Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today.
I am here at the podium with the Minister for Health & Social Care. Our Director of Public Health joins us on Zoom today.
I hope you were all able to enjoy some of the sunshine over the Easter weekend. I hope you were also able to catch up with loved ones thanks to the changes we announced at the end of last week.
It was great for me to pop round to see my parents, drop them some cakes and enjoy a catch up in the garden.
I hope you were able to do something special too. I hope that was outdoors, respecting social distancing rules and with face coverings wherever possible.
Let’s go straight to our regular updates. First to the Minister for Health & Social Care.
Thank you, David.
It was a relief each day over the Easter weekend to see no unexplained cases - those with unknown transmission links that bother us so much.
From 25 March to today – so thirteen days – we have only seen that single unknown case on the 29th. If it had not been for that case, we would be starting to breathe a sigh of relief and talking about the end of this lockdown. We are edging closer to that point - but that single case does remain a niggle.
In a few more days, I hope we will be more confident that the case on the 29th is no longer a cause for concern. As it is, we can be cautiously optimistic that the outbreak is under control.
We are not going to reset the clock every time we see a case. And we will not let a single case derail our steady progress towards normality. But when there is uncertainty, I hope people understand that we need to tread more carefully.
Let me hand over to our Director of Public Health for her update. I know she will characterise the current situation more expertly than I can.
Thank you Dr Ewart.
So we will continue our careful and steady path towards normality. For the moment, the focus will be on outdoors.
I am pleased that today we have seen the resumption of a range of construction work. I know how important this sector is for so many people in our community. Whether this is indoor trades – who are now able to work in vacant, uninhabited properties - or outdoors construction, it is crucial that they maintain the highest levels of hygiene, respect social distancing rules and wear face coverings as much as possible.
It may be easy for people to maintain that distance through the day while working on site. But these defences are only as good as the weakest link. Please think about that time in the van, when making a brew. And think about the implications of sharing tools.
I am glad that today has also seen our garden centres able to open again. If you do visit one this week, please respect the staff and other customers. Give them the space they need.
This is of course true in all retail settings. Be patient, kind and courteous.
I hope that the opening of the garden centres is the start of a safe and steady reopening of our retail sector.
There are a number of sectors that may be able to follow soon. These include non-essential retail, our lifestyle businesses and other areas where we can maybe retain some mitigation measures to continue our safe and steady approach.
The Council of Ministers will look at this again on Thursday and consider the evolving data. We still hope to able to lift the majority of measures on or around 19 April.
We do hope to be able to allow non-essential retail to open soon. If we are able to do so, this may not include our lifestyle businesses immediately. Those businesses like hairdressers, barbers and beauticians. But we hope that all being well, they will be able to follow soon after.
I make this point at almost every briefing but I will do so again. We all want this to be the last lockdown we go through. So we need to get our exit from it absolutely right. This needs to be a safe and steady one-way journey.
We will only keep measures in place for as long as they are needed. But we may also slow our exit if the data tells us it is the right thing to do.
I know that even when we decide we are ready for a particular sector to reopen, some people may decide they are not quite ready and wish to wait a little longer. I remember last year, some businesses wanted to wait an extra week or two to be sure. And of course that is absolutely fine. When the Council of Ministers gives the green light, it provides the opportunity to reopen. It is not an obligation.
And the same is true for people. I know that there are people in our community who remain anxious about the virus. I completely understand that. You know your situation and you are best placed to make the right decisions for you.
One setting where we have to ensure the highest level of safety is our schools and pre-schools.
The Minister for Education, Sport & Culture updated us all last week on a phased return of our young people. As things stand, the plan remains the same as it was when he briefed us. Teachers will be able to return to their schools next Monday – the 12th – to prepare.
Our aim remains to open primary schools in a phased manner starting on Tuesday 13 April. First, it will be for vulnerable children and children whose parents are essential workers who need to attend their place of work to keep our Island safe and running.
In secondary schools, our aim is gradually to reopen them to students from 13 April. Initially this will be for selected Year 11 and 13 students who are required to undertake further work and assessments. This is to enable teachers to accurately grade their performance and submit the results to external examination boards.
We then hope to be able to welcome all children back to school from Monday 19 April. This of course depends on the data telling us that it is safe to do so.
The Council of Ministers will be discussing this again at its meeting on Thursday. We will consider the most recent data and advice from Public Health. We will let you know the outcome later that day.
At almost every briefing now, I have the pleasure of marking another achievement of the vaccination programme. Today is no exception.
Over the Easter weekend, the team took us through the milestone of forty-thousand people in our community who have had at least one dose. This really is impressive.
This now means that over 90% of the forty-five thousand people in those all-important Phase One groups have now had at least one dose. And over fifteen thousand have had both.
The JCVI – the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation – estimates that taken together, the Phase One groups represent around 99% of preventable mortality from COVID. Our most vulnerable – those most at risk from COVID – are getting protected at pace.
This is great news. And please, when you get your letter, get on the phone to 111 or go online and register for your appointment.
Let’s take some questions.
Thank you for those questions.
I know the weather is looking more like Winter than Spring for much of this week. But I hope you are able to get some time outdoors. A walk outdoors is so important for our mental health.
Please do everything you can do to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe. Only meet outdoors. Keep your distance.
Please continue to make the right decisions for you, your family and your Island.
It is your actions that have got us to this place.
And of course call 111 if you have anything that might be symptoms. Please don’t risk your health or the health of those you live or work with.