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

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Good afternoon,

I am joined today at the podium by the Minister for Health and Social Care and online by our Director of Public Health.

In recent days case numbers of COVID-19 on the Island have continued to increase, crossing the one thousand threshold.  I completely understand that many in our community continue to view case numbers as the barometer for how our Island is faring in the face of the pandemic.

But with our vaccination programme nearing completion, we must shift our focus as a community and as a nation away from case numbers and on to hospital admissions and capacity.

That is where my focus lies, as it does for the Council of Ministers.

I fully appreciate this change in mind-set will take time.  After doing all we could to keep the virus from our shores for so many months – including three lockdowns – it is jarring to see the virus spreading, with no restrictions in place.  After all we have been through together in the past year and a half, this shift – from eliminating the virus, to putting in place mitigations and learning to live with it – was never going to be easy.

And yes, we must be honest, of course there is still a possibility that we may have to take steps to address the spread of the virus if the pressure on our health service becomes too severe.  I hope our vaccination programme means that such a step will not be necessary, but we cannot and must not rule this out.  ‘Never, say never’.

But any response would be focussed on protecting hospital capacity, and ensuring there is space for those with COVID-19 who need intervention and specialist care.  It would not be about locking down society and preventing people from getting on with their lives.

We must place the situation we are in today in context.

Almost 90% of those eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine have received at least one dose.  And the number of people who have received their second dose grows each and every day.  As at Tuesday this week, over 77% of those eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine had received both doses, a number which increases with each passing day.

And we hope that, by 31 August, all eligible adults on the Island will have been offered the opportunity for their second dose.

Being vaccinated does not completely shield us from catching COVID.  We have always been clear about that.  But it does increase the chances that any resulting illness will be less severe, reducing the number of people requiring hospital care and the number of deaths.  Vaccinated people with the virus are also much less likely to spread it to others.

Our vaccination programme helps to break the link between having the virus and ending up in hospital because of it.

In the days ahead we will see more people admitted to hospital because of COVID.  But let us compare our position now to just four months ago.

In the middle of March we had over 850 active COVID cases, with 23 people in hospital because of the virus.

Today we have well over double that number in active cases and the number of people in the hospital is five.

There can be no doubt the vaccine is working as expected and is saving lives.

And whilst it does not offer us complete protection – no vaccine does – it does give us the means to be able to live with COVID-19 in precisely the same way we have adapted to live with other diseases and illnesses.  We will move from living in a world where COVID-19 represents a pandemic, to one where COVID-19 is endemic.

As I have said, this mind-shift will take time, but vaccination has changed the nature of the game in our favour.

David, I know there are a few items you wish to discuss and you may wish to pick up on some of the points I have mentioned…

Thank you David.

Our vaccination programme focussed first and foremost on the most vulnerable in our community, which included older people, as they are more susceptible to the virus. 

Yesterday we received word that COVID had made its way in to the Reayrt-Ny-Baie residential home.  Manx Care has put in place restrictions to protect residents.  I’ll hand over to the Director of Public Health to talk a little more about this and anything else she may wish to add on our current situation.

Dr Ewart…

Thank you Dr Ewart.

Learning to live with the virus – thanks to the protection offered by our vaccination programme – means we are continuing to explore how we can gradually remove restrictions at our borders and the measures we have in place to mitigate the spread of the virus.

It is still our intention to return to unrestricted travel between the Isle of Man and the rest of the British Isles, in line with our COVID-19 Exit Framework.

We had hoped the next step on that journey could have been this Saturday.

We had tabled changes at Tynwald that proposed opening up travel from countries on England’s green and amber lists; exempting children aged 11 and under from testing and isolation; recognising additional vaccines that have received regulatory approval, which would open up unrestricted travel to the Isle of Man for many people in Ireland; and removing exit tests for those who are in isolation because of the virus.

Regrettably, Tynwald voted not to allow standing orders to be suspended so that the supplementary order paper that contained these regulations could be taken.

Clearly Council of Ministers felt these changes were important to consider, as did the majority of Tynwald Members, and it is disappointing a minority did not feel Tynwald should even discuss them today.

I have not yet had the opportunity to discuss with the Council of Ministers yet as to what this means on the changes we were proposing, and will do so later this evening.

For now, it means the regulations will not be voted on and none of the changes will come into effect on Saturday as we had hoped.

Let’s take some questions…

Thank you for those questions.

That’s all for today, have a pleasant weekend.