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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 2 March 2021

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Good morning. Thank you for joining us today. As you will have seen last night, I do have a series of important messages to share with you today.

Our Director of Public Health, the Health & Social Care Minister and our Minister for Education, Sport and Culture are joining me by Zoom.

On Sunday, I spoke to you all about the uncertainty that remained around two unexplained cases. I have to tell you now that over the course of the day yesterday we have had further cases that have caused us concern.

The Council of Minister met on a number of occasions throughout Monday to review the evidence as it developed and to ensure we had plans ready should the position deteriorate further.

Over Sunday evening and into Monday we saw another two separate cases. As contact tracing developed, there was some information that may have linked them. This would have given us a better understanding of the source.

And then yesterday evening we saw a further two cases identified where the source is not known.

One of these, as I am sure you will have seen is in a school setting. We received confirmation of this late last night and the Council of Ministers immediately held an emergency meeting in response to this.

There is of course still a great deal that we don’t know. But what is also clear is that, as we said on Sunday there is transmission in our community that we cannot see and that we do not understand. We can now see this is not an isolated couple of cases but more widespread.

And this concerns us for a number of reasons.

It concerns us because our hospital is still facing winter challenges and has very little spare capacity at the moment.

It concerns us because we want nothing to jeopardise our vaccination programme that is about to enter a new phase with significant supplies due to arrive onto the Island throughout this month.

It concerns us because we have seen what has happened elsewhere when community transmission is left unchecked.

I would also stress that we are very mindful of the significant cost to any form of circuit breaker lockdown.  I do not mean just the obvious financial and economic costs, but the human, health and welfare costs.

At this point I’d like to hand over to Dr Ewart to give you an update on the current position as it has developed.

On current projections, we hope that we will have given a first dose to all priority groups – so all over 50s and all adults who are clinically vulnerable – during April.

If we were facing this same situation in a month’s time, then perhaps the outcome might be different. We hope that progress on our vaccination programme will continue to build our defences and mean that we do not need circuit breakers in the future.

We know that there is a moment where we will be able – and will need - to move from a policy of local elimination to one where we live with the virus.

The situation around us beyond our shores is changing fast. And we are not a million miles from that point.  But equally no-one around the world is saying they are quite at that point yet.

Later this week we will be publishing our medium term approach for returning to a more normal situation with our borders. And that longer term outcome has to be the ultimate goal that we focus on.

We had hoped to publish it earlier but events have unfolded at pace.

So, in the future our approach may be different, but we are not there yet and we need to act now. In a way that we know works

If we allow our health and care services and vaccination programme to be destabilised then that plan might get derailed or delayed.

That is why we tried so hard to wait, to have more information and ensure our response was proportionate.

Late last night, we decided that we do now need to act.

After lengthy discussions that weighed heavily on our minds - we have decided that we cannot allow anything to put this longer term exit at risk.

We need to intervene now.

If we do so now – and if everyone does their bit– we will again stamp out the current outbreak that seems to be moving under the surface of our community. 

Once we get into the future, and our most vulnerable are protected, we may be able to take things differently. But right now, we need to eliminate this outbreak.

We do not want to be in and out of lockdowns and circuit breaks. We have gone in hard and fast before and this has worked. We decided that we want to do the same again.

We have therefore decided that we will be heading into a further circuit break. From one minute past midnight tonight - so for clarity the first minute of Wednesday – we will be putting in place – and legislating for – a set of clear measures.

We will be doing this – as we did last time – for a period of twenty one days. We will review this constantly. And as before, we will only keep measures in place for as long as we judge they are necessary. If we can adjust them earlier, we will. If we have to extend, we will.

This time, as well as the number of active cases, progress in the vaccination programme will also be an important factor for us.

The measures will be similar to what we had in the last circuit break. It worked last time and we have every reason to believe it will work once again.

These measures will come into force from the first minute of Wednesday. But I would encourage everyone to start immediately if possible.

Let me take you through what we have decided. It is broadly where we were in January:

We need you to stay at home. There are only a few exceptions to this. For essential things like getting food, daily exercise, or work if you really cannot work from home. You can also leave home of course if you are going for a medical appointment or to be vaccinated or tested.

We will be implementing social distancing measures – so two metres - in all settings where it is possible to do so.

