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Chief Minister's Statement on COVID-19 - 21 April 2020

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Good afternoon. It is good to be back.

I have been touched by the messages I have received since my COVID diagnosis was confirmed. Thank you. I am through the symptoms now. But I do have to share with you that it is a horrid and debilitating condition.

I have remained engaged throughout my period of isolation, chairing our National Strategy Group remotely every morning. But I have certainly missed our daily press conferences.

Getting back to the old routine, I would like to invite the Minister of Health & Social Care to cover today's statistics.

Thank you, David. And please pass on my thanks to your colleagues for the Herculean work they are all putting in.

Last Friday, the Treasury Minister told this press conference about the work that had been undertaken by colleagues from across Government to look at how and when the Isle of Man might be able to move to a new stage in dealing with COVID-19.

I will share with you shortly the results of their work. But first I think it is important for me to set the context.

As an Island, we find ourselves in a fortunate position. For many, this might be difficult to hear. For those who have lost loved ones, I would never seek to belittle that pain. Every death is of course a tragedy.

Or for those who have lost jobs. Or for companies who are struggling. I know it may seem that there is no way out.

But we just need to take a step back and look beyond our shores. Our friends across Europe and across the world are suffering the most dreadful scenes. It is still not clear if the UK has reached its own peak. But the death toll is already over sixteen thousand. The global death toll is ten times that. This is catastrophic.

Relative to the UK and others we have so far escaped the worst ravages of this virus. Our health and care sectors still have capacity. We still have good stocks of PPE. Our staffing levels are solid. We have beds available.

How did we get here? It was not by luck.

It was of course thanks to some incredible work by our health and social care professionals and the teams that support them. And what they have achieved has been nothing short of miraculous.

I would like to take you through a few key achievements.

  • Working with colleagues from the Department of Infrastructure, our Department of Health and Social Care has commissioned a new ward and other important critical health facilities at Nobles. DOI have also installed our own oxygen production facility. The provision of oxygen is a challenge across the United Kingdom. We can now produce our own.
  • Our on-Island testing facility is now up and running. This will allow us to conduct around 200 tests a day without having to send them off-Island. Well done to everyone involved in delivering this.
  • We have doubled our ITU capacity and – importantly – have trained staff to work on it.
  • Working with Department for Enterprise colleagues, DHSC have established solid global procurement of personal protection equipment beyond our regular NHS supply chains.
  • Government has developed expert analytical tools to support policy development, contact tracing and cluster investigations.

This has been a team effort. This is thanks to the DHSC leadership and the army of people who have supported them. Help has come from across our public, private and voluntary sectors. All of this work has helped our health and social care system to be ready.

But I have missed one important category of people who have made this possible - And that is you.

We set you all a challenge. We asked you to make changes to your lives. We asked you to act differently. To live differently. And you are doing it.

You rose to the challenge. The vast majority of our Island has shown the very best of Manx. You have been resilient, determined and courageous.

By making the choices that you did, you have got us to where we are now. You have helped us drive down the growth rate of the virus on our Island.

You brought us one thing we didn't have at the start of all this – time. Time to be as ready as we could be for the next chapter.

As we go forward, a crucial weapon in our arsenal will be testing and contact tracing – all based around high quality data.

We have been able to test en masse. Per capita we currently rank 9th in the world. We now have a facility on-Island that can process around 200 tests a day.

This has allowed us to gather crucial data. Testing for testing sake can be a blunt weapon. But we have been able to use the data we have gleaned from testing, contact tracing, the 111 line and elsewhere.

We are often talking about the invisible enemy. What you have achieved by staying at home is to help us "see" where COVID was so that we could break the chain.

We called upon everyone on the Island to step up to protect our health & social care services. – and you did it.

We asked you to supress this virus and to flatten the curve - and you did it.

We asked you to get us away from the blue curve and closer to the yellow curve - and you did it.

Because of this - because of the seriousness with which you have taken the situation - we are able to share with you today the changes we will be making as we move to the next stage of our plan.

Our first priority has always been the preservation of life. And that remains the case. The Council of Ministers has been clear that it will never put the economy before the lives of our people.

But now that we have time to do so, we can broaden our thinking and our actions.

Over the last weeks, the decisions the Council of Ministers and I have had to make have been heart wrenching. I hope our successors will not be faced with the same.

We knew our lives would be turned upside down. We knew livelihoods would be lost. And we knew lives would be lost.

Today, the decisions the Council of Ministers and I have to make continue to be challenging. We feel the weight of that responsibility.

