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Chief Minister's Statement on COVID-19 - 27 April 2020

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Good afternoon

Before we get into the briefing, I would like to take a second to wish the United Kingdom Prime Minister well as he returns to work today, and as he wrestles with the challenges that await him.

Today, the Minister for Health & Social Care and I are joined by Bob McColm, our Prison Governor and Head of our Probation Service.

First of all, I will ask the Health & Social Care Minister to take you through today’s statistics.

Thank you, David. While of course the situation at Abbotswood remains a heart-breaking tragedy, I am pleased that the wider figures remain low. However as the Health & Social Care Minister has said on a number of occasions, we must look beyond daily numbers – however encouraging they may be – and see the longer term trends. For the moment, these also give us cause for cautious optimism. But we cannot be complacent.

I would like to start by thanking you the public for acting responsibly this weekend. I have heard from the Chief Constable that across the Island people were respecting social distancing, the 40 miles per hour speed limit and other important measures. Thank you.

I have received messages from sole traders and small businesses who have gone back to work as a result of the changes that we brought in on Friday. Some took the time to outline to me the changes that they had made to their working practices in order to keep safe. Thank you.

I have also heard from DEFA that there have only been eighteen calls and emails to the Health & Safety at work team since our announcement last week and these have almost all been seeking advice on how to return to work safely rather than raising any issues.

At this stage, I would like to hand over to Bob McColm for an update from the Prison and Probation Services.

Thank you for the update, Bob. Please pass on my thanks to all your colleagues in the Prison and Probation Service who are doing such an important job through these trying times.

I would like to use the rest of this briefing to look ahead.

I know you have heard far too often how the times we are living in are unprecedented. Every day we are all stepping into the unknown. I maybe haven’t thanked you all enough for your perseverance and your patience.

I know this has not been easy but together we have come a long way. It’s your actions that have got us to the position we are in today.

Throughout this pandemic I have tried to share with you as much information as possible and as soon as possible. We have not got it every time. I know that. This stuff is tough.

But importantly - as I said last week - because of your actions we have now had an opportunity to think about the future. I want to give you more details about that.

Later this week, we will be publishing a document about our approach to the next steps in dealing with the pandemic. It will describe how we make decisions, what advice we look at and how we will approach the future. As I have said since the start of this process it is important we keep you informed and this document will allow you to see clearly our potential next steps.

What it will not have is dates. It would be irresponsible of me to put dates into the plan. Decisions we take will be based on the data we gather at each stage. If the data and the clinical advice that we receive allows us to do more then we might do more. But if that advice tells us that we are seeing a resurgence in the spread of the virus then we will not take any further measures that might worsen that.

As the Health & Social Care Minister has said on a number of occasions, our approach has to be one of incremental, carefully considered small steps. Gradual. Managed and clinically led.

What you will see in the paper is full transparency over our processes. It will be our best guess at this time at what the journey ahead of us might look like.

The big question - to which I do not have an answer - is where that journey will take us.

As the New Zealand Prime Minister, the United Kingdom Foreign Secretary and the Scottish First Minister have all said in recent days we all need to start preparing for a new normal.

This is something we have talked about at this lectern on a number of occasions. The things that will be real game changers are not yet with us.

A vaccine still seems to be a long way off. New, more effective treatments for the virus are being worked on. Antibody testing is still massively unreliable. Despite positive comments in the media none have received appropriate medical certification.

Until there is a major breakthrough on any of these things we have to learn to live with the new normal.

What does this mean? It does seem like that social distancing will remain important for a long time to come. Many of us have had to find new ways of working and living. I cannot see this changing in the near future.

So much of this is new. Those who follow the international news will know that the science is changing every day I know it may seem that the facts are changing around us. This is partly true. Globally our understanding of the virus and its behaviours is developing all the time.

Some of the most basic issues relating to the virus are still being debated by the world’s leading scientists. Do people who have had the virus retain long term immunity? We don’t know.

One debate that has caused a great deal of emotion is masks. Before we go to questions, I wanted to share our latest thinking.

The Health & Social Care Minister has replied to questions on masks here on a number of occasions.

The global expert advice on the benefits of masks has been constantly evolving there is still no global consensus.

Much of the coverage in the media - and especially the debate on social media - has been complicated by the range of masks discussed. From the advanced masks that are used by medical professionals in direct contact with known COVID cases to a simple bandanna or other homemade masks.

The Council of Ministers has been following this debate carefully and this morning considered a paper prepared by our Public Health experts and agreed by our clinical leadership team.

We asked them to produce advice for the use of masks on the Isle of Man. As we have said before we wanted advice specific to our Manx situation so that we could make Manx decisions.

We do not have some of the pressures of some large developed countries. We do not have the mass public transport systems of some. We do not have the density of population of others. We will be publishing detailed guidance shortly but I would like to give you some headlines now.

  1. It is important to emphasize that with this updated guidance, the wearing of masks remains a matter of personal choice. We are NOT mandating the use of masks within our community.

  2. Social distancing, hand washing and other hygiene measures continue to be the best steps we can all take.

  3. There is insufficient scientific evidence that masks are effective in protecting the wearer.

    There is some limited scientific evidence that where social distancing is impossible, the wearing of masks by someone who has slight or no symptoms MAY protect others.

Our advice to employers has always been that they need to do everything they can to enable social-distancing in the workplace in order to provide a safe environment for employees.

If there are times or places where social distancing is absolutely impossible then they should act responsibly to provide equipment to keep people safe.

This is what government will be doing – as a responsible employer. We have taken a range of steps to make our workplaces as safe as possible.

But where colleagues are not able to maintain social distancing while performing their role, we will be making masks available to them.

I should make clear that the masks that we will be making available to staff will not be high-end medical grade masks. Clinical masks will continue to be allocated to our health and social care colleagues as their protocols dictate that this should be the case.

I know that there will be questions about schools. Discussions continue between the Department of Education, Sport & Culture and our teachers with regards to what will be needed for a possible return of pupils in the future. I know that the question of protective equipment has featured in those discussions.

The Minister will be coming to the press briefing later this week and I am sure can address your questions in detail then.

I will now take questions.

I would like to end with some shout outs.

First, a story of remarkable resilience and fighting spirit. 95-year-old Winnie Lockett was admitted to hospital on 12 April after suffering heart failure. She tested positive for COVID-19 when she was admitted.

She was discharged just four days later as she was feeling much better and has now completed 14 days self-isolation at home, with only doorstep deliveries of food and the odd wave from passers-by.

There’s clearly no stopping Winnie, who lived through the Second World War and has now seen off COVID-19. She will turn 96 on Saturday 2 May. I would like to be the first to wish Winnie a very happy birthday.

Second, I would like to shout out to a pair of first year undergraduates who are providing a great service to year twelve students who are thinking of going to university. Chess Warren and Caitlin Allinson set up the Manx Uni-Verse Facebook page, linking Isle of Man students with those thinking of studying in the UK and helping them understand more about the different universities and courses. It has more than 300 members already. Thank you.

And last but certainly not least, I would like to say a big thank you to the Isle of Man branch of the Samaritans. They always do incredible work that is doubly important during this uncertain times. They are always available, 24 hours a day 7 days a week. They can be contacted free on 116123.

So thank you again for all you have done so far. You continue to make a real difference.

The Treasury Minister will be here tomorrow to update you on the economic situation and measures to support businesses and workers.

I am due to be back with you on Wednesday.

Until then, please stay safe. And make the right choices for you, your family and your Island.