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Chief Minister's statement to Tynwald on COVID-19 – 26 May 2020

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Mr President, 

Thank you. Given the detail covered already in the Urgent Questions, I will endeavour to keep this statement brief.  

Every week, I start by saying that the situation in which we find ourselves -as a result of the current coronavirus pandemic - is fast moving and fast changing.  

This week of course has been no different.  

We have had one new confirmed case since my last statement in this place. Indeed only one since 16 May. We currently only have seven active cases on our Island.  

This does not mean that the virus has left us. But it does mean that for the moment at least, the measures that we took have had the effect that we needed.  

We can be optimistic. And we can be proud.  

Mr President, 

The number of calls to our COVID 111 clinical line remain at a low level. They have now combined forces with the contact tracing team to bring economies of scale and a more joined up system.  

As I reported here last week - and as the Minister for Health & Social Care briefed Honourable Members last Thursday - we have now started to test more and test differently.  

Weekly tests are available to those working with the vulnerable or in direct one on one contact. This includes health and social care staff including care and residential homes, supported living and the voluntary sector. It also includes prison and police officers.  

We will review this each week depending on demand. Depending on demand, we may then open up to other key workers. 

The era of the antibody test will soon be upon us. While this is an incredibly important development, it is not the Eye of Providence. It will not allow us to see everything and know everything.  

Yes, it will allow us – with a high degree of accuracy – to see if someone has had the virus. This is of course a key piece of information.  

But the global scientific jury is still out as to whether someone who has recovered from the virus is immune for ever, for a while, or at all. And most crucially, there is no absolute certainty as to whether they are able to carry and pass the virus to others.   

Mr President, 

I can confirm to this Court that we have what we need to start soon an initial antibody testing regime. We have the commercial contracts in place. We have the equipment we need. We have the staff we need. And we have a plan. The Council of Ministers will be briefed later this week on the approach we will be taking and I will be able to share more detail thereafter.  

Mr President,

We continue to make progress towards our new Manx Normal. We continue to tread cautiously on the path that we laid out in our Stay Safe document that was debated – and unanimously endorsed – in this place.  

Since the last time I addressed this Honourable Court, I have been able to announce a number of steps forward. Increasingly we have been able to step out of people’s lives. And increasingly we are asking the public to step up and take responsibility for their own lives. The public has emphatically welcomed this.  

We are not shirking our responsibilities. But the Council of Ministers believes that Government needs to focus its efforts and resources where it matters most. Where there is a wider national interest. For everything else, we want to regulate less and trust more.  

And we want to ensure that we keep it simple. Locking down at the start of all this was relatively simple. It was binary. We were open one day and closed the next.  

Returning to our new Manx normal has been far more complex. But we are getting there. The rules at the start were necessarily complex. But now I am pleased that they are becoming increasingly simple. The public have told us that they welcome the ability to make decisions that suit their own circumstances.  

Since I last addressed this Honourable Court, people have been able to see their friends and family again. I am delighted that we were able to do so.  

For the moment, we continue to require that numbers are limited. The reasons may be complex. For indoors they relate to the increased risk of transmission for indoors. For outdoor it is a manageable number for contact tracing if the need arises.  

But, Mr President, the rules are simple. Ten outside. Two inside.  

This is a first step. We will continue to review the situation regularly. Once we are able to judge if these changes have had an impact, we can consider next steps. If – on the basis of the clinical advice and the data we have – we are able to further step out of people’s lives we will. If we can’t we won’t.  

Mr President, 

We have been able to allow the resumption of a wide range of sports and recreational activities. This is so much a part of our Island life. I am delighted that we have been able to enable this. There is still a little way to go before every sport is back as it was before the pandemic. But that is where we want to go. And I am confident we will get there soon.  

I am pleased with what we achieved so far. I am grateful to the Minister of Education, Sport and Culture for the work of his Department on this. And grateful to all the sporting clubs and associations for their engagement. They have made this possible.  

Mr President,  

This week we were also able to send an important message to our service sector. We have told them that they are now able to start a phased return to the workplace. But we – and the relevant regulators – have made clear that we expect them to do everything possible to ensure a safe workplace for their employees.  

As I made clear last week, it is now for them to work out how they make our safety principles fit with their business models. We are stepping back and allowing them to prove that they are responsible employers. They are best placed to judge how to do this. But of course we will take action if they don’t come up to scratch.  

Many companies have told us that they do not envisage a wholesale return of their employees to the office. A more flexible approach to the working week is undoubtedly going to be a part of the new normal.  

Mr President,

Do the changes we have made to our measures increase risk. Yes. The more contact there is between people, the most risk there is.  

But we judged that the time was right to make these changes and maintain the momentum. 

At the start of this pandemic, we had to build. We had to build fast. We built defences for our Island and our most vulnerable people.  

Yes there were tragic losses of life. Our Island has mourned too much.  

But broadly, our defences did what we needed them to do. They prevented our Island from being devastated by this virus.  

We may not have come to the end of our journey. But I do believe we have turned a corner. 

Ahead of us, we now have a new set of building to do. A rebuilding.  

So many aspect of this pandemic – including the measures we had to put in place - have taken their toll on our people. It has put enormous strain on our people. On our society. On our economy.  

But we are now laying the foundations of our new Manx normal. We are rebuilding.  

We are rebuilding our health service. The Health & Social Care Minister and his Department briefed members on the plan to restart those services that we had to suspend to ready ourselves for COVID.  

We are rebuilding our society. Isolation has been tough. Not being able to see our loved ones has been tough. We have seen the incredible strength of our Island community. We are now able to build on that. One brick at a time.  

We are rebuilding the economy. The return of most of the retail sector last week was an important step. The phased and safe return of services - the largest sector of our economy in workforce terms – is key.  

As we rebuild, I do not want business as usual. I want better. In so many ways, we have shown some of the best traits of our Island community through this pandemic.  

Where there have been positives amid the tragedy, we need to grab them with both hands. We will not forgive ourselves if we slide backwards. We need to take a bold and sure step forward. We need to keep moving.  

Mr President,

I look forward to the day when we are no longer required to come to this place every week to move regulations under our emergency powers.  

As the Minister for Policy & Reform has just told this Honourable Court, the Council of Ministers intends to bring forward a consolidated set of regulations that will simplify the current regulations and address certain points of inconsistency. 

Mr President, 

I will draw to a close now. But before I do, I must pay tribute to the people of our Island. I often refer to the grit and determination that so many people have shown. As we move towards our new future, we will need that in spades. But we will also need innovation and agility.  

Benjamin Franklin hit the nail on the head for me when he said:

“Change is the only constant in life. One’s ability to adapt to those changes will determine your success in life.” 

I believe this Island has a bright and successful future ahead of it.  

Mr President,  

I – and other Ministers – will keep this Honourable Court informed as often as possible.