In addition to our responsibility for the protection of life, we now believe that the time has come to look ahead.

The drastic measures we were forced to take were the right thing to so in the short term. But in the medium and long terms, closing down society can cause real risks to our wellbeing.

Whether this is from having to close down other healthcare pathways as we had to do. Or whether this is the pressures on our mental health that isolation or financial challenges can bring. Or whether this is the increase in domestic abuse reports that we have seen.

We cannot ignore these risks.

We have to balance them against the risks directly from the virus. And we need to have a plan that will sustain us over the months to come. This is a marathon not a sprint.

The economy is critical to this plan. We have to be realistic that we do not have a bottomless pot of money. Without an economy we have no healthcare system.

As the Treasury Minister mentioned on Friday, a cross governmental task force has been working on "if, how and when" we can make changes. The challenge government set them was formidable.

They worked hand in glove with all of our senior public health and clinical experts. I am delighted that together they have agreed on our next steps.

The Council of Ministers has now also agreed this approach.

I am pleased to tell you that from the morning of 24 April there will be two broad areas of change.

Firstly, on construction and related trades.

Many countries around us chose not to stop construction work. It has continued for example in the United Kingdom. We made a different decision at the time. We chose to bring in tougher measures in order to supress the virus as much as possible - and as quickly as possible.

From this Friday, builders, construction workers, tradesmen, window cleaners and gardeners may return to work providing that they do so safely and within social distancing guidelines.

Businesses that support this activity - such as hardware stores and builders merchants - can also operate providing again that they do so safely, respecting social distancing and other guidelines.

Supporting services such as waste and recycling points will also be able to operate - once again providing that they can do so safely respecting social distancing and other guidelines.

I have to be very clear that we will be approaching this change with our eyes open. While we have offered this flexibility to the construction sector, we will not hesitate to close down construction sites, retail premises, industrial units or any other premises where there is disregard for public or workforce safety.

We will publish full details of the sectors and trades covered by this change tomorrow.

Secondly, for people.

With the agreement of our clinicians, we are now able to develop our approach.

As I said before – there are real harms that flow from a sustained lockdown environment. We want to do what we can to ease these – in a gradual, managed and clinically driven manner.

From Friday, we will no longer limit your time out of your home. There will no longer be a requirement that this is for "essential reasons" only.

We will be widening the recreation that you can undertake to include activities that can be done in a safe and socially distanced way. We will be publishing guidelines ahead of Friday.

You can continue to go to public spaces but please keep your distance from others.

I do need to make clear staying at home when you can is still important. If you can, then please do.

This is not about relaxing our measures. But we are adjusting them to achieve a more sustainable, fairer and healthier balance.

We have proved that as a community we understand the importance of social distancing. We need you to keep doing that – and demanding that others respect your space too.

We are not – I repeat not – yet ready to relax the rules banning public gatherings with people who are not part of your household. Breaking the chain of transmission from house to house has made such an important difference to reducing the spread of the virus. We need to keep doing that.

Neither are we ready to change the requirement that people must – wherever possible – work from home.

Again, we will shortly be publishing more detailed guidance on these new measures on our website.

And for the avoidance of doubt, we will not be opening our borders. This has made a real difference. The time is not right to open up, not least given the challenges the United Kingdom is facing.

Despite the changes we have been able to announce today, we need to keep up our vigilance and do the right thing.

Over the next weeks, we will continue to test, to trace, and to treat. We will continue to analyse the data. We will scrutinise infection rates in real time.

We will then review the situation at the end of the first week of May. If we remain within the capacity of our health and social care sector, then we may – and I repeat may – be able to take further steps towards normality. In a manageable, measured and clinically driven way.

This is the next stage in our plan. This is not the beginning of the end. There remains a long road ahead and the challenges will be considerable. But this could be the end of the beginning.

We will continue to share our thinking and our analysis with you as we go forward. Your actions are what is going to make the difference.

We need you to continue to play your part. These changes have only been possible because you have taken the measures seriously. You self-isolated when you had symptoms. You respected social distancing. You washed your hands. You need to keep doing this.

I will now take questions.

Thank you. And thank you for your patience. I won't do shout-outs today. You have probably heard enough of my voice for one day.

But please remember... For today, tomorrow and the next day – please stay at home. We need these few more days.

From Friday, stay at home if you can. It could still save lives. But we will be trusting you to make the right choices. For your families, for your community, for your Island.

Please keep up your remarkable efforts. Stay safe. Save lives.