Thank you allowing me the opportunity to make a statement. It is longer than it might normally be. But I want to ensure that Honourable Members have all the information they need.
I would again like to thank all Honourable Members for their continued engagement, including at the more detailed thematic briefings that we are now offering on a weekly basis. Your feedback has been invaluable.
Before I make my statement, I would like to take a minute to pass on my best wishes to the United Kingdom Prime Minister as he returns to work after his period of convalescence. I know he will have a complex set of decisions ahead of him. I wish him all the best.
The situation on the Island remains mixed.
We have been faced with the heart-breaking developments at Abbotswood. This has been a terrible tragedy for our community. My thoughts and prayers are with all those who have lost loved ones.
I know that many Honourable Members have asked about investigations. I cannot say too much at this stage but I will of course keep Honourable Members updated as the situation develops.
Our priority at the moment has been the welfare of the residents in Abbotswood. The Department of Health & Social Care has stepped in to support in a number of ways. This includes non-clinical support – for example deep cleaning, laundry services, and essential repairs. It has also been clinical support to ensure the residents receive the care that they need.
Honourable Members will have seen the daily figures of COVID cases that we have been reporting. Notwithstanding the dreadful cluster related to Abbotswood, the number of new cases has remained extremely low for a number of days now.
It is important however to see beyond daily numbers to see longer term trends. As things stand today, the trends do also give us a reason for some cautious optimism.
I am proud of what we have achieved together. As politicians we can take decisions and put in place measures. But if we cannot bring the people with us, then we will not succeed. The people of the Isle of Man have stepped up and have made a difference.
But Honourable Members will understand that despite the encouraging indicators, we cannot be complacent. People will tire of hearing me say this but this will be a marathon not a sprint.
As Honourable Members will know, what the current situation has allowed us to do is prepare.
The situation of our health and social care sector is currently extremely positive. We set out to be ready for the trials that the virus might throw at us. And we have proved ourselves equal to the challenge.
We have the Personal Protection Equipment that we need. We have high levels of staffing. We have capacity at Nobles in intensive care wards, our COVID wards and our general wards. And as Honourable Members heard yesterday, within a week or so, we will have the ability to produce our own oxygen at Nobles – rather than relying on pressured supply chains from the United Kingdom.
I once again wish to acknowledge the incredible work of so many people who have contributed to making our vision a reality. This has been cross departmental working at its finest. One Team. Team Isle of Man.
As well as preparing our health and social sector, supressing the spread of the virus has allowed us time to consider the future.
As we had briefed Honourable Members, on 24 April we made some amendments to the measure that we have in place.
These were modest changes that we made following consideration, consultation and clinical advice.
The changes have been well received by small businesses across the Island. I have received messages from a number of people who have been able to return to work and earn a wage again. I know that many have done the responsible thing and considered carefully how to do so in a way that reduces risk to them and others. I welcome this pragmatic approach from our businesses.
I know that there was initially some concern that workers would be obliged to return to work in a way that was not safe. Last week, we encouraged people to contact the Health & Safety at Work team if they had such worries.
I am pleased to be able to inform Honourable Members that calls to the team have remained at a modest level since Friday. And many have been calls seeking advice on how to return to work safely. There have been some complaints and these are being investigated.
I am also pleased to be able to report that the great Manx public has responded well to the changes we announced on Friday. The Chief Constable has reported that there was a high level of compliance across the Island in terms of the 40 miles per hour speed limit, the continuing prohibition on gatherings and social-distancing.
This week, we will publish a document that will outline our approach to the next steps in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. I hope it will reassure Honourable Members. It will describe how we make decisions and on what advice we base these decisions.
This document does not have firm dates for any future changes. I believe it would be irresponsible of us to raise expectations that the circumstances at that moment prevent us from taking. As I have told this Honourable Court, the Council of Ministers will take decisions on the basis of data and the clinical advice available to us.
The advice – and this is one of the few areas on which there is a broad consensus – is that it is necessary to wait around ten days to see the effects of changes to restrictions. This is what we will do.
We will collect data, analyse the trends that emerge and review our situation. We will then - based on the advice of our clinicians – make decisions on whether we can make further changes to our measures, or not. The Council of Ministers would hope to make these decisions on or around the 8th of May – two weeks after the last changes we made.
As we did before the last changes, we will of course ensure that Members of this Honourable Court are briefed as our thinking develops.
For the avoidance of doubt, I am not saying that we will make changes to our measures on the 8th of May. I sincerely hope that we will be able to.
But the Council of Ministers will continue to make decisions based on the best advice available to us. We will be beholden to facts not a date in the diary.
If the data available at the time tells us that we are seeing a resurgence in the spread of the virus then we will not take any further measures that might worsen that.
As the Health & Social Care Minister and I have told this Honourable Court, our approach has to be one of incremental, carefully considered small steps. Gradual. Managed and clinically led.
Whether through debates in this Honourable Court, through technical briefings to Members, through press conferences or the media more generally, Government has done a lot of talking. But we have also been listening.
We have listened carefully to concerns expressed by Honourable Members and members of our public.
Yesterday, the Council of Ministers considered a paper from the Cabinet Office and approved seven changes that I know will be of interest to Honourable Members. Some will require amendments to Regulations that we will bring forward shortly.
The Council of Ministers agreed that:
- We should allow Isle of Man residents who work in roles that are critical for the UK but not necessarily the Island to return to the Island and continue to leave and return to fulfil their role. These people would be required to follow strict protocols to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and would be the subject of a legal direction to self-isolate for 14 days each time they return to the Island.
- We should allow residents that work overseas but in roles that are not critical to the UK to return to the Island but that these people would be required on return to quarantine as per current arrangements for repatriated residents.
- We should allow residents a single opportunity to leave the Island for compassionate reasons but with a requirement on return to quarantine as per current arrangements for repatriated residents.
- We should seek to amend the Regulations to put all maritime search and rescue support available to the Island beyond the scope of the Regulations so that exemptions are not required.
- We should seek to amend Regulations to allow exemption for resident fishers who in the course of their activities in the fishing industry, between leaving and entering the Island, do not enter any other country of territory.
- We should seek to amend Regulations to include a definition of the border to add clarity to when a person is deemed to have entered the Island.
- Council also agreed that as with all response measures to the COVID-19 pandemic, the border closure would remain under frequent review subject to clinical advice and the viral load of the UK.
Council discussed the current repatriation scheme for Isle of Man residents. At this stage, we are not proposing to make any changes. Protecting the Island from the risk posed by the situation in the United Kingdom remains vital.
I would like to reiterate that where returning residents have compelling medical needs, we have been prioritising them for return – as long as the trip itself will not exacerbate their health issues.
Finally, the Council of Ministers considered representations from the public for more granularity in relation to their ability to resume sporting activities. The Council of Ministers was sympathetic to the importance of sport to the mental health of our public during these challenging times. We have requested some additional advice that we will consider later this week. We hope to make decisions before the weekend.
Without wishing to single out any particular sport for praise, I do have to say that we have been impressed by the engagement of the golf fraternity who share our concerns about social-distancing and have developed some interesting ideas on how to handle this.
In conclusion, I would like to reiterate my sincere thanks to you, Honourable Members, and the resourceful, resilient Manx public for getting us this far.
And a statement from me would not be complete without a quotation. I am not sure if Oprah Winfrey has ever been quoted in this ancient Court. But I was struck by the message:
“Do what you need to do until you can do what you want to do”.
We have achieved so much but there remains a lot still to do. And if we do it – and do it together – we can start imagining the future for our Island.
I – and other Ministers – will keep this Honourable Court updated.