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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 4 June 2020

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Good afternoon

It is nice to be here in our new setting for the afternoon briefings. One advantage that it does have is two lecterns so the Minister of Health & Social Care and I no longer have to do our back and forth.

Let me hand over to the Minister for today’s update on testing and cases. I know he also has some other important updates for us.

Thank you, David.

It did fill me with such pride yesterday when we were able to announce that we had no active cases on the Island. Our last remaining case completed their fourteen day self-isolation and the contact tracing team completed their work.

Before I move on, I would like to thank our joint COVID-111 and contact tracing team for all the work they have done to help supress the spread of the virus. A contact tracing capacity has existed in the Isle of Man for some time – previously it has dealt with things like food poisoning and sporadic outbreaks of diseases such as tuberculosis or measles. But they adapted and scaled up quickly for this new threat. They were tracing COVID from our first confirmed cases on 18 March.

The COVID-111 line was created as a result of COVID and was operational two days after that first case. It was a UK concept, but a Manx model. The United Kingdom across kindly shared their algorithms. But we Manx-ified for our local needs. And it worth remembering that our COVID-111 line – unlike its cousin across in the United Kingdom – is staffed by clinicians. In the week where we have been able to say that we have zero active cases, we should not forget to pay tribute to them.

As I am sure you will have seen across the water in the United Kingdom, our friends there are racing to get their own contact tracing system up and running as they battle to reduce the spread.

So back to our current situation. On Monday, we talked about this moment. I told you then what it does and doesn’t mean.

It doesn’t mean that the virus is no longer on our Island. I will never be complacent about this invisible killer.

I will not be saying this afternoon that we are COVID-free. I will not be declaring “mission accomplished”.

I will not be saying that new confirmed cases in the future is impossible. In fact I would be surprised if in the weeks and months to come we did not see new cases. But I hope that if we do, it will be in small numbers that we will track and isolate.

But one thing that I do need to say this afternoon is – thank you. You have achieved something amazing.

And because of this, we can step forward with a new boldness. A new confidence.

If there is any virus left on our Island, the risk of transmission is exceptionally low.

So the time is now right for us to up our pace towards our new Manx normal.

I usually save Churchill quotes for Tynwald. But there is one that I have used before that seems perfect for this moment.

“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."

So let’s move into the next chapter.

The Council of Ministers met today. As has become our normal pattern, we reviewed the key indicators which showed a positive picture. We reviewed progress against our Stay Safe roadmap which we agreed had been progressing well. And we discussed what we could do next to reopen our society and get the Island moving again - in a safe way.

15th June will be a key day for our Island. And it is just eleven days away.

We agreed that we are still on track to change our advice on social distancing. We cannot remove the need for social distancing completely. I do think that it will be part of our lives for some time to come.

As I have mentioned before, if our positive results continue, from 15th June we will reset it to the World Health Organisation’s “at least one metre”. Or as I find it easier to picture – keeping folk at arm’s length. More on that as we get closer. But it is certainly looking good for the 15th.

As well as bringing us that little bit closer together, I know this will have an important read across to so many of the practical aspects of our lives.

From 15th June, all schools will be re-opening in readiness for pupils to return. Preparations are well underway for this. I should remind people that attendance will be voluntary until the next academic year. We want you to be ready and comfortable with the decision. If you haven’t already, please check in with your head teacher to see how this will affect you.

Nurseries and playgroups will progressively be able to increase the children they accept, with the children of retail workers from this Monday and then all children from 15th.

From 15th June, we are planning to change the rules around outdoor gatherings. I am sorry but we are not quite ready to remove all limits on this. For the time being, we do want to just keep numbers down to a place where we can contact trace quickly if we need to.

As things stand, we plan to change the “ten outside” part of our “ten outside – two inside” rule to thirty.

We did discuss what we might be able to do with the “two inside” part. The challenge for us has been that research does suggest that the risk of transmission is the highest in the home. We don’t want to have to regulate how many people you can invite in your home. But we need a little more time on this. Please bear with us and we will update you soon.

Like the change to social distancing, the change to the rule on outdoor gatherings will also have effects right across our society. Sports, recreation and other social activities that have been limited by the gatherings rules can now scale up. The Department of Education, Culture & Sport will continue to work with all sporting bodies ensure this happens as soon as possible and of course as safely as possible.