If you do go outside, we strongly advise you to wear face coverings as much as you possibly can. We will again insist on this on public transport.

If you go outside to exercise please do so in a way that is safe. Keep your distance. Respect others. Avoid crowds.

We need you to stop all household mixing. This is absolutely key to stopping the spread.

All hospitality and leisure venues will need to close. As last time, they will be able to offer take away and delivery services. But no eating in.

All non-essential retail must close to the public.  As last time, they can offer delivery and click and collect services.  We will again allow building suppliers to open for trades but not to the general public.

All lifestyle businesses – hairdressers for example must close.

From tomorrow morning, schools will close to the majority of pupils and the online learning which worked well in January will recommence. The schools, in their existing settings, will only be open to children of essential workers and to vulnerable children who need it.  If parents are able to work from home and can keep their children at home it is essential they do so as numbers are limited.

We are keeping the schools in their existing places this time - rather than consolidating in hubs - based on feedback the Department received. This is to give a better, more local service to those who really need it - vulnerable children and those of essential workers.  But it is just for those who do.

Parents are asked where possible to keep their children at home as space is limited.

In line with the third week of our last circuit break, we will not be stopping the construction or other related trades where they are outside or on vacant properties.  We will however require them to fully practice social distancing and other mitigations and they will not be able to enter any households unless for emergency repairs. 

Allowing these trades to continue is based on feedback from last time and taking on feedback is something we have committed to do every time we have to step into difficult positions such as this.

Everyone who can work from home must do so. We need businesses to support their employees on this as they did before, and ensure that they have only staff who are absolutely essential to be on site.

Let me again thank everyone - including all those local businesses - who took responsible action over the weekend. We appreciate what you did. And as we have said before, where we make decisions that impact you, we will be there to support you.

From Wednesday we will be reactivating the financial support measures including MERA, Salary Support and the Business Support Scheme.  The Treasury Minister will provide a statement in the House of Keys later today.

I know this will be far from easy this time for so many.

I know there is a great cost in locking down our Island and your lives.  But we believe the alternative is now even more costly.

I know we have asked you so much in the past and are I know asking you so much again.

And I am truly sorry that this is happening.

But our collective judgement throughout yesterday and last night, as more information became clearer, was that this, is what we need to do.

I have always said that we will do what is right for the Island. And this is what we are doing. The right thing.

Talking about doing the right thing, I have been asked why we did not say something at 7am this morning.

There was a risk identified late last night that had to be dealt with first, which was specific advice to year 8 at Bemahague School. If we had told people at 7am this morning not to go to work or school, without any time for companies or individuals to prepare for what could be a three week period, then businesses and parents could justifiably criticise government for not allowing sufficient time in which to prepare and for business to continue to operate within the new rules. In truth, what we would have seen is thousands of people having to come into work anyway in order to prepare for what we are asking them to do.

It is recognising the importance of the issue that we are having this conversation now, rather than our usual time. People will have the remainder of the day to prepare and position themselves properly for the next three weeks.

Let’s go to questions from the media.

Thank you for those questions. 

Today is all about preparing, giving businesses notice, allowing schools to plan and allowing everyone to be prepared.

As I have said many times before, there is no need to panic.   There is no need to buy any more provisions than you need. It is important to think of others and I know our incredible community will rally round to those who need help the most.

So today is about getting ready. 

This is tough. I know it will be hard on families and on our businesses.

It will be hard on our health and wellbeing and it will be hard on our children.

I do believe though that if we get this right one more time – if we stamp out once and for all the transmission that has been sitting under the surface for some time now - and in parallel if we protect our vaccination programme – this could hopefully be the last time.

If all is well, as we progress over the next 21 days, I sincerely hope that we will not have to tighten up further. It has worked before.  We know what to do.

As with the last circuit break, we will hold these briefings regularly and keep you updated on progress.

We all hope that we soon return to what was a privileged and rare position of having relatively normal life here on our Island.

For now, we need to ask you to once again make the right decisions for you, your family and your Island.

Stay home. If you need to go out, then before you do, consider whether it is really necessary. Keep your Island safe.

If you can implement any of these measures today, please do so.

The measures outlined will then take legal effect from the first minute of Wednesday.

From then, where possible, you MUST stay at home.