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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 23 October 2020

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Good afternoon everyone. 

Thank you for taking the time to watch and listen this afternoon. 

Since my update last week, I am pleased to advise that no new cases of COVID-19 have been detected on our Island. 

This is good news, and means we continue to be relatively certain that our Island remains free of the virus. 

I do accept, however, that these figures must be put in context.  We suspended the option of a test on day seven of self-isolation for anyone who returned to the Island on or after Monday 12 October. 

Despite the suspension of our day seven testing option, I want to be quite clear that testing continues. 

Since announcing our intention to suspend day seven testing a fortnight ago, over one-and-a-half thousand tests for COVID-19 have been carried out on the Island.  This continues to be made up those who have called 111 to request a test because they feel they have COVID symptoms; arriving key workers, such as those in our health and care services; and screening before various hospital consultations and operations. 

The decision to suspend the option of a test on day seven was taken as an added precaution because of the levels of the virus in the United Kingdom and Ireland – particularly the North-West of England and Northern Ireland.  It meant we reverted to the gold standard of fourteen days of self-isolation to be reasonably certain that anyone who might be carrying the virus will have stopped shedding, preventing the virus from circulating in our community. 

The Council of Ministers is continuing to explore a number of options on how testing might be adapted in the coming weeks and months.  Nothing is off the table and we continuously review options for our Island, whether that’s considerations around the resumption of day seven testing; testing at the border; and mass testing. 

I know that a small number of people in our community are having to regularly travel back and forth between the Island and England for medical appointments for serious conditions, and are finding the repeated cycle of complete self-isolation for fourteen days, challenging.  In some cases people have not even finished their self-isolation, before it is time to return to the UK for another medical appointment, to then head back to the Island only for the two weeks of self-isolation to start all over again.  I want you to know we are aware of this concern, the impact it is having, and we are exploring what role the resumption of day seven testing might offer in these circumstances. 

At its meeting yesterday, the Council of Ministers discussed the situation in Guernsey following a cluster of four cases of COVID-19 being detected on the Island in recent days. 

Naturally, many of you have questions on what this might mean for the air bridge between our two Islands, particularly with scheduled Aurigny flights resuming tomorrow for half-term. 

Our director of public health, Dr Henrietta Ewart – who joins me today – has been in close and regular contact with her opposite number in Guernsey, so that we can fully understand the latest developments there. 

This is what we know. 

Guernsey’s index case – that is the first person to test positive for COVID-19 – was detected on Monday. 

As with our suspected case last week, this result came about from an individual who was displaying no symptoms and only sought a test as they were due to travel to a country that requires confirmation of a negative COVID-19 result before entry is granted.   

Unlike our suspected case last week, however, this was not a false positive. 

What is making this case particularly challenging is the fact that the individual had not left Guernsey in the past fourteen days, and as Guernsey has no COVID cases in the community, the source of the infection is unknown. 

The only conclusion that can be drawn, at the moment, is that it is likely to be transmission from someone who had a day seven test and received a “false negative” but who was in fact asymptomatic and, unknowingly to them, shedding the virus. 

This is the risk we have sought to avoid by suspending our day seven testing option. 

Alternatively, it may be transmission from someone who has broken self-isolation and who has not been caught doing so. 

Unfortunately, three close contacts of the index case have also tested positive for the virus. 

This is what brought Guernsey’s number of active cases to four.  But as they are all related to the index case, it means we are looking at a single, contained cluster. 

The Public Health team in Guernsey have been hard at work carrying out test and trace.  When the Council of Ministers met yesterday there were still around sixty test results of close contacts outstanding.  We determined that the results from these tests would be crucial in helping us to fully understand the level of risk that the cases in Guernsey pose. 

I have often spoken of the balance of risk – the requirement for the Council of Ministers to weigh up costs and benefits of any given scenario.  This is no different. 

Unfortunately, a further three cases have been detected in Guernsey overnight, taking the total to seven. Again, these are all linked to the index case. 

Earlier, I spoke to the Chief Minister of Guernsey Deputy Peter Ferbrache and advised him that the Council of Ministers has taken the decision that, in order to protect our community, the air bridge – that is self-isolation free travel between the Isle of Man and Guernsey – is suspended with immediate effect

I know this will be bitterly disappointing for those of you who have visits to Guernsey booked, and to businesses here on our Island that were looking forward to welcoming our friends from Guernsey. 

I know it will be equally disappointing for the people of Guernsey who were planning to travel here, 

We will work with Aurigny to ensure that residents for both islands can get home.  

This was not an easy decision to make.  We have taken many factors into consideration: half term, returning students, and the approach of a complex Christmas period.  A difficult decision, but one we feel is right for our Island.  I have always promised you I will do my utmost to protect our Island and its people – particularly those who are vulnerable.  The air bridge was established on the understanding that it could only operate whilst both islands remained free of any significant transmission of the virus. 

These latest positive test results mean that, sadly, the scales have tipped. 

Guernsey’s approach to managing the virus is very similar to ours here in the Isle of Man and so I have every confidence they will quickly bring the virus under control. 

We will keep the situation under review and I sincerely hope we are able to re-establish the air bridge as soon as possible. 

I am sure you will join me in wishing the people of Guernsey all the very best.  

I would now like to invite Henrietta, who has been working closely with her colleagues in Guernsey, to provide a brief update. 

Thank you Henrietta. 

As my good friend Minister Ashford is under the weather, with three days of bed rest prescribed, and as I have a dose of man-flu, I have sent for the doctor and so Minister Allinson is here to shore up the team.

Thank you for that update Alex. 

And now to questions from the media. 

Thank you for those questions.

That's all for today. Thank you for your time and have a good weekend.