Let’s start this evening’s briefing with the Health & Social Care Minister bringing us today’s numbers. I know the Minister also wants to update you on some testing related news.
Thank you, David.
In our Stay Safe roadmap document – that was endorsed by Tynwald on 5 May - we described how we would approach decision making through this pandemic. We of course want to do what is best for the Island, balancing some really tricky issues.
We had to balance COVID challenges – that we understood so little about – with the needs of our people, our society and our economy.
As I have said so often, I think that as an Island community we have done incredibly well. We went in hard at the start and hammered those curves.
We are doing some work to publish a new range of reports and charts. I know for some, it has been reassuring to see that green line that bobbles along the bottom. You made that happen.
We are now in a place where we are gradually changing those measures we had to use at the start. Every meeting of the Council of Ministers now is considering how much further we can go to give you your lives back. How much further we can go in the journey towards our new Manx normal.
I know that some of you have found it frustrating. You want us to move faster. I get that. Some of you are still worried about the virus and are not ready to make big changes. I get that too.
But I have to tell you, I am delighted that our toughest challenge at the moment is about how we can best step out of your lives. When this virus first came to our Island, I had prepared myself for an altogether more bloody battle.
As I told Tynwald this week, I will never forget the lives that have been lost on our Island. We have mourned too much.
But after some dark days, I do think I can start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It is still some way off, but it is there.
I have talked here about game changers. The ultimate game changer would of course be a vaccine. But despite a global campaign, this still seems a long way off. We cannot bank on that coming any time soon.
Another game changer could be the antibody testing. Unlike the vaccine, this is with us now. And because of some excellent work by the Department of Health & Social Care, we are close to being able to start our on-Island testing programme. The Council of Ministers today endorsed a testing strategy put to us by the Department of Health & Social Care. I know that the Minister will make detailed announcements about this as soon as possible.
But as I said in Tynwald this week, it will not allow us to see everything and know everything.
Yes, it will allow us to know if a person has had the virus. But there is no global agreement as to whether someone who has recovered from the virus is immune for ever, for a while, or at all. But the antibody testing will change our understanding of the virus on our Island.
Back to the Stay Safe roadmap. What we have tried to do is make changes in fortnightly cycles. This is so that we can see any effects and assess if it is safe to move onto the next steps.
Do you remember all the way back to 24 April? It does seem like an eternity ago. On that day we started our Stay Safe plan with its Phase One. We brought back construction, trades and horticulture. We also allowed some sports to resume.
There was no impact on the number of confirmed cases that we could link to these changes.
Two weeks later – on 7 May – we moved into Phase Two. We laid out the pathway for our retail sector, our services and our non-essential healthcare to start to return. Some of this took a while to come fully online – retail on 18 May for example. And some businesses have decided they are not yet ready. But I am pleased how this is going so far.
And most importantly, again there was no impact on the number of cases that we could link to these changes.
Then another two weeks later – on 21 May – we started Phase Three. This included giving the green light to a number of sectors from 1 June, including outdoor dining, the beauty and hair sector, self-catering accommodation and more besides.
In parallel of course, we have been able to make announcements about our schools reopening. And I know that schools are now at an advanced stage of preparation to welcome our children back in a phased and safe way.
There are two things from today’s Council of Ministers that I wanted to share with you.
There are a couple of changes that we have decided today. Given the huge changes we announced last week, the changes we agreed today are more modest – but important.
Firstly, we have agreed in principle that we should explore ways to allow our returning residents to do so through air routes if they need to or it is safer to do so. We will also consider allowing them to isolate in a shared house, provided everyone else in that house is also prepared to go into self-isolation.
We have asked for this detail to be finalised so that we can communicate how this will work next week. We expect these changes to be live no later than 11 June.
