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Chief Minister's Statement on COVID-19 - 7 May 2020

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Good afternoon

As well as the Health & Social Care Minister, we have Dr Henrietta Ewart, our Director of Public Health, on hand – or in fact on Zoom – to answer any public health related questions.

On Monday, we published a Roadmap document. I mentioned it earlier this week. Since then, Tynwald has considered the document, debated it in detail and adopted it unanimously.

If you can, I would urge you to take a look. It describes where we are going. And most relevantly today, it describes how and when we will be making decisions about how we might amend the measures that we put in place in response to the pandemic.

In a moment, I would like to take you through the decisions that were taken at the Council of Ministers today. Before I do, I would like to invite the Health & Social Care Minister to take us through today’s statistics.

Thank you, David.  

One of the pledges that we made in the Roadmap document was to regularly review measures. We said that we would demonstrate the highest levels of transparency towards you. We said that the next review point would be on or around the 8th of May, to give us approximately two weeks since the last phase of major changes.

So this morning I chaired an especially lengthy Council of Ministers meeting. We considered the latest health data available to us, the advice of our clinical leadership and other important indicators from across our social, economic and law enforcement sectors.

We of course wanted particularly to understand what – if any – impact there has been since we made the last changes to our measures on 24 April.  We of course looked at the trends in confirmed cases. But also the back-story of those cases.

I am pleased to say that there has been no evidence that any of the cases that we have seen over the last two weeks are linked to the sectors that we allowed to return to work on 24 April, or indeed any of the changes we made in moving to this “Stay Safe” phase.

I wish we could tell you more about those backstories. Given the close-knit nature of our Island community, this is really difficult without betraying personal medical details. I am sure you understand.

Many of the cases we have seen are related to the tragic cluster around Abbotswood. Thanks to some excellent work from the contact tracing team at Public Health, we have good visibility on all our active cases.

So after careful consideration of the data and clinical advice, the Council of Ministers has therefore agreed to make a number of changes to the measures in place as part of this Phase 2 of our plan.

I will take you through this in three sections. The same three sections that we have in our Roadmap: Health, Society, and Economic.


The Council of Ministers discussed and agreed a phased return of a range of non-essential Health and Care Services should now be brought forward.

The Department of Health & Social Care has already been engaging with a range of practitioners to discuss how this can be done safely and in a carefully managed way that does not adversely impact on our ability to respond to COVID. They will be bringing a detailed plan to the Council of Ministers next week and we will hope to make announcements in the week beginning 18 May.

I know this will come as a relief to many. I would ask people however to be patient. This cannot happen overnight. Bringing services back online is more challenging than taking them off line. Especially of course when we have to be ready to respond to COVID challenges for some time to come.

The Council of Ministers agreed that given the current situation, we can now adjust the advice to those deemed vulnerable and currently shielding, to allow them – if they feel comfortable to do so – to take up to one hour of exercise outdoor each day where possible.

This is an opportunity not an obligation. But we know how difficult lockdown has been for so many. We believe that as long as people maintain their distance from others and other hygiene steps, there is real benefit to be gained from some fresh air. I am sure Dr Ewart will be able to elaborate on this when we take questions in a while.


The Council of Ministers considered a range of options relating to gatherings and the question of household-to-household meetings that I know are important to so many of you to be able to connect with family.

The Council of Ministers agreed that we needed to be working towards this. Countries around the world are adopting models that work for their own set of circumstances. We need to do the same. I have always said Manx solutions for our Manx situation.

These options are challenging and we have to find balance.  Balancing what clinically we are advised we may now do, with publically what people need to do and are ready to do. We have commissioned a detailed paper on this and I have asked that Public Health lead on some workshops with groups from across society to test out some of this thinking and report back one week from now. I will update you on this important area then.

