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Chief Minister's statement to Tynwald on COVID-19 – 24 March 2020

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Mr President,

I am grateful to you, Mr President, for the opportunity to make a brief statement about the situation regarding COVID-19.

These are troubling and challenging times.  I know that there is worry in our community. There is fear.

You will know that I often turn to quotes from the past in my speeches in this place.

But now is not the moment for the thoughts of others. I am before you to speak from my heart. As a proud Manxman. As a humble member of this court. As a father and husband.

I say, with no sense of hyperbole, that this is the greatest challenge the island has faced in living memory.  It is already changing our daily lives. There is no clear end in sight.

But there will be an end. How far in the future is unclear to everyone. The greatest nations on the planet are struggling.

The only thing on which everyone can agree is that we will require the greatest resolve. And that life cannot be the same for the foreseeable future.

Honourable members. Government and this Court need to lead the way.

I am grateful to this Honourable Court for considering the emergency powers that we need to protect our nation. It has been pointed out that I am the first Chief Minister to have had to invoke this. I would like to make clear that this is not something for which I am proud. I believe in democracy. I believe in liberty. It was with a heavy heart that I asked for these powers.

But it was the right thing to do.

We need to take the measures that our colleagues in health and social care require to keep them safe so that they can keep us safe.

We need to protect our emergency services so that they can keep us safe.

We have closed our borders to all but those of our community returning.

We have closed places where people gather. Pubs, clubs, cinemas etc.

We have in place the powers to enforce self-isolation.

The Treasury Minister has announced a package of measures that we hope will help to protect our economy and our workers. If we have to do more then we will. But our resources are finite and we have to ensure we are doing the right thing at the right time.

Mr President

But government cannot do this alone. 

Our people need to fully grasp the gravity of the moment.

There is a simple and stark reality ahead of us.

We need everyone to play their part.

Companies have a role to play 

At the moment, we have not closed all non-essential shops. This may happen - as it has in the United Kingdom. We may need to if businesses do not practice – and enforce – the highest levels of social distancing. Many are doing so. For which I thank them. Some are still not. If it becomes clear that shops are becoming the weak link in our measures then we will have to move to close them. 

Individuals have a role to play 

We must all make changes. This will involve making sacrifices. Not seeing our loved ones. Pulling together. Acting responsibly. Following the guidance that our clinical colleagues are advocating. Washing our hands. Stopping all social gatherings.

Mr President

The greatest contribution each of us can make for our island community in the coming weeks is this. STAY AT HOME.

If we do not do this, the prognosis is simple. The virus will spread unchecked on the island. The most vulnerable members of our community will suffer. And many will die.

These deaths, this suffering is avoidable. But it requires a determination from each and every one of us.

There are not many ways to say this. If people do not follow the advice, then they are putting lives at risk. Maybe their own. Maybe that of their own loved one. Maybe a health professional. But they will be certainly be putting at risk the most vulnerable members of our society. I am talking about people’s parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. These are real people whose lives depend on all of us acting responsibly. All of us.

Mr President

The measures in place – if respected – will make a difference. But I do need to make clear for the record, that if people do not respect these measures, then we will need to tighten further.

The public have 24 hours to change their behaviour. If they do not, then we will have no choice but to increase the measures.

In the United Kingdom this has already happened. Officers are working to finalise plans for us to do the same. We will be ready to bring in these measures as soon as these are needed.

This is about the people of our island.  I call on everyone to rise to the challenge.