Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
Here with me at the podium is the Minister for Health and Social Care and also with us is our Director of Public Health.
There are quite a few changes to take you through today which will require some detail. But before that, let’s get the latest figures from the Minister for Health and Social Care.
Thank you David.
That’s good news. Dr Ewart, would you like to add anything to the Minister’s comments?
Thank you Dr Ewart.
At Monday’s briefing I set out changes to our self-isolation period for those who contract COVID-19, as well as for those they live with, and high risk contacts. I also spoke about changes we were planning to make to our border restrictions and related matters from this Saturday 1 May.
As you may recall, this is part of our COVID-19 Exit Framework, which was unanimously approved by Tynwald last week.
The framework sets out a journey for our Island as we move away from trying to eliminate COVID-19 – instead adapting to live in a world with the virus. The changes I am announcing today are a significant step in this journey.
I have gone through the rationale for these changes previously, but I will do so again, briefly, as it is important that we remember why we are able to change our approach to COVID-19.
Our vaccination programme is well advanced, with the majority of the Island’s population now having some protection against the virus. Over three quarters of adults have now received their first dose. This is important, as it means people are less likely to die from or become seriously ill with the virus. It also reduces the likelihood of transmission. Game changing stuff.
I want to pay tribute once again to everyone who has been involved with our vaccination programme. The Isle of Man stands out, with just a handful of other jurisdictions, as a world leader in COVID-19 vaccinations.
Another critical factor is the level of infection in the United Kingdom. This is, after all, the point from which the majority of travel to our Island originates. The case numbers of COVID-19 in the UK have fallen significantly, now less than 50 cases per 100,000 people. And, like the Isle of Man, the United Kingdom’s COVID-19 vaccination programme is also well advanced, helping to reduce the spread of the virus.
A third and final factor is the United Kingdom’s own border controls, such as travel bans from 'Red List' countries with high levels of infection. These controls help to protect the Isle of Man.
Let me set out then what the changes will be from this Saturday, as agreed by the Council of Ministers. I apologise that there is quite a bit of detail here, but I think it is important that we set out, clearly, what is changing and how it will affect different people in varying circumstances.
From 12 noon tomorrow, immediate family members and partners of Isle of Man residents, as well as those who own property on the Island, will be able to apply for an exemption to travel here on or after this Saturday 1 May.
As with current applications for exemptions to travel, these can be made online at gov.im/covid19 or in writing.
Many applications will be approved the same day, but where we need more information, a decision may take longer.
Full details of who qualifies as an immediate family member are available on the COVID-19 website – but the list is extensive and includes the partners of these relatives.
Travellers will need to declare the family relationship as part of their application, whilst those with property on the Island will need to provide evidence of ownership.
I can also announce that from 1 May anyone with a contract of employment for at least three months can apply for an exemption to travel to the Island, a reduction from the current minimum of six months.
I know that our border restrictions, whilst necessary and widely supported, have been hard for many in our community and of course for families and loved ones off-Island.
But they have served us well throughout the pandemic, creating our Manx bubble and acting as a vital line of defence against the importation and spread of COVID-19. They have undoubtedly saved lives and have bought us time for the development and roll-out of vaccinations.
I really am pleased that we are now in a position to welcome immediate family members and partners back to our beautiful Island, whilst maintaining appropriate restrictions and safeguards – through isolation and testing – to reduce the likelihood of the virus being brought to the Island and spreading in the community.
On the subject of isolation, I also have changes to announce.
Both resident and non-resident travellers, who have been in the UK, Jersey and Guernsey for 14 days before their arrival onto the Island, will now only have to isolate for seven days instead of 14. To benefit from the reduced isolation period, a negative COVID-19 test result will be required on arrival and on day six of isolation.
After seven days of isolation, and subject to negative test results on arrival and on day six, travellers will be able to leave isolation. There will, however, be restrictions on where travellers can go between day seven and day 10.
These restrictions will be sensible precautions I am sure you would expect. Not taking public transport, not going to restaurants, pubs, clubs, cinemas and theatres. A similar situation to when we had seven day test and isolation for a period last year. Full details of the restrictions will be set out in the traveller’s direction notice.
I am also pleased to announce that the Council of Ministers has agreed that travellers will also once again be able to isolate in shared accommodation with people they did not travel with, so long as the traveller agrees to undergo testing.
Everyone in the household will be required to isolate for the seven days, but only travellers will be required to undergo testing. If a traveller chooses not to undergo testing, they will not be able to isolate in shared accommodation. They will have to isolate on their own or with those they travelled with.
If a traveller chooses not to undergo testing, they will be required to isolate for 21 days.
All travellers who receive a negative arrival test result will be able to leave isolation once a day for exercise as will others in their household. A face covering must be worn with social distancing from anyone outside of the household.
The new isolation requirements will not apply retrospectively to travellers already in isolation. So to be clear these changes only apply to anyone who arrives on the Island from Saturday onwards. I know this will be frustrating for some of those affected, but of course we must draw a line in the sand somewhere.
An important point I need to make is about additional restrictions for anyone travelling who has been outside of Guernsey, the Isle of Man, Jersey, or the United Kingdom in the 14 days prior to their arrival date here. This includes Ireland. In these circumstances, the traveller will need to isolate for 14 days with a test on arrival and on day 13. If a traveller chooses not to undergo testing, they will be required to isolate for 21 days. Travellers will not be able to isolate in shared accommodation.
As I set out at the start, the relaxation of our border restrictions reflects the progress with the vaccination programme in the UK and their reducing case levels. The picture is not the same in other countries and we must continue to protect our community.
Finally, on testing fees, I also have changes to announce from Saturday 1 May. The fee for a COVID-19 test for travellers will reduce from £50 to £30 per test, with only two tests required – on arrival and day six or day 13 depending on the period of isolation the traveller is required to undertake. This means the overall cost of testing for a period of self-isolation will reduce from £150 to a maximum of £60 per person.
I appreciate there is a lot of detail there and a fair amount of information to digest. The COVID-19 website will be updated to reflect these changes along with additional questions and answers. And, of course, full details of the rules will be set out in the direction notice each traveller receives when they arrive. It is important travellers read and fully understand precisely what is legally required of them.
The changes I have set out today are significant. Some will welcome these changes with open arms, whilst others may be more cautious. We have restricted our borders throughout this pandemic. As we gradually ease these restrictions in a managed way, it is understandable that it may take time for some in our community to adjust.
The Government will continue to closely monitor the situation. Please remember that we all have a role to play making the right choices and doing what is right for each of us personally.
At the beginning of the briefing I spoke about a journey. Saturday’s changes are a significant step. But there are more to come. Our attention will now turn to planning for a move from level 3 to level 2 of our borders at the end of May.
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. I plan to be back at the podium next Thursday.
I hope you enjoy a pleasant holiday weekend.