The Council of Ministers agreed that in line with any new measures on gatherings we may consider, we should also continue to work with sporting associations on the Island to bring about a phased return to those outdoor sports that can demonstrate – through robust risk assessments agreed with government – how they will operate in a safe manner. This will continue through Phase 2 of Stay Safe.

We are not yet ready to allow indoor sports to resume. Nor are we ready to allow gyms to reopen.

The Council of Ministers considered papers on pleasure boats and small aircraft maintenance.

As part of our consideration of recreation, we have agreed that people can use their pleasure craft subject to safety criteria that we have put in place to ensure that we minimise any risk of impact on our emergency services. Guidelines will be published next week ahead of a resumption we hope before next weekend.  

On small aircraft, we considered the need for light aircraft to be able to remain airworthy and for pilots to meet what are known as “currency requirements”. We agreed that from Sunday, this could happen within some stringent limits.

I need to make absolutely clear that these two variations in no way change measures related to our borders. Our borders remain closed.

We agreed this morning to allow an expansion of the existing hub schools to provide additional capacity for workers in sectors that may return. But I will say more on that in a second. This will of course be done in close collaboration with our teachers and other school staff to ensure that the environment is safe for them and our children.

We agreed that UCM will start to commence a phased return in disciplines where it is safe to do so.

We carefully considered our nurseries. We know that nursery provision will be important as our economy reopens. But we are not yet ready to make changes to the measures on this. For the time being, they should continue to only accept key workers from the current list. We will review this again at our meeting on 14 May.


We have conducted detailed consultation with businesses across the retail sector. The Council of Ministers has agreed in principle – and I repeat in principle – that shops and other retail businesses may open from Monday 18 May. This will be subject to a further assessment of our key indicators and a final decision on Thursday 14 May.

We have announced this today to give the retail sector the lead time they require to ensure that their businesses are safe places for their customers and their workers. We will be publishing the draft guidance they must follow - and the risk assessments they will need to consider - by the end of this week.

Meanwhile, I can confirm that garden centres may open to the public from Monday 11 May – with social distancing measures in place. We have been discussing this with the businesses involved. Again we will be publishing the guidance shortly.

If they operate cafés on their premises, those cafés will have to comply with the measures in place relating to cafés elsewhere – so take away only – no sit in dining.

We did consider whether the time was right for us to allow more business – especially office based businesses – to bring people back into their workplace. The Council of Ministers agreed that we were not yet ready for a major change on this at this time but that we should start to prepare for this.  Employers in our financial, professional and digital services remain obliged to limit the number of staff in the office to those needed for effective operations.

We do anticipate that a phased return may be possible in the near future and will be reviewing whether this could be from Monday 25 May over the next two weeks.

This will be based on rigorous risk assessments that demonstrates the duty of care of the employer to provide a safe place to work. With clear limits on social distancing being in place within the office environment, it is unlikely anything approaching the previous levels of occupancy will be seen for some considerable time to come, if it ever will.

We are therefore sympathetic to those companies who may wish staff to visit their place of work to determine how a partial and phased return will be done and put in place necessary measures. We will adjust regulations accordingly.

I have already announced that the Council of Ministers had agreed in principle that those returning residents who met certain criteria could quarantine at home rather than in the Comis Hotel. Today we considered this in more detail. We have approved the criteria, the process and safeguards and hope to be able to publish full details on Monday.

We have talked about balance many times before. We need to balance the need to return to normality across Health, Society and the Economy and I’ve announced some changes in each of these areas today.

These are gradual changes being made in a measured manner, and we will issue further details on these aspects shortly and of course all our measures will be subject to constant and regular review.

I will now take questions.

Thank you. I won’t do shout outs today. You have heard enough from me.

I would just like to remind you all that it is the 75th anniversary of VE Day – Victory in Europe Day – tomorrow. An awful lot of people made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we take for granted today.

Please join me in observing the two-minute silence at 11am tomorrow. Until the next time, please stay safe. Make the right decisions for you, for your families and for our Island.