What a busy week it has been. And a week of significant changes. Probably the biggest changes we have made since we first had to bring in the measures to protect our Island.
This evening I would like to take a step back. I would like to pause to reflect on where we have come from. And give you a bit of an idea of where we may be heading.
Before that, a weekday evening would not be complete without the Health & Social Care Minister bringing us today’s numbers.
Thank you, David.
I would like to pre-empt a question that I imagine might come up later. Because I think it is an important message given that from yesterday, we now have the ability to now go and visit our friends and family.
Obviously I cannot go into too many details but I do want to say a few words about the new confirmed case that we saw yesterday. It was not a health worker, or another front line worker, or anyone connected to a care home, or someone who may have travelled from across. This was just one of our young people. They and their family have self-isolated. I am grateful to them for having done the right thing. I of course wish them well. Contact tracing is underway and will take its course.
I am certainly not seeking to single out that individual. But the important point is that COVID is still in our community. And can be contracted by any one of us – from any age group.
This is why – despite having such low figures each day - we simply cannot be complacent. Our understanding of the virus is still so limited. But we do know that significant numbers of people will have no symptoms at all. And some will have symptoms so light that they may shrug them off as being something else.
And this is why we still need everyone to think carefully and make the right decisions. If someone showing no symptoms does not maintain social-distancing when out and about – or worse when they visit a friend or relative who is vulnerable – the effects could be disastrous.
As I said on Monday, we want to steadily remove restrictions. But as we step out of your life, we need you to step up and take responsibility.
You have done an amazing job so far and I know you will continue to do so.
The overall picture on the Island does allow us to be optimistic. It has allowed us to make changes.
On Monday, many retail businesses started trading again. The reports that I have received so far are that this has gone well and that on the whole, the new systems put in place to keep you safe – and of course to keep shop staff safe – are working well. I would like to thank the Commissioners and the Douglas Corporation for all their work on this.
On Monday, I was also able to announce that if you were comfortable doing so, you could start seeing people from others households - effective yesterday.
We tried to keep the rules as simple as possible. Ten outside. Two inside.
People understood them and I hope this has made a difference to your life. I hope you have been able to see your friends and family – but I do hope you have been doing so safely.
For the time being, we will still regulate larger gatherings outside. We think there is a wider public interest here.
And we will maintain rules in place for the moment on limiting people inside your home to two.
But once that person – or those two people from the same household – enter your home, we have to hand over responsibility to you.
We want you to judge your risk and make decisions for your circumstances. You are best placed to do so. You know if you are not feeling 100%. You know if someone at home has a health issue. Make the right decisions for you and your family.
The Council of Ministers met this morning to review progress on our Stay Safe roadmap. We were pleased with how things are going so far. There is still some way to go, but we are making progress towards our new Manx Normal.
So where are we right now? And where are we going? Let’s break it into the three chapters that you have heard me use before.
As I have said many times the Council of Ministers is trying to hit a difficult balance for a controlled return. This morning - as always - we have had to balance the desire to see more businesses return, with the need to ensure the changes we have already made remain effective and safe.
The Health & Social Care Minister will be taking this briefing tomorrow. He will take you through how we are going to start bringing our health services back online. I know how important this is to our community. Some changes have already started. Some will take longer. It will be careful and gradual. Or as David will I am sure say “babysteps”.
I won’t eat David’s sandwiches. He can take you through this tomorrow.
While we are talking about health, I am pleased to confirm that following support from our clinical group, we are now ready to support non-essential private practice health therapies (physiotherapy, podiatry etc) to reopen with immediate effect if they are able to demonstrate appropriate risk assessments. They should also have any necessary personal protection equipment.
The changes to contact between households was a big step. I think we are unlikely to make further changes on that in the immediate future.
We will however keep this under careful review. I have said before that any increased contact between households will inevitably lead to an increased risk that the virus could spread.
In two weeks, we should be able to see any impact that this change has had. If – based on the evidence - we are able to step out of your life further and change the measures again – we will. If we can’t, we won’t.
Throughout the pandemic, we have kept schools open for those who most needed them. In a managed and gradual manner – and as people have returned to work - we have expanded this.
We need to ensure that our children do not miss more of their schooling than is absolutely necessary.
The Department for Education, Sport and Culture has been working with teachers to ensure we get this right. From Monday 15th June we will be opening all school sites and from Wednesday 17th June all those children currently taught in the hubs will be able to return to their normal school.
The exact process by which we reintroduce pupils back into school is still being worked on. It will be in a phased way. The Department will be working with parents and teachers to organise this.
We know that not every family is ready to send their children back to school. We have therefore decided that attendance will be on a voluntary basis until the new school year in September.
The Minister for Education, Sport & Culture will be taking this briefing on Monday. I sure he can give you the latest then.
I know how important sport is to our community. The changes to our gatherings regulations has allowed us to allow a number of sports to restart and in some cases expand what they can offer. I am pleased to be able to tell you that from Saturday we will be allowing a range of outdoor sporting facilities to open. Further guidance will be published later this evening by the Department of Education, Sport and Culture and the Minister will be here on Monday to update you.