Secondly, given the ongoing positive situation of our intensive care capacity, we have decided that with effect from 15 June we will be increasing the Island-wide speed limit to 60mph. I am fully aware that this is a subject that elicits strong emotions on the Island. And I have been clear the limit we had in place was to mitigate the risk of our intensive care being put under pressure when it might have needed to focus on COVID. I also need to be clear that I do not want to put in place long term legislation by the back door. This is an important matter that merits a full Tynwald debate and the ability for the public to be able to offer their views. We will review no later than the end of June in any case.
As well as these decisions, we have now been able to start considering Phase Four and beyond. We wanted to give our teams – and importantly give you – an idea of what we hope to be making decisions on when we come to the next two-week review point next Thursday - on 4 June. These would be changes that we would hope to bring in no later than 15 of June.
I can tell you that there is a high level of optimism at the Council of Ministers. When we look at all our key indicators – live cases, hospital capacity, PPE stocks etc, we have every reason to be optimistic.
Ministers agreed that we should accelerate our approach of removing restrictions as much as we possibly can. To step out of your lives.
This will include thinking about if we can make changes to social distancing. There are a range of other ways of doing it in other countries.
The World Health Organisation’s guidance is “Maintain at least 1 metre”.
And personally, I am attracted to the very pragmatic approach taken by New Zealand. On one hand they advise two metres when you are out and about. This is because you may be in the midst of people you don’t know and where contact tracing – if needed - would be tough.
But they only talk about a one metre distance when you are in an environment like your home, a school, a restaurant or a church where contact tracing would be much easier.
With risk at a pretty low level now, we want to consider where we can go on this. I hope to make some announcements early next week.
We have asked for proposals to change the rules that limit gatherings – the ten outside, two inside rule – to be ready for our meeting next Thursday. Ideally, I would like to gradually remove restrictions including for large gatherings. We hope to make decisions on this next Thursday. Let’s see if our current great results continue.
Today we have commissioned detailed proposals on the areas where we still have restrictions in place. Next Thursday we will look to make decisions on the resumption of hotels and other similar accommodation, gyms, and indoor sporting venues.
If the situation on the Island remains as positive as it is today, we would hope to be able to allow those sectors to resume no later than 15 June. In the meantime, we will step up our work with those sectors so that they have a clear understanding of what it will take to open safely.
So what would be left after that? Not much.
We have already started conversations with the pub, bar and nightclub sector. Some of them are already operating – including as takeaways. And some will be able to start operating from next week if they are able to offer outside dining. Today we discussed when we might be able to envisage pubs, bars etc to be able to operate more normally. Again if we remain on top of the virus, we might be able to do so around the end of June or early July.
This would then only leave the tricky issue of the border. There has been a certain amount of loose reporting about this over the last week or so. I think it might be useful to put the record straight on this again.
The Council of Ministers discussed borders today. We are in agreement that while at some stage we do of course want – and need - the borders to open, we are certainly not there yet. And we won’t be for some time to come.
But when we do come to look at the border, it doesn’t need to be binary. It doesn’t have to be as simple as open or closed. I still believe that unhindered travel between the United Kingdom and our Island is a long way off. But as the situation slowly improves in the United Kingdom, we have been able to do more for our returning residents and for new residents – those who are coming to live and work here. And we want to do more for truly compassionate cases in both directions.
We may be able to go even further if and when we start to see significant and sustained change in the United Kingdom.
Until there is, we need to exercise extreme caution. The last thing we want to do is jeopardise the hard work that has got us to where we are today.
A final point from me is around the Emergency regulations. I have said on a number of occasions that these were a necessary evil. These were not powers that with I or my ministerial colleagues wanted to have. But I still believe that we needed them to move quickly and decisively in the best interests of the Island. As I have said in Tynwald, work is now at an advanced stage on an plan to take us out of Emergency Powers. I will lay out my thinking in Tynwald on Tuesday.
I will now take questions.
But we are getting there. Let’s put our best foot forward.
Please keep safe. And keep your loved ones safe. Remember the basics. Keep your distance. Respect other people’s space.
The future is in your hands.