The Government has set out its plan to treat COVID-19 as an endemic disease similar to other illnesses such as flu and norovirus, with a target date of 31 March 2022.
A disease is considered endemic where there are persistent, low or moderate levels in the community.
The document, ‘Living with COVID-19 – Moving to an Endemic Approach’, outlines the next steps the Island will look to take in removing the rules and regulations that have been necessary to control the virus over the past two years. It focuses on four key areas where changes will be implemented: borders, community measures, positive cases and contact tracing.
It sets out the conditions that must be present before implementing this approach, which the Government will closely monitor over the next month:
- Health services operating normally
- Vaccines remain available and effective
- No new variant of concern that may lead to serious consequences
- COVID situation on Island is stable
- COVID situation in the British Isles is stable
The Chief Minister Alfred Cannan MHK said:
’Whilst previous plans have focused on the need to control the spread of the virus, the need now is to focus on the future, to ensure that the Island continues to emerge from the pandemic in a safe and carefully considered way.
‘Taking on board advice from Public Health and the latest COVID and vaccination data both locally and internationally, the Council of Ministers feels that the Island is well-placed to move to an endemic approach. This means our community will need to accept that the virus will be here for the long term and that it will be treated in the same way as other communicable diseases such as flu or norovirus.
‘The proposed strategy also highlights that Government will take a step back as society moves further towards normality, but will be prepared to intervene, if necessary.
‘The last two years have been incredibly challenging for our Island, dealing with the unpredictable nature of a pandemic whilst working hard to protect our community. We are able to introduce this new approach thanks to the cooperation and support from Islanders. Over 90% of our population have had two doses and of that, over 70% have now had a booster.
‘Our vaccination programme has put us in a position where we are protecting our critical services, protecting ourselves from developing severe illness, and reducing the spread of infection to others.
‘By not making the change instantly, we are allowing additional time for the vulnerable cohort to get their much needed protection from the vaccine. Whether it is for third doses, boosters or even first doses - I encourage everyone to still take up the offer to get fully vaccinated.
The Chief Minister continued:
‘I want to remind residents that the virus has not gone away and the pandemic is not over yet. The Council of Ministers will closely monitor situation, and if it continues to remain the same we will look to adopt this approach on 31 March.’
Director of Public Health, Dr Henrietta Ewart added:
‘The successