19.
The first of these I announced on Tuesday and the most recent two were identified late yesterday evening.
All three cases are close contacts of people who tested positive for the virus last week and so are part of the existing cluster.
As these individuals were, last week, identified as being at a high risk of contracting the virus through contact tracing, they were already self-isolating for fourteen days.
All three people became symptomatic in recent days during their isolation and contacted the COVID 111 service to request a test.
My thanks to these individuals and to everyone caught up in this small cluster of cases. You have followed the rules and you have acted responsibly, and in doing so you have helped to protect your friends, family, co-workers and our wider community.
These cases serve as an example of precisely why contact tracing and directing people at high risk to self-isolate is so important. It has helped us to contain the cluster and bring it under control.
As well as my thanks to the individuals involved, I also want to put on record my thanks to our contact tracers, the COVID-111 team, our swabbers, our lab staff and everyone else involved in the test and trace process.
I said that if we saw an outbreak, our response would be to test, test, test, trace, trace, trace. That is what we did and I am relieved that the indications, so far, are that this rapid and decisive approach to contain the spread of the virus has been effective.
So, where does this leave us in terms of overall numbers? We have nine active cases. Six of these are the cluster, two are travel related and one is related to patient transfers.
Today, new measures came into effect to help reduce the risk of the virus spreading in our community when people travel to our Island.
Those arriving on the Island must continue to follow their direction notice, isolating either for fourteen days or, if they are a key worker, by following the stringent rules that are in place. What is new from today is that where there are other people in the traveller’s household – they will all need to self-isolate for fourteen days.
This has been introduced to reflect the prevalence of the virus in the UK and Ireland and because of the increase in the number of returning residents we expect to see in the coming weeks as we approach Christmas; such as our returning students.
When I announced this new measure last week, I said how the Council of Ministers had recognised the difficulty this could pose for some households. It could mean people having to miss work and children having to be absent from school.
To try and reduce disruption and inconvenience, we unveiled a self-isolation accommodation scheme, making up to two-hundred and fifty pounds available towards the cost of accommodation, to provide an alternative place for people to self-isolate, and in doing so allow others in their household to continue their lives as normal.
Government has worked at speed to get the self-isolation scheme up and running, working closely with the Island’s accommodation providers.
I am pleased to report good progress on this front.
As at noon today, one-hundred and twenty nine properties have been registered for the scheme. This represents four-hundred and sixty-one bedrooms and eight-hundred and ninety-eight bed spaces.
One-hundred and thirty-three returning residents have so far signed-up for the scheme.
I want to thank everyone who has made this happen so quickly. Colleagues in the Department for Enterprise; the Online Regional Travel Group and Isle of Man Travel Event Services who are acting as agents; and of course our accommodation providers.
If you or someone you know is travelling back to the Island and would like to enquire about booking accommodation through the self-isolation scheme, you can find full details online at www.gov.im/covid19
We have also updated the website with a number of questions and answers so people can understand the rules around whole household isolation and the financial support available.
A few points are, I think, worth highlighting here.
The financial assistance for accommodation is only available for returning Manx residents. It does not apply to people who have received an exemption to travel to the Island, on compassionate grounds, for example.
Also, please remember that this support is a one-off, so can only be used once.
If you had already booked accommodation with a provider who has signed-up to the scheme, but did so before the announcement last Thursday and your booking is for today onwards, then you are eligible for the financial support.
One final point worth mentioning, is on the topic of exercise for households isolating because of a traveller, but which are free of the virus. So long as no one is displaying symptoms of COVID-19 and has not tested positive for the virus, the traveller and other members of the household can exercise outdoors for up to one hour each day, but you must wear a face covering, you must physically distance yourself from other people and you must exercise alone or only with members of your own household.
Whole household isolation needs to be placed in context. It is about mitigating risk and offers us two lines of defence: the first is protecting an isolating household from a potentially infectious householder and the second is protecting the community from a potentially infectious household.
Please remember, despite whole households having to self-isolate, the regulations require that – as far as reasonably practical – and I know it is not always easy – householders and the person that has travelled should distance to reduce the likelihood of transmission.
If you are a traveller, you should have your own room and remain in it as much as possible, keeping the door closed.
Use a separate bathroom from the rest of the household, if available. If you have to share a bathroom regular cleaning will be required.
You should avoid using shared spaces such as the kitchen whilst others are present. Take your meals back to your room to eat.
Everyone in your household should wash their hands regularly; avoid touching their face; and clean frequently touched surfaces regularly.
In cases where the virus does, unfortunately, spread within a household, the second line of defence is that the household has already been self-isolating and that isolation is extended for a further fourteen days. This second line of defence protects the wider community.
Moving now to vaccinations. It has been another week of progress in the race to develop an effective vaccine for COVID-19.
One, from Moderna, has been shown to be up to ninety-five per cent effective according to early trial data. Another, from Oxford University, has shown an encouraging immune response in older adults.
This of course comes hot on the heels of last week’s news on the positive results of trials for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
There are also encouraging signs from Sputnik V vaccine being developed in Russia.
In Tynwald this week, four sets of regulations under the Medicines Act were approved, putting in place the appropriate legal framework to enable us to deliver a mass vaccination programme on the Island.
Work continues at pace on planning for mass COVID vaccination, with a dedicated Vaccination Programme Board established and meeting regularly.
The Isle of Man has secured access to the UK’s supply of COVID-19 vaccines. Doses of the vaccine will be allocated proportionally based on our population.
The rapid developments we are seeing with vaccines are hugely encouraging and offer a real glimmer of hope in the coming year.
But we still have a long way to go and I must temper expectations. This may – in time – be a silver bullet, but it will not be a speeding one.
A vaccination programme of this scale is unprecedented in modern times. As well as all of the hurdles to get a vaccine approved and manufactured at volume, the logistical challenges of delivering vaccinations en-masse are significant.
Our approach here in the Isle of Man will be to target the most vulnerable groups first. Our initial focus will be on care homes and nursing homes.
For vaccinations, there is a long road to travel, but that we find ourselves in a position to begin mapping out our route so soon after the virus hit is more than anyone dared hope for at the start of the pandemic.
I will of course keep you fully updated on developments with vaccinations and the work of the Vaccination Programme Board.
And now to questions from the media.
Thank you for those questions.
We are now very much in the countdown to Christmas. This evening will see the switch-on of the Christmas lights in Douglas with festivities across the capital to mark the occasion. As with so many events on our Island in recent weeks and months, tonight’s celebrations stand in stark contrast to the situation our neighbours find themselves in. That people can come together – no social distancing, no masks – and that they can go into shops as normal is remarkable.
It is so important that we do not lose sight of how fortunate we are. I know everyone is anxious about Christmas and hoping we can get there without an outbreak that would see restrictions brought back in.
As I have emphasised time and again – our success to date has been down to you, the great Manx public. Your determination to retain normality and protect our way of life by acting responsibly and following the rules have made all the difference and got us to where we are today.
If you’re in Douglas this evening for the switch-on I hope you enjoy yourselves and take a moment to reflect on just how fortunate we all are.
Please continue to act responsibly to keep our community and our island safe.
That’s all for today, thank you.