I am joined today at the podium by the Minister for Health and Social Care and online by our Director of Public Health.
Since I last spoke to you, four members of our community have tragically lost their lives to COVID-19 – two of which were announced earlier this afternoon.
I am sure the thoughts of everyone on our Island are with all those affected – mine most certainly are.
At moments like this I reflect on the decisions we have taken over recent weeks and months and indeed throughout this pandemic. None of these decisions have ever been easy or straightforward.
Seeking to find the best course of action – whether as the Council of Ministers or as Tynwald – has always been a balancing act – something I have often mentioned at this podium.
The difficult task of balancing the needs of our society, the needs of our economy, and the need to protect lives.
We have always sought to make decisions in the best interest of our Island and our community.
We only have to look to our immediate neighbours – England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, Jersey and Guernsey – and the different path each nation has taken in responding to the virus. There is no single approach to dealing with COVID. No obvious right or wrong answers. Just differing perspectives, with each government striving to do what each feels is right for their communities.
The global response to the pandemic has first and foremost been about protecting lives. But it has also been about protecting our way of life.
Through three lockdowns – over a year and a half – we have worked together to save lives and buy time. Time for effective vaccines to be developed to enable us to return to relative normality.
Vaccines greatly reduce the likelihood of people on our Island becoming seriously ill or dying from COVID-19. This unfortunately does not mean that no one fully vaccinated won’t become sick or lose their life to COVID, but it means we have done our utmost to protect as many people as we possibly can.
Our vaccination team has now administered almost 125,000 vaccine doses. There remains just under four and a half thousand second doses to get in arms over the coming weeks, at which point we will have vaccinated every adult on the Island – who has come forward – against COVID-19.
And there is more to come. Work is already well underway on a vaccine booster programme for those likely to be most vulnerable to the virus, and yesterday the JCVI recommended that vaccinations be extended to all 16 and 17 year olds. More on this, in a moment.
Last week, Public Health England published an updated COVID-19 vaccine surveillance report.
It estimated that, up to the 23 July of this year, 60,000 deaths and more than 22 million infections in the UK have been prevented as a result of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.
Extrapolating this for the Isle of Man, we estimate that 91 deaths have been prevented on our Island along with more than 33,000 infections.
Those figures put the power and importance of vaccinations into stark perspective. Vaccinations save lives.
Despite the huge strides made through our vaccination programme, it is concerning that around 8,000 eligible adults on our Island have not come forward to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
To those 8,000 people I would say this: vaccines are saving lives, every day, right here in the Isle of Man. Please think carefully about the decision you make.
Vaccination is always a personal choice. I know there are those who cannot be vaccinated, but I am assured medically that we are talking tens of people who are not recommended to have it, not thousands of people.
We are always cautious on the level of information we divulge about hospitals cases of COVID, as we must respect patient confidentiality. But I will not hesitate to use information at our disposal – where appropriate – to demonstrate important public health messages.
I also believe that sharing information transparently with our community is an important part of helping everyone make personal decisions – a key part of our current response – rather than Government dictating practices.
Firstly, whilst we have seen a relatively large number of admissions in to hospital over the last week or so, much of this reflects the wave of cases we saw that peaked on 10 days ago on Monday 26 July. Hospital admissions for COVID tend to lag the actual case numbers by between one and two weeks.
Our expectation now is that as case numbers have reduced, so the level of hospital admissions will reduce.
Secondly, I think it is also helpful to clarify that out of the 16 admissions, 7 were actually admitted for another reason, not knowing they were positive until they were admitted. Whilst everyone in hospital with COVID is a concern to us, we must recognise that not all admissions have the same level of care requirements – some may not require any additional COVID care plans, they are simply there for other reasons.
And finally, and most importantly, of the sixteen people currently in Noble’s Hospital with COVID-19, 10 are aged under 80 and 7 of these patients are unvaccinated.
That is a really important figure – 70% of current patients aged under 80 are not vaccinated.
If you haven’t yet come forward for a vaccine, there is still time, but please do not delay. Register online at covid19.gov.im/vaccine or call 111 today and register for an appointment.
I’ll handover to the Director of Public Health to talk a little more about that Public Health England report, the importance of getting vaccinated and the latest vaccination developments.
I have said on a number of occasions that our response to the virus is under constant review. In the Council of Ministers we often have long and searching discussions on how best to proceed, taking into account the latest evidence and advice.
An example of this you will have seen earlier this week is in relation to face coverings.
We now strongly advise everyone to wear face coverings in crowded and enclosed spaces.
This remains a matter of personal choice, but the message here is about making the right decisions. And not just for you, but also for those around you and taking account of your choices in different situations.
For example, on a bus, you may wish to wear a face covering as they can be crowded with limited ventilation.
We are not out of this pandemic and whilst we continue our journey to learn to live with the virus, there cannot be a return to complete normality, only relative normality. And so we must continue to work together to prevent the spread of the virus.
Hands, face, space and fresh air: these four things need to be at the forefront of everyone’s minds each and every day.
Cleaning hands regularly. Asking yourself if you should wear a face covering to protect you or those around you, especially when in crowded places. Likewise, keeping your distance from others in these situations, where possible. And fresh air. Are the windows open? Could you do something outside instead of inside? We know ventilation makes a significant difference in reducing the likelihood of the virus spreading.
All of these factors combined can help to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the Isle of Man.
David, I know there are a few items you wish to discuss including the NHS COVID Pass