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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 29 January 2021

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Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.

I would like to thank all those of you who tuned in to the Questions from the Public session on Wednesday. A lot of people have told us how useful they found it to hear directly from our Director of Public Health and the Chief Executive of the Department of Health & Social Care. And I have to admit that I never knew sewage could be so interesting.

Thank you to all those who submitted questions. And of course thank you to James Davies from Isle of Man Advertising who gave up his time to facilitate the session.

We are back to the more regular format today with our Director of Public Health joining us on Zoom and the Minister of Health & Social Care here in person.

I would like to take you through the discussion that took place in the Council of Ministers yesterday. Before I do so, I would like to invite the Minister of Health & Social Care to update us on the testing numbers.

Thank you, David. Great news. And while of course any new cases on the Island are disappointing, it is not surprising given the situation across in the UK and beyond. It is reassuring that those people are already in self-isolation because of travel. I wish them a speedy recovery.

I know you have a number of other updates for us. We will come back to that in a minute or two.

Today is the 17th day where we have seen no unexplained community cases. This is a remarkable achievement. And a cause for real optimism.

I am particularly pleased that the number of active cases is now down to a much lower level (29). As is the number of people who are in self-isolation because they had been close contacts of our previous cases (60). It is clear that we are heading in the right direction.

Once again I need to extend my thanks for the remarkable work by our colleagues in Public Health, contact tracing and on the 111 line who have identified and isolated the virus in our community.

And crucially, I must thank the Great Manx Public for making the right decisions – even though at times I know it was tough.

Let me invite our Director of Public Health to give her expert view on what the data is telling us.

We do appear to be turning the page of a new chapter. 

So - on to the Council of Ministers.

We discussed a range of COVID related issues yesterday. We heard from Dr Ewart and other senior colleagues who have been leading our response.

In our discussion on active cases and measures we considered the latest data and the view on what this meant for our Island. As you can imagine, we were extremely encouraged by what we saw and heard.

I am pleased to be able to tell you that we will be lifting all measures from one minute past midnight on Sunday night to Monday morning. So the first minute of Monday 1 February. As long as nothing happens between now and then that causes us undue concern, the circuit break lockdown will be over.

People have been asking what this means. What will we be able to do from Monday? What won’t we be able to do?

The simple answer is that things will look and feel just like they did before our circuit break. We will be back to the enviable position that we enjoyed for so long last year. And this time there is an important difference. There is a vaccine programme coming up fast to protect us.

Let me start by addressing some of the questions that I know are on people’s mind.

If all goes well, on Monday we will once again be stepping out of your lives. As we did on 15 June last year.

From Monday, all businesses will be able to reopen. I know that some may not be quite ready to do so. I know that some office based businesses are considering a phased return. And that is perfectly OK. I know some other business may need some time to prepare. I understand. But we are ready for them to open when they are ready.

From Monday, our schools will be open to all pupils again. As the Education Minister told us on Monday we want all pupils to feel confident about returning to school but if you do have any concerns please discuss these with your head teacher. I would like to thank our teachers and all our school staff for the excellent job they have done supporting our young people over this circuit break. And of course I also need to thank parents for their patience and resilience

From Monday, we will no longer be asking you to stay at home. You can go out. See friends. Visit loved ones.

From Monday, we will no longer require face coverings on buses and in taxis for example. Social distance and face coverings will be a matter of personal choice.  

And as I mentioned last week, we will be returning our borders to their pre circuit-break state.

Please remember that people’s experience of lockdown will be different. And how people react to the end of lockdown will be different. Some of our people will be dealing with high levels of anxiety as we open our society and our economy again.

Some people may choose to continue to wear a face covering. This is a matter for them. And I would ask everyone to respect that choice.

And if – as you go about your business – you notice that people want to keep their distance, please respect that too. Not everyone will be ready for a hug on Monday.

But as you have heard, we do not believe there is currently any evidence of any community transmission.  So for those who are looking forward to catching up with loved ones and resuming normal life, we are as confident as we can be that it is safe to do so.

Some businesses may decide to maintain social distancing or require face coverings. Again it will be for those businesses to make decisions based on their needs and those of their staff or customers. But government will no longer require this.

The one place that may not look and feel quite the same as before is the hospital and other health and social care sites. They are more complex and it makes sense to treat them a little differently. I will ask the Minister to takes us through what this will mean.  

I know he also has some other updates to share with us including on health services, shielding and of course the vaccination programme.

I do hope people have had the chance to take a look at the dashboard for the vaccination programme. It is regularly updated and gives you the information you need to see how the programme is developing. It also shows how complex the programme is.

But the dashboard is really easy to use. Anyone can go on and be a vaccination data expert.

We are only four weeks into the programme but there are some highlights already emerging for me – especially relating to the most vulnerable members of our community.

In our first priority group – so residents in a care home and their carers - almost 75% have now received at least one dose. (72%)

In our second priority group – the over 80s and frontline health & social care staff – for at least one dose, we have almost hit the 50% mark (46.6%).

So yes there is still some way to go but we are making great progress and the pace is picking up.

So plenty of good news today. All things being equal we should be free of measures on Monday and be able to return to near normality on our Island.

We have asked a lot of you over the last month. And you have been amazing. But I need to ask you for more.

You have heard that the risk that there is any virus left in our community is exceptionally low. Let’s keep our wits about us as we go forward.

Let’s go back to the basics. Let’s keep washing our hands. And if you have any concerns about symptoms that may or may not be COVID, let’s not take any risks – stay at home and call 111.

I know you have heard this a hundred times from me but it is no less important now. Although we are so fortunate here, there is still a pandemic going on around us.

And this is why we have the measures in place with three tests and quarantine for those who travel to the Island. These measures are the best defence we can have – as long as people respect the self-isolation rules to the letter. Self-isolation means what it says. No contact at all with anyone else.

For our part, we will of course be keeping the 111 service up and running. The contact tracing team will be on standby should we need them. Let’s hope we don’t.

Let’s go to questions from the media.

Thank you so much for joining us this evening. And thank you for making the right decisions for yourself, your family and your Island. And you have protected our vaccination programme. Once again, the Great Manx Public has done us proud.

Let’s leave it there for this evening. At the end of this briefing you can see a ninety second walk-through of the airport vaccination hub. Do take a look.

So please keep doing what you have been doing for these last couple of days. If we have any reason to change direction then we will of course let you know as soon as possible.

But all being well, Monday should be a welcome return to the old normal. Enjoy it. You have earned it.

Don’t forget to support our local businesses - they have had a tough time.

And please be kind to each other.