Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
Here with me at the podium is the Minister for Health and Social Care who I will hand over to for an update on the latest COVID figures.
Thank you David.
Despite the emergence of a cluster of cases last week, which our contact tracing team have been unable to link to the last outbreak, the emergence of new cases has – so far at least – been relatively low.
The emergence, however, of another new case that our contact tracing team have not as yet been able to link to either last week’s cluster or to the last outbreak – is a cause for concern. The contact tracing team continues to monitor the situation closely and their work to identify any possible links and establish a chain of transmission is ongoing.
We will need to continue to watch and wait and we must remain vigilant.
I cannot emphasise this enough. If you have any COVID-like symptoms, please do not dismiss them. Isolate yourself and others in your household and contact 111 for advice and to arrange a test – even if you have had your vaccine and have what you feel are perhaps only side effects as opposed to having COVID-19.
We knew the virus would return at some stage, but we also knew that our response was likely to be different. That is what we are seeing now.
It is important to remember precisely why we are able to change our approach to the virus. Why is it possible for us to move from trying to eliminate the virus from our lives to instead living with it as part of our lives.
Our vaccination programme has been a game changer and our rapid progress has come at the same time as a significant reduction in COVID-19 cases in the UK.
Over the weekend we hit the milestone of having administered 70,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine with almost 55,000 first doses in arms. The vaccinations will significantly reduce not just fatalities from the virus but also the number of people who are likely to become seriously ill with COVID.
In the UK, the rate of infection has now fallen well below 100 cases per 100,000 people, which is hugely significant.
These two factors combined mean we are in a positive position to change our approach.
Last week, the second version of our COVID-19 Exit Framework was unanimously approved by Tynwald. It sets out a clear direction of travel, mapping out a journey away from eliminating the virus to living with it.
As part of this framework, we have a broad plan to loosen restrictions on our borders, beginning this Saturday 1 May and running until 28 June when we hope to be able to remove all remaining restrictions.
We will issue full details of our plans for 1 May in the next couple of days, but I can confirm that we remain committed to a move from level 4 to level 3 of our borders framework on Saturday. This means that family, partners and property owners will all be able to travel to the Island. Shared isolation in households will be reintroduced, and the period of isolation for travellers will reduce from fourteen to seven days subject to undergoing testing.
Those are the headlines, but we need to be absolutely clear on the responsibilities of the travellers and those in the household so that everyone knows what they can and can’t do. We will publish full details and I plan to cover this in Thursday’s briefing.
As part of learning to live with the virus, the Council of Ministers has explored options for how isolation requirements might work going forward.
What we want to avoid is a lockdown by the back door. If we see an uptick in cases, we risk locking down a significant number of households through our current test, trace and isolation protocols. Not only does this risk a significant impact on our economy and our society, this approach does not reflect the policy shift from eliminating the virus to living with the virus. We must get the balance right and ensure our response is proportionate to our new circumstances.
This challenge became apparent during the last outbreak when many of our services and those of the private sector came under pressure due to the scale of isolation being required across our society.
After careful consideration, the Council of Ministers has agreed changes to how isolation will work with effect from tomorrow.
Anyone who tests positive for the virus will need to isolate for ten instead of fourteen days. An end to isolation will still be subject to a negative ‘exit’ test so that we know someone with the virus is no longer infectious. This reduction in the self-isolation period also applies for other members in the household who will need to take part in surveillance testing.
This change aligns the Island with the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control and is still stronger than the measures in place in the UK where no exit test is required.
The change here is simple. If you test positive for the virus, it is the exact same process as it is now – all that is changing is the isolation period. Ten days instead of fourteen days.
As part of this review, the Council of Ministers also considered how isolation requirements might be adapted for high risk contacts and their households.
We agreed that, also from tomorrow, anyone who is identified as being a high risk contact of someone who has tested positive for the virus but who lives in a different household now only needs to isolate for ten instead of fourteen days, again subject to entry and exit tests.
These high risk contacts will also be able to leave the house for exercise once a day after they receive their first negative test result.
Other people in the household of a high risk contact will no longer have to isolate if the high risk contact returns a negative test result. Vigilance here by everyone in the household of a high risk contact will be extremely important.
These changes come into force from one minute past midnight tonight into tomorrow morning and will apply retrospectively to those currently in isolation.
After more than a year, these changes are significant. Something we have spoken about many times over the past 14 months is risk and balancing it. The actions we have taken to date have reflected the level of risk posed by the virus. The risk to people’s lives, to their health and to our health and care system. That level of risk is diminishing, quite literally by the day, as we get more jabs in arms. Our approach to the virus must flex accordingly.
The Council of Ministers feel that the changes to our isolation measures are proportionate: they still set out to contain cases of the virus and stop the spread, whilst seeking to minimise the broader impact on people and our society.
Every change we make carries risk, but also should be seen in the context of moving forwards, of learning to live in a world with COVID.
The pandemic continues to present real challenges to us and we need to navigate a careful path through with the bigger picture in mind. It will I am sure take time for all of us to adapt and adjust.
I know there are a few topics that the Health and Social Care Minister would like to cover, so I’ll hand over to David.
Thanks you David, let’s move now to questions.
Thank you for those questions.
That’s all for today and I will be back at the podium on Thursday to talk about our border changes.
Until then, take care and remain vigilant.