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Chief Minister's statement on COVID-19 - 9 July 2020

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Good afternoon, 

It has been a while since I last had the pleasure of talking to you. I hope you all enjoyed the bank holiday weekend and our National Day - whatever you did and wherever you spent it. 

It was an unusual Tynwald Day to say the least. At the height of the pandemic, the event was scaled right back and the usual programme of events was cancelled.  

By the time we got to July, the ban on gatherings had been lifted and social distancing was no longer needed.  

But by then Tynwald Day had been reduced to the formal ceremony only – another new ‘first’ for the Island.  

There was no grandstand, no fair, stalls or sideshows, no marching bands, displays, entertainments or live music. But people still came out to watch.  

It is heartening to know that the essence of our ancient ceremony – an outdoor gathering of parliament to proclaim our new laws in public - still has meaning in people’s lives.  

It was good to come together on a uniquely Manx occasion, and express pride in our nation and its institutions. 

I have seen photos of how people celebrated Tynwald Day at home, here and abroad. I look forward to seeing all the traditions return next year. 

Now for today’s update on the numbers, I will hand over to the Health & Social Care Minister David Ashford.

Thank you, David.  

Over the last few weeks, I promised you that the Council of Ministers would regularly review our policy on the gradual opening of the Island’s borders.   

Today we once again looked at this. And the Council of Ministers this morning discussed whether it was time to move to the next stage – Level 4.  

As I’ve outlined at previous briefings, this is the next stage in our stepped approach towards full re-opening of borders.  

After careful consideration, we decided unanimously that we are now ready to make this significant step. 

I am pleased to confirm that from Monday 20 July, Isle of Man residents will be free to travel to the UK and beyond and return.   

Until now, travellers have had to show that their journey off-Island is essential. That there was a genuine compassionate reason to go. That requirement will be lifted from 20 July.  

I should emphasise that today’s changes apply to Isle of Man residents only – borders are still closed to non-residents unless they have been granted an exemption.    

We have thought long and hard about moving to Level 4. We have listened carefully. We knew we could not keep border restrictions in place indefinitely.  

Our decision today is a cautious one, based on an assessment of the risks involved and the evolving picture in the United Kingdom and beyond. We carefully considered the impact of our people who are separated from loved ones.  

Our Borders Framework set out the indicators which allow for gradual relaxation of the closed borders policy.  

According to the United Kingdom’s Office of National Statistics – a well-respected agency independent of government - the COVID infection rate in England currently stands at approximately one person in every three-thousand-nine-hundred people. We judged that this is an acceptable level for us to move to Level 4.  

We are at our 50th day without a case and in many respects, Island life has returned to normal. 

Allowing our citizens to travel off Island - to see family, for business purposes, to go on holiday, shopping or simply for a change of scene – is the right thing to do.  

There is no compelling reason not to. Waiting yet longer - as some would have it 'just to be on the safe side' -becomes increasingly hard to justify when infection rates among our nearest neighbours are falling. 

But we will need to maintain some important restrictions for a while.  

The traveller must on return quarantine at home for fourteen days. This is an essential condition of travel, no ifs or buts. We will be taking this extremely seriously and will have measures in place to ensure this is respected.  

Our newly-formed borders team is prepared for this stage and they will play a crucial role.  

Staff will ‘meet and greet’ returning travellers - who will have to wear a mask - to ensure each individual understands what is required of them. 

The traveller will receive a self-isolation Order which will make it clear that self-isolation is a legal requirement.  

The Order is a legal document which will state that failure to comply could result in criminal prosecution, punishable with a fine or even imprisonment.  

In this context it is only the traveller who must go into self-isolation – there is no need for the rest of the household to do so. Unless the returning traveller develops symptoms – when a test will be carried out and different rules apply.  

I know that for some, this move to Level 4 will be a great relief. For others it may cause concern. I understand that. I have always been clear and honest with you. As with all the decisions we have taken there is an element of risk in taking this step.  

We have enjoyed a prolonged period without any positive cases of coronavirus. Clearly, when more people move between the Island and other countries, the risk of new cases of the virus increases.  

We can’t pretend otherwise. What is important is how we meet that challenge. Self-isolation will remain our most important weapon against spread. This – combined with our rapid testing and tracing - are our defence against a new outbreak.  

