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Chief Minister's statement to Tynwald on COVID-19 – 27 March 2020

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Mr President

Thank you for allowing me to make a brief statement today.

I last addressed this Honourable Court only a few days ago (24 March) I reported to you then that the world was falling victim to a wicked and unforgiving virus.

Mr President, the world around us is a different place. Even compared to just the start of this week.

According to the World Health Organisation’s figures yesterday evening, global confirmed cases are approaching half a million, with over twenty thousand confirmed deaths. There is much debate about how accurate these figures might be. I am not going to comment on that. But one thing that seems indisputable is that no corner of the planet is being spared.

The United States of America is now emerging as an epicentre of the pandemic.

The United Kingdom yesterday saw its death toll rise to 578 – an increase of more than 100 in a day.  This is already a tragedy – and only likely to get worse. The British Prime Minister and Health Secretary have today confirmed that they have tested positive. And of course the Prince of Wales confirmed the same earlier this week.

I am sure that all members of this honourable court will join me in sending our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by this cruel and relentless virus.

Mr President

These are unprecedented times and we have taken unprecedented steps to protect our Island community.

Today, our Island is different.

We have closed the borders. This morning, the Ben-My-Cree arrived with sixty seven passengers. We have now stopped almost all arrivals onto the Island.

The only exceptions to this are the smallest possible number of people required for our critical national infrastructure or for the preservation of human life.

Freight will continue to arrive on the Island.  I would like to put on the record my thanks to all those who are working to maintain our critical supply chains in the public and private sectors. These are people whose efforts are often unrecognised.  They deserve our thanks and respect.

Mr President

Our Island has been famous for its hospitality. Over recent years it has welcomed holiday makers and honeymooners from across the British Isles.  So many people I have met have wanted to share with me their stories of their visits here.

But things have changed.  And we have had to make tough, tough decisions.

The decision to close our borders was not an easy one. But it was the right thing to do. The Council of Ministers listened to our medical professionals who told us that this was needed to give our health and social care system the best possible chance of managing the challenges ahead.

They told us and we took action. 

Mr President

I am acutely aware that due to lockdowns around the world, some Manx residents – even with best endeavours – have not been able to return in time for the border closure. We realise the position this has placed some people in.

I know that a number of Members of this Honourable Court – myself included – have been contacted by constituents. I would ask them to pass details on to the Cabinet Office team who are collating this information.

We have looked at how we can support those residents. We will continue to do so as best we can. But the advice from our clinicians and public health colleagues is clear. Any loosening of the measures we have put in place will increase the risk to our Island and our most vulnerable.

They told us and we took action. 

Mr President

We all have a role to play in these extraordinary times.

This Honourable Court has already confirmed a number of powers that we have requested. I am extremely grateful. These were never powers I wished for. But they are powers we need. Today we are asking for more.

I would like to thank Honourable Members for their support in these challenging times. National unity is crucial.

Mr President

Government has a role to play.

We have to listen to the clinical experts and that is what we have done. We will continue to do so.

We took the tough decision to close large sectors of our economy. We know the impact this has had on many. Again we did this on the advice of clinicians. They told us that social distancing is the single most effective way to reduce the spread of the virus.

They told us and we took action. 

I would like to commend the Treasury Minister and his department for their work to support our economy and our workforce. There is neither a magic wand nor a money tree out there. The package of measures that he has already announced has been well received by many. I know the Treasury Minister and his department are working flat out – with colleagues from the Department of Enterprise – on additional measures.

Mr President

Our public sector has a role to play. I am incredibly grateful for all those who are working to keep us safe and to keep the Island running.

I know that many Honourable Members were moved by the out pouring of thanks for all our carers and healthcare workers last night at 8pm.  They are indeed heroes.  I am sure that Honourable Members will join me in paying tribute to them.

We must not forget our other emergency service colleagues who are working to protect us all.

Mr President

We must also recognise others.

  • The housekeepers in the hospital who are playing such an essential role in keeping everyone safe.
  • The workers in the Department of Infrastructure who are keeping our buildings, ports, roads and transport systems working
  • The teachers who are maintaining safe environments for the children of key workers, including over what would have been the Easter holidays.

These are just a few examples. There are of course many more. We can be proud of how our public service has stepped up.

Mr President

I would also like to pay tribute to all those involved in the provision of food and medicines.  They also deserve our thanks and respect.

  • Thank you to the supermarket worker who is ensuring that we can feed our families.
  • Thank you to those who work in the pharmacies that are dispensing essential medicines
  • Thank you to those in our local food production industry.

Again, these are only a few examples of an impressive national effort.

Mr President

The great Manx public has a role to play.

Community groups have stepped up. They are supporting those who are most in need of our help.

Individuals have stepped up. I have heard powerful stories of people’s selfless actions.

There are so many people working to keep our community going.  I am proud of our Island.

Mr President

There can be no positive outcome from this pandemic. There will be loss of life. Some of us will lose loved ones. Our Island community needs to brace itself for that.

For now, we need to pull together. Work together. Support each other. Wherever possible stay at home to protect our most vulnerable. Do this today. Save lives.

Mr President

We will ensure that we regularly update this Honourable Court as often as possible.