Today is the sixty-fourth day without any new cases of COVID-19 here in the Isle of Man. That is over two months since anyone has had the unenviable task of standing at this podium to announce that a member of our community has contracted the virus.
Like me, I am certain no one misses those days.
Across the British Isles only ourselves and fellow Crown dependency Guernsey have achieved local elimination of the virus.
That there are still active cases in England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Jersey and Ireland reminds us that we cannot let down our guard. Although life here feels relatively normal, COVID-19 is still with us and is likely to be so for some time.
But whilst we must be cautious, there is also room for optimism. Our neighbours are now making steady progress in their fight against the virus and some aspects of life there are returning to their pre-COVID rhythm, as restrictions are eased.
This has been reflected in our borders policy, with the move from Level 5 to Level 4 that came into effect this Monday.
Should Isle of Man residents wish to leave our shores for non-essential journeys, they are now free to return, subject to undertaking two weeks of self-isolation.
I want to take this opportunity to again outline the simple but important process that residents returning to our Island must follow:
- If you have not already done so, and you intend to travel - you must register for Government’s online services at services.gov.im
- You will need to login and select the Travel Notification Service
- The first stage is to apply for a Manx Entry Permit – you will be asked to provide your national insurance number, and/or your tax reference number and your residential address – this ensures that only returning Isle of Man residents can cross our border
- With those details provided, a Manx Entry Permit will be created for you
- This part of the process is an one-off application and the Manx Entry Permit remains in place for all future travel
- The second stage is to apply for a Landing Form – you need to do this at least 48 hours prior to any return journey to the Isle of Man
- The form includes a health declaration and notifies Government of the address at which you will be self-isolating for 14 days.
The Travel Notification Service went live last Friday and although it is early days, I can advise that as of lunchtime today, 2,203 Manx Entry Permit registrations have been completed and 429 Landing Forms have been generated.
My thanks to everyone who has followed this new process – you are helping to keep our Island and our community safe.
On the topic of travel, I mentioned earlier that across these islands only Guernsey joins us in having achieved local elimination of COVID-19. This has enabled us to open an air bridge between our two islands.
I am pleased to say that the first flight from Guernsey touched down at Ronaldsway yesterday, with 98 holidaymakers on board. The Manx weather has been on fine form of late, with a few warm and sunny days, which promptly made way yesterday for… drizzle!
The return journey to Guernsey saw 122 residents depart the Isle of Man for a break there. And, to add insult to injury, naturally, the sun was cracking the flags in Guernsey!
Joking aside, this is a really strong start to our new air bridge, which is pleasing to see.
I extend the warmest of welcomes to our visitors and I hope they have a pleasant and relaxing visit to our beautiful island.
Other news this week has also given us cause for optimism. There are thought to be 140 vaccines for COVID-19 in early development, a number of which have already begun clinical trials.
One such trial is the vaccine being developed by Oxford University, which on Monday was confirmed as successfully triggering an immune response in a trial with one thousand and seventy-seven individuals.
There is still some way to go, with larger trials required and a full determination of what level of protection – if any – this vaccine might provide. But the early results are extremely promising.
The UK has already ordered 100 million doses of the vaccine should it go into production, and I can confirm that the Isle of Man will have access to this stock, through our procurement agreement with NHS Supply Chain.
At the end of last week, we published our preliminary report on COVID-19 antibody testing in the Isle of Man. This has enabled us to get an indication of the percentage of the Island’s population that may have had coronavirus.
It is important to remember that, at this stage, a positive antibody test – that is, a test result indicating that someone has had coronavirus – does not mean that individual is immune from catching the disease a second time.
As a brief reminder of the background: we announced antibody testing on 1 June, with the arrival of 5,000 test kits. Our initial testing process targeted those attending hospital; those having a blood test; the close and high risk contacts of those who have had the virus; blood donors; health and care workers; and a random sample of people who had called 111 with suspected COVID symptoms but who had tested negative.
Targeting these groups allows us to get a mix of age, gender and geographical spread.
The report published last Friday takes us up to 10 July at which stage 3,892 antibody tests had been completed.
The results were mixed. As I have said time and again, there is still much we do not know about this virus. We must also be mindful that in any testing regimen there will be false positives, false negatives as well as room for error.
A case in point is those who had the antibody test who were confirmed as having had coronavirus.
Out of 210 people in this group, only 156 of them –74% – had the COVID-19 antibodies present in their system.
It may be that the antibodies become undetectable after around 50 days or that the blood sample of a certain proportion of patients will not yield an antibody result.
Taking the test results overall, it implies that between 1,680 and 2,520 people in the Isle of Man are likely to have had COVID-19 between the beginning of the pandemic and 10 July.
As I say, these results are preliminary – which means they are subject to revision once additional data checking and analysis have been concluded.
The other topic I want to touch on today is this week’s Budget Update.
I know that the Treasury Minister gave a briefing on Tuesday, but the package of measures announced is so important to our future, I think it is worth covering some of the key points again today.
The Budget Update seeks to address the financial challenges our Island and our public services face as a result of coronavirus.
Because, whilst the initial focus of our response to the pandemic was to protect lives and people’s health, the virus has been just as damaging to the prosperity and economic wellbeing of our Island.
Government was quick to respond, with a number of support packages, which we estimate will cost up to seventy-two and a half million pounds this financial year.
This includes salary support of twenty-seven million pounds for over twelve thousand employees across almost two thousand businesses; nine point two million pounds paid out in business support to three thousand and sixty-one businesses; and four point one million pounds paid out through MERA – the Manx Earning Replacement Allowance.
But as we move forward, our economic response to COVID must be more than shoring things up until the virus passes.
The Budget Update is the starting gun in our economic fightback from the pandemic.
We must look to the future and seize opportunities.
That is why we have created a one hundred million pound Economic Recovery Fund, along with establishing an Economic Recovery Group – reporting directly to the Council of Ministers – which will co-ordinate action and reaction to the economic conditions.
We stand ready to invest in our economy, in our people, in our Island and in our future.
This will include:
- Expanding opportunities for developing core skills – at schools, at UCM and working with employers and standing ready to create up to one thousand additional retraining and employment opportunities if needed.
- Accelerating investment programmes and schemes to improve our digital capabilities, speed up national high speed broadband, accelerate the climate change commitments and improve core infrastructure being ready to support up to one thousand jobs and taking our Island forward to a greener, cleaner future
And we are accelerating and increasing spending on our capital programme for this year, bringing forward six point one million pounds in spending and a further nine hundred and ten thousand pounds in minor capital works.
This work will deliver vital schemes to enhance our national infrastructure, whilst also stimulating our economy.
We will do what is required to help our economy to recover and be fit for the future.
Finally for today, a shout-out.
Last week I acknowledged the hard work of our swabbing team who had been based at the grandstand, as they were being disbanded.
But swabbing does, of course, continue. Our community swabbing team has taken over duties at the grandstand. This is in addition to continuing to undertake swabbing around the Island by visiting those who are frail, vulnerable or too ill to attend the grandstand.
The team – made up of staff seconded from the endoscopy, dental and adult social care services –have been going to homes all over the Island ensuring that, no matter what someone’s personal circumstances, they can be assured of access to testing for COVID-19.
Well done to the team and please keep up the fantastic work.
That’s all for today. Thank you.