And of course a continued effort by the community to maintain high standards of hygiene, at home and at work. 

You may ask how will self-isolation be ‘policed’?  

We trust people to do the right thing – and the overwhelming majority will. But as we take this next step, that will not be enough.  

People who wish to travel will have to tell us about their travel plans and where they will be isolating on return. We will be putting in place measures that include regular checks on returning travellers to see that they are complying with isolation requirements – both by phone and in person.  

The details will follow in the coming week, but I want to use today’s announcement to make it crystal clear that we expect people to play their part in keeping our Island safe.  

The message is simple: if you want to travel to and from the Island – stick to the rules. And if people stick to the rules, we can keep our Island safe.  

We have to enforce these rules firmly – the cost to our Island of a second wave of COVID would be substantial. So, we will take all steps to prevent it.

Today’s UK news is dominated by the latest package of support measures announced by the Chancellor Rishi Sunak. 

His summer economic update will see billions more injected into the economy to nurse it back to health.  

The figures are staggering.  

The additional thirty billion pounds announced yesterday brings the total spent on measures to mitigate the crisis to almost one hundred and ninety billion pounds. 

That is equivalent to 9.4% of the UK’s GDP – far more than last year’s entire UK budget for health and social care.    

Clearly there’s no comparison with our situation, numbers-wise. But it is worth reflecting on the challenge the UK is facing to rebuild its economy, as we take measures to restore our own.  

In ‘big picture’ terms, the economic health of the UK has always had an impact on the Manx economy. The buoyancy of our various sectors - from precision engineering to tourism - is influenced to an extent by the highs and lows of our nearest neighbour’s economy.   

Changes to VAT arrangements are an example of how UK decisions directly impact us here in the Island.   

So the move to cut VAT from 20 per cent to 5 per cent on most activities in the tourism and hospitality sectors in the UK, will be mirrored here. 

The reduced rate will apply from 15 July 2020 – that is the middle of next week - until 12 January 2021.  

The aim is to gives businesses in these sectors a boost, and importantly to support jobs.  

If the benefit is passed on to consumers it will provide encouragement for the public to visit restaurants, cafes and pubs – helping those which have been closed for several months to survive - and hopefully to grow.  

The Isle of Man already applies a 5% VAT rate to hotel accommodation, and this rate will be extended for the period to admission fees for events and attractions. 

More information and details about the measures will be published on the Customs and Excise website shortly.  

In the meantime, this is an opportunity to encourage everyone to support local, to spend in our shops, pubs and restaurants, and help support businesses, employers and workers - to save jobs and keep us on a firm footing.

The latest measures announced by the Chancellor are only one step on a longer journey. Mr Sunak was keen to say that the job had only just begun – despite the huge sums of public money committed already. 

Later this month, the Treasury Minister will unveil our summer budget update. This will provide an assessment of public finances – and our own economic plan to recover from the pandemic. 

The ‘Purple Book’ as it’s known will indicate how we intend to support jobs and enterprise, safeguard livelihoods and young people’s futures, and create the right environment for a vibrant, confident and prosperous society to thrive.  

One which can generate the revenues needed to fund public services, including of course our precious health and care service.   

I’m not going to steal the Treasury Minister’s thunder but it’s safe to say that we will acknowledge the cost to the public purse of dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

And that thanks to our prudent approach and the support of the whole community, there are signs the economy is starting to move more quickly than anticipated.  

And now to questions from the media.

Thank you for those questions. 

I imagine there will be a range of reactions to today’s news on borders. It won’t suit everyone. On a short walk from Government Office the other day I was met with opposing views from two members of the public.  

A lady urged me to keep the borders firmly closed. A few steps on, a gentleman expressed fears for the survival of local businesses if they did not open.  

Such is politics. Together we have done a terrific job in responding to the pandemic – that has been said many times. 

But it is not ‘job done’. Just as attitudes to risk vary widely, the steps we take towards the new normal seem scary to some - but are welcomed by others.  

I hope people accept though, that we cannot stay isolated forever. But today we have taken another careful step towards normality.  

This is an unfolding story and we will deal with each new challenge as it arises – I know how the Manx people love a challenge!