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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 22 April 2021

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Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.

I am joined at the podium by the Minister for Education, Sport & Culture. Our Director of Public Health and the Minister for Health & Social Care join us on Zoom.

Let me start with the Health Minister and today’s data. We will come back to some wider health and social care updates slightly later.

I know that the cases we have seen arise over the last 48 hours have caused concern for many of you. I understand that. We all knew that we would in due course see cases again in or community. I know we had all hoped for a bit more time before this happened.

You will have seen that yesterday we reported a total of five new cases across two households. As always, for reasons of confidentiality, I am a bit constrained as to what I can say. But I will be as frank as I am able to be.

The Minister told us that we have seen one additional case overnight. I can tell you that this new positive is a member of one of those households.  Given how quickly the virus can spread, this is not unexpected.

Contact tracing has been building a picture of what these cases mean – especially in terms of onward infection. Yes - we have a concern that there is a level of community transmission. There are a significant number of people in self-isolation with tests happening as we speak. Those results will help us understand what we are dealing with.

You will have seen yesterday that one of the chains that the team have been following relates to Bunscoill Rhumsaa. Let me invite the Minister for Education to update us on the work underway to ensure our schools are safe for our students and staff.

I would like to add my thanks to all those from Bunscoill Rhumsaa and other settings that have worked with our contact tracing team over the last 48 hours. One thing that has been encouraging has been that a number of settings involved have been using PPE and have had social distancing regimes in place. This has made contact tracing easier and faster. This has allowed the team to focus their energy on those areas that cause more concern.

This may be a good time to bring in our Director of Public Health for her update.

The Council of Ministers of course continues to monitor the situation on a regular basis with advice from our team. 

You may have seen that yesterday, Tynwald unanimously approved the second version of our Exit Framework. There was broad support for us to move from an approach of elimination to one of mitigation. A lot of people have asked us what exactly this means. This is a perfectly reasonable question.

For me – and for the Council of Ministers – this means three things.

  • It means learning to live with the virus.
  • It means that our lives become more about personal choices. Government will only intervene when it is really necessary. 
  • But importantly it means all of us doing what we can to reduce the impact on our community.

And this is where we are today. We are not proposing to introduce any legal restrictions or requirements.

One of the big differences now, of course, is our vaccination programme.  Almost 53,000 adults have now had their first dose.  This includes 94 per cent of those who are most vulnerable to the virus, whether because of their age or because they have a pre-existing medical condition. As I have said before, the protection the vaccination gives our wider society really is a game changer in how we respond to the virus.

Government has stepped out of your lives and we want to do everything possible to stay out. But we will not be walking away from you.

We will continue testing and we are looking at how we can use testing differently in this new phase. 

Our contact tracing team will remain at a high level of readiness to intervene when we see flare ups that cause us concern.

We will be asking you – as individuals or as businesses - to make more choices for yourself. To support you, Government will also be increasing the information that is available to you. We want to give you the best information to help you make the best possible choices.  

Things are not “business as usual”. We need to be vigilant and ready to act. This is what is referred to in the Exit Framework as Level Zero.

We will be raising our game and will be asking you to do the same.

Over the coming days and weeks, you will see more advice. And this is what it will be – advice.

We will be asking businesses to consider the risks to their employees and their customers. We will be offering advice and support on how to do that.

We will be majoring on the World Health Organisation’s Three Cs. This is about how the virus spreads through Close Contact, in Crowded Places, and in Confined Spaces.

We want to give you reliable and timely information on the virus and vaccines on our Island and beyond.

You will hear some messages from us that will be familiar to you about how to stay safe. Around “Hands, Face, Space” for example.

We want people – and businesses – to really think hard about personal distancing and face coverings.

But we also really need to help people understand how important it is to stay at home if they are unwell. We know from the last lockdown that people were still going into work when they had symptoms.

This needs to change. If you woke up with chickenpox one day, would you go to work? No. If your children had chickenpox, would you send them to school? No. We need people to think about COVID the same way.

We understand that some people might be scared that their job might be at risk if they don’t.

We need to work with employers to ensure that this doesn’t happen. And we will be looking again at how we might financially support people who are legally required to self-isolate.

We want all businesses to ensure that they are doing everything they can to ensure their customers and employees are as safe as possible. Some are already doing this really well, I know.

As we see cases emerge over the months ahead, it would be safe to assume that those business who engage in best practice now could be those least affected in the future.

We will work with businesses on this over the coming weeks. We will provide advice and support.

But I know that a lot of our businesses are already working on this.

They have facilities in place to support strong hygiene practices for staff and customers. They already have strong policies in place to ensure employees don’t come into work if they are unwell. They keep attendance records of staff and visitors in case contact tracing is needed. They are ensuring their premises are regularly cleaned and well ventilated. Some are keeping floor markers, one-way systems and screens in place. 

These all feel like positive choices and are all things that businesses can consider putting in place today. And Government is ready to provide support and advice to businesses that want to do the right thing.

One important aspect of this will be around working from home. A lot of people have got into the habit of doing this over the last year. We are not mandating this as we did during the lockdown.

But I know a number of businesses – especially office based businesses - have made a decision to support staff who wish to work from home for maybe some of the week. This feels like a smart decision. I would encourage others who can to do the same. This is a good way to reduce daily contact in the workplace. And at the end of the day, this is the best way to reduce risk to staff and the risk of disruption to the business if a case pops up.

Just before we go to questions, I would like to appeal to anyone in their twenties who may not yet have registered for their vaccine.

I know some people are hesitant about having the vaccine. I know there is a lot of misinformation out there.

As we have said on a number of occasions, vaccines are a personal choice. That is important. But I would ask everyone who may be hesitant about the vaccine to consult reputable information before making a decision. We have a lot of information on our website. You can also check NHS England for example. Or speak to a medical professional.

Please do everything you can to keep you and your loved ones safe.

Dealing with and living with COVID on our Island will be less and less about government. And increasingly more about personal choice. As we step out of your lives, we need you to make the right decisions.

Stay safe.