A significant amount of our businesses have now been able to return to work. Some of course never stopped. But we have now been able to allow all but a couple of sectors to return. What is left?
The largest sector of our economy in workforce terms is services. We estimate that it employs around fourteen thousand people. As I said on Monday, many have been able to have staff working from home and we have welcomed this.
From next week we are ready for these companies to start a gradual, phased return. We are however only prepared for them to do so if they can provide a safe working environment for their staff. We issued guidance on what we believe are the important principles. Much of our service sector are part of regulated industries. Where this is the case, the regulators have written to them about this.
Our service companies know what we expect of them. It is now for them to work out how they make our safety principles fit with their business models.
Most companies have told us that they do not expect to return to anything like full staffing levels for some time. Some companies have told us that they are not yet ready to bring staff back at all for the moment and that working from home will be an important part of their own “new normal”.
This is for companies to work through in their own way. We will set the standards. And update those standards as the situation evolves.
For now we will still ask employers to encourage home working, and we know many will choose to continue to do so. However if employers or employees wish to return to the office, provided it is safe to do so, that will be a choice they can make together – this is their decision.
The Council of Ministers today considered “lifestyle” businesses. This includes beauticians, hairdressers, barbers, and tattoo artists. Today we agreed that from 1st June, they can reopen.
We have been talking to them about what would be necessary for this to happen. As countries elsewhere have opened this sector, we have been able to learn from their experiences.
We will require practitioners to carry out a risk assessment, to have PPE and to ensure social distancing on their premises. We will also require them to maintain - for 28 days - a record of all their customers for tracing purposes should the need arise.
We today also considered what we could do to help the hospitality trade.
We today agreed that we are ready to invite restaurants and cafés to start preparations for a possible opening of any outdoor areas on 1st June for food-led services.
We will require them to adapt their seating to ensure social distancing. This has been done successfully elsewhere and there are models that can be adapted to our local circumstances. We know that for some this will not be straight forward. But we know from our engagement with them that many are already developing ideas – often very innovative ones. We will publish guidance next week and offer advice and support where we can.
Where the restaurant wishes to increase or even create outside dining areas, we will try to assist where possible.
At present, hotels and other tourist accommodation can only be provided for key workers and self-isolation. In line with our decision on gatherings and campsites recently made, as a first step we have agreed to allow a gradual return of this sector.
From 25th May, self-catering accommodation can join camping and “glamping” type facilities in being open again. This builds on the Treasury Minister’s comments yesterday about the increasing demand for staycation opportunities here on our wonderful Island for us all to enjoy
We will consider the remainder of the sector soon. We have had early conversations with the pub and bar operators. We may be able to find a way to allow them to open in a different or limited way. But we – and they – accept that it may be some time before we will be able to have a pint while propping up the bar.
I have said far too many times that closing our borders has made the single biggest difference in our fight against this virus. We were able to raise the drawbridge while the United Kingdom and so many other countries struggled to get to grips with it.
The Council of Ministers remains of the view that we cannot envisage unhindered travel between our Island and the United Kingdom in the immediate future. We will reopen the borders one day. But we are not there yet.
Nevertheless, the stable position we now find ourselves in – in terms of capacity at the hospital, staffing, PPE, and our contact tracing system – has allowed us to consider whether we can make some more small changes.
We therefore agreed that from the 3rd of June we will be slightly increasing the number of our residents who can come back from the United Kingdom by boat. From one boat to two. With an operational maximum of fifty on each.
The arrangements on arrival will not change. People will still have to quarantine either at home or at an approved location - either alone or with the people they travelled with. This will continue to be on a first come first served basis. This is for our returning residents. But we will now make some limited provision for non-residents who need to come to the Island for genuine compassionate reasons.
I do however need to be clear what I mean when I say compassionate. I mean end of life. Or to attend a funeral. And for immediate family only. But the point I need to underline is that even in compassionate cases the fourteen day home quarantine will still apply.
I know that this is not going to work for every circumstance. And I know that this is not what was reported yesterday by one of our media outlets. It was terribly sad that an inaccurate story yesterday - that then spread fast on social media - raised the hopes of a mourning family.
I receive a lot of letters and emails. Some people tell me that we are moving too fast in relaxing the measures. Some tell me that we are going too slowly and that we need to get back to normality as soon as possible.
From the start this has been a series of wicked balances. We are doing our best to get it right.
Will there be a spike in positive cases as a result of the changes in measures that have taken place this week? Maybe. Whenever there is increased contact between people, there is increased risk.
But we could not and cannot stay locked down for ever. The damage we would do to our health, our community and our economy would have led to permanent scarring.
I have confidence that we will get through this. It is a journey that we have been taking together since March. It has not been easy. But we are getting there. Let's put our best foot forward.
Please keep safe. And keep your loved ones safe. Remember the basics. Keep your distance. Respect other people's space.
The future is in your hands.