Good afternoon everyone and thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.
It has been an eventful week. Citizens of the United States went to the polls to elect a new president, a new congress and numerous state governors, in what has been a bitter and divisive campaign, particularly on policy over the handling of coronavirus. The presidential election result is on a knife edge, with the outcome still unknown. America – and the world – is holding its breath.
Closer to home, we continue to watch and wait as the UK and the EU work towards finding agreement on a trade deal. Despite continued intensive negotiations, there remains a gap between the UK and EU’s positions.
On the COVID-19 front, this past week saw the UK exceed one million confirmed cases of the virus. The number of deaths occurring per day in the UK remains painfully high, in the hundreds, with more than forty-seven-thousand people in the UK – over half the population of our Island – having now, tragically, lost their lives.
On Saturday, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced his intention to implement a second lockdown in England.
That this announcement came as hundreds of children around our Island were out, as normal, celebrating Hop tu Naa, places the current difference between life in the Isle of Man and life in the UK in stark contrast. It is over five months since we have had a positive case of COVID-19 in our community. This shows it is essential as ever that we continue to protect the way we have been able to live our lives in these past few months.
A second lockdown for England was approved yesterday by the UK Parliament. And so, this morning, at one minute past midnight, England once again entered lockdown. It will last until at least Wednesday the 2 December.
Wales remains in its “firebreak lockdown” until this coming Monday the 9 November.
On Monday, Scotland introduced a new five tier protection system, with many areas on the second highest level of protection measures.
In Northern Ireland, new restrictions put in place in mid-October remain in force.
It is a complex picture and we can only hope that these new, tighter restrictions, will have the desired effect of slowing the spread of the virus.
It will come as no surprise then that the Island remains on level four of the borders framework at this time.
I am acutely aware, as are my colleagues in the Council of Ministers, how many of you would like to bring members of your family here from the UK, Europe and further afield. But this would introduce risk to our community and threatens to place pressures on our health services.
I know there are those of you who would like us to move to level three A of our borders framework, but now is not the time to be relaxing our borders.
I acknowledge that we cannot live like this forever – and we will not keep our borders closed for any longer than is necessary. It is my sincere hope that we will soon see positive changes and that a possible vaccine and better testing will provide us with the tools to plot the most effective way forward.
Given the situation in the UK, and particularly with the prospect of lockdown in England, on Tuesday in the House of Keys, I stated that unless people have a compelling, pressing and – importantly – legal reason to travel within the United Kingdom or beyond, then they should not do so.
Isle of Man residents who need to travel through the UK to return home to the Island will, of course, be able to do so.
As at any other time, if travelling to the UK, Isle of Man residents have an obligation to respect UK laws. This means people need to understand the restrictions in place in the particular area of the UK you visit. Full details are available at gov.uk/coronavirus.
. . .
Here in the Isle of Man, we have had five new cases of COVID-19 since my last update to you on Friday. All five cases relate to individuals who have recently travelled to the Island and so, thankfully, all five individuals were already self-isolating for the required fourteen days. This means we can be reasonably sure that the Island continues to be free of the virus and that it is not spreading in our community.
These five cases include individuals who have recently travelled to the UK for medical appointments. The pandemic has lasted for many months and is likely to continue for many more. It is, of course, essential that those in our community who require specialist care and treatment in the UK continue to receive this wherever possible. And so trips to specialist centres, particularly in the North West of England, will continue where necessary.
All patient journeys to the UK are individually assessed and, if necessary, approved by the Department of Health and Social Care before a travel warrant is issued.
We provide information and guidance to patients travelling to the UK for appointments. For example, Isle of Man residents visiting Liverpool and Merseyside for medical reasons are advised to travel directly to and from their appointment. This means no detours, no spending spend time in crowded areas. They are also advised to wear a facemask at all times unless eating or drinking and to practise social distancing as far as possible at all times on their journey.
Of the five new cases detected in the past week, two of these people are now in Noble’s Hospital having been admitted for treatment for unrelated non-COVID conditions. It is a case of these patients being in hospital and having the virus, rather than being in hospital because of the virus.
Both patients tested positive for COVID-19 as part of the screening process that everyone admitted to hospital undergoes.
This screening system worked precisely as it was intended and the team at Noble’s Hospital have taken the appropriate measures to protect other patients, our care professionals and visitors to the hospital. The safeguards in place include the use of enhanced medical-grade personal protective equipment and the two patients are being cared for in a separate, isolated area, where they continue their self-isolation.
The number of active cases today in the Isle of Man is nine, and whilst, as I have said, these all related to people already self-isolating due to recent travel to the Island, the upturn in figures reflects the prevalence of the virus in the UK.
We cannot let down our guard. People must think very carefully about any travel off the Island. As I have said, your reason for travel should now be compelling, pressing and – importantly – legal.
When returning to the Island you must follow the rules. The safety of our Island community hinges on the actions that returning residents and visiting key workers take.
Everyone must head directly to their home or accommodation and follow the direction notice they have been issued. No ifs, no buts, no excuses. As I have said before, we are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain.
Given the situation in the UK and in England in particular, it is inevitable that we will continue to see Isle of Man students, who are studying at UK universities, gradually returning home.
Despite the lockdown measures and travel restrictions within the UK, I am pleased to advise that we have received assurances that students will be free to return from the UK to the Isle of Man.