It has been good to see a number of businesses taking advantage of the pretty good weather this week by offering outdoor dining. Others I know have continued to offer take away and delivery services.

But we can’t rely on the Manx weather to be as glorious as it has been. From 15th June, we are ready for all restaurants and cafés to also offer indoor dining. Detailed guidance has already been produced on how to do this safely. I am grateful to the hospitality industry for their excellent collaboration on this.

While we are on hospitality, the Council of Ministers agreed this morning that we are ready for hotels to open properly from the 15th June. Of course there are no tourists coming from off-Island and there is only a modest staycation market. So I am fully aware that this will not at all answer all the challenges through these tough times for the sector. We will continue to do what we can to support them.

What we will be doing from 15th June is removing the restrictions that are currently in place and leave it to individual businesses to explore what might be possible for them. Again, guidance is ready.

Does that feel like a lot already for the 15th? It certainly does to me. But I am pleased to say that there is more. And the two things that do seem to be on a lot of people’s minds. Pubs and gyms.

On pubs, I have mentioned before that we are looking to remove the restrictions on 29th June. This remains the case for the moment. But from 15th June – as an interim step - we are ready for pubs to open in the same way as restaurants.

So they can open for seated service – indoors or out - where there is a “substantive meal served”. This may sound a little technical. But the description of “substantial meal served” appears in current licensing language and the industry is familiar with it.

In essence, for the moment, they need to be serving a proper seated meal - with drinks as part of that if you wish. It needs to be food driven.

As we head into this new phase, we still need to be able to track any cases that might pop up. A crowded bar with people standing up and moving around remains a small step too far. This is why we are not quite ready to allow bars and nightclubs to open. Nor are we ready for large numbers of people to come together indoors in cinemas and theatres.

We will of course keep this under review. We might not be too far off if we keep the results in the right place.

The question of gyms has been a challenge. COVID-19 is spread by water droplets. Gyms are places where there can be increased levels of respiration and perspiration. Working with the industry, we believe we have found a compromise that works.

Wet facilities such as steam rooms and saunas etc will need to remain closed due to the increased risk of virus surviving in warm and humid environments.

The guidance that is coming together will also prohibit – for the moment - class activities that involve intensive aerobic activity.

With these two exceptions, with enhanced hygiene protocols and with some reorganisation of areas of the gym that see intense activity – treadmills for example – we think we can make it work safely.

We will continue to work with the industry to finalise the guidance and hope that gyms can open on that basis on 15th June. I hope to be able to confirm that next week.

A quick word on borders. I know it is on people’s minds. I would just like to make clear where the Council of Ministers is on this important issue. We know that at some stage we will have to make some changes to allow our residents to travel and our businesses to do their work. But equally we are in agreement that now is not the time. We are not ready to put at risk the Island’s achievements.

I have said before that the level of infection in the United Kingdom – while not the only factor – is a key indicator. While there are some signs of a steady decline there, there is still a fair way to go.

The Council of Ministers agreed that our priority for the moment should be getting the Island back up and running. Getting our healthcare, our society and our economy as close to normal as possible. Borders is not for now.

I know that has been a huge amount of information. The full speech should be up on our website later this evening. And you can of course play back through social media channels.

So just before I go to questions, I would like to address two issues that I know have been causing some real concern over the last day or so.

Firstly, on the situation in the United States. We know that over the years, many from the Isle of Man have made the US their home. We have deep links with the country and the people. The death of George Floyd was a shocking and disturbing incident and we hope that justice will prevail. And I do hope they can find a way to emerge from the current challenges as a strong and united nation.

Secondly, on comments made by a Manx Radio presenter last night. I didn’t hear the comments directly. I have been told that Manx Radio is now investigating what happened. It would not be appropriate for me to comment any further while that investigation is underway. However any publicly funded body is expected to demonstrate the highest standards and ethics.

I will now take questions.

Thank you.

Please keep safe. And keep your loved ones safe. Remember the basics. Hand washing and social distancing is still incredibly important.

Don’t forget, it is the basics that have got us here. And it is those same basics that will keep us safe through this next phase.

I will see you next week. Please stay safe.