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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 8 October 2020

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Good afternoon everyone.

Thank you for taking the time to watch and listen today.

Since I last spoke to you, the Island has seen five new cases of COVID-19.  Thankfully, all have been people who were in self-isolation and so our community remains free of the virus.

Whilst this may be only a handful of cases, I know the trickle of announcements in recent days has caused understandable concern.

Across the water, the battle against COVID-19 is still, sadly, going in the wrong direction.  The expected surge in cases that everyone had hoped could be avoided, has come to pass.

Two weeks ago I spoke about the record high in the UK of more than 7,000 new cases in a day.  That figure has doubled in a fortnight, with fourteen-and-a-half thousand new cases diagnosed on Tuesday.

The United Kingdom is continuing a programme of measures to try and control the spread of the virus.  This is happening at both a national and local level.  Yesterday the First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon, announced a return of tougher restrictions, with pubs and restaurants across central Scotland ordered to close tomorrow at 6pm until at least the 25 October.

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson is widely expected to follow suit on Monday for England.

Clearly, the situation in the United Kingdom – and further afield – is serious and deteriorating.

This is reflected in the cases we are detecting in residents returning and key workers coming to the Isle of Man.

It will come as no surprise when I tell you that the Council of Ministers has determined that we will remain at level four of our borders framework.  Now is clearly not the time to loosen restrictions.

But we must ask ourselves: are the measures that we currently have in place enough to protect our Island and our community given the exponential growth of the virus in the United Kingdom?

There are some who want us to return to level five of our borders framework.  I understand this.

And despite what is unfolding across the water, there are still some who would like to see restrictions here relaxed a little more, to at least allow immediate family members to come to the Island.  Our new level three A.  I understand what an emotive issue this is.

The Council of Ministers this morning discussed the worsening situation in the United Kingdom and decided that, on balance, stricter measures are required in order to reduce the likelihood of the virus returning to our community.

I can announce then, that the option to have a test on day seven of self-isolation will be withdrawn for anyone arriving on the Island after the last flight and ferry this Sunday 11 October.

Residents returning to the Island from Monday onwards will be required to self-isolate for the full fourteen days; what is known as the gold standard in preventing the spread of the virus.

Anyone who has had their day seven test, received a negative result and is now in their remaining period of modified self-isolation – so that’s people in days eight to fourteen – will not be affected by this announcement.  Your modified period of self-isolation, which allows you to exercise and to attend work if appropriate safeguards are in place, will continue.

. . .

I know this change will disappoint and frustrate some people. 

For others, you may feel it does not go far enough.

As I have spoken about on many occasions, the Council of Ministers carefully examines the balance of risk.  These decisions are never easy and we always try to do what is in the best interest of our Island.

We feel that remaining at level four, but returning to the gold standard of fourteen days of mandatory self-isolation will shore up our defences against the potential return of the virus.

We will, of course, keep the situation under review.  We very much hope that the option for a test on day seven of self-isolation can be reintroduced at some stage in the future.

All of us must remain vigilant if we are to protect our Manx bubble, which was hard won.

Vigilance must be our watch-word.  We are only as strong as the weakest link in our chain.  The actions and behaviours of each of us could make all the difference.

I know you know this, but forgive me if I say it again.

If you have travelled to the Isle of Man from the United Kingdom, you must go directly from the airport or the sea terminal to your place of self-isolation.  No stopping for petrol, sausage rolls or alcohol.

Our visiting key workers are also required to self-isolate, all that differs is the modified conditions to allow them to safely carry out the important work for which they have been brought to the Island.  When doing so, strict safeguards are in place including the use of appropriate PPE, limited contact with other people and social distancing.  When not carrying out their essential work, these individuals should be at their accommodation, isolating.

On the topic of visiting key workers, I am conscious there has been concern in our community following a small number of these visitors wilfully breaking the rules.  It has been both disappointing and unfortunate.  It is not just a breach of the rules and our laws, but also a breach of our community’s trust.

The rules are clear.  Our entry certificates for key workers are clear.  It is there on the front page, in red, bold lettering.

And whilst I firmly believe that there are no excuses for ignorance of the law or a wilful disregard for the rules, we of course want to do all that we can to make sure non-residents coming to our Island as key workers understand what is required of them.  We want them to appreciate that they have travelled to a different jurisdiction, to a place that, for now, is free of the virus, and that they are in a community that does not want to see that virus return.

With this in mind, we have this week introduced new lanes at the airport and the sea terminal for arriving key workers.  This is to ensure officers from our COVID Response Team can fully explain and emphasise the rules, why they exist, and the consequences for not following them.

We have worked with the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and Loganair to introduce on-board tannoy reminders.  And we are placing yet more banners at our ports to draw people’s attention to our rules and the sanctions they could face for violating these.

On Tuesday evening I went to the sea terminal, unannounced, and witnessed for myself the processes in place for returning residents and arriving key workers.  I was satisfied with what I saw.  Every individual was spoken to, including those disembarking by car.

I am sure these measures and recent publicity will leave no doubt as to the seriousness with which the authorities and you, our community, view these rules.

Nonetheless, the breaches have been both disappointing and concerning, and so the Council of Ministers has requested a review of the measures, processes and procedures in place.  I will, of course, update you once this work has been completed.

Despite the small number of breaches, we must bear in mind that visiting key workers come to our Island for a reason.  We are a small community and there are many aspects of Island life that are dependent upon specialised and skilled workers coming to our Island.  From life-saving medical equipment at our hospitals, to our electricity generation and numerous other critical services.  The vast majority of the key workers coming to our Island follow the rules and we are grateful for the vital contribution they make in keeping our Island running.

The final point I want to make today is to leave you with a clear message: be prepared.  All of us need to be prepared for the return of the virus and what that may mean for our society and our economy.  Be ready to act – whether it’s a return of social distancing, protecting our most vulnerable through shielding, or queuing in a socially distanced way.

What we have achieved in keeping the virus at bay for so long is truly remarkable, and it is thanks to you, the great Manx public.  I hope we continue to succeed in preventing the viruses return.  Government is ready, I want to ensure that each of you are as well.

That's all for today. Stay safe and be prepared.
Thank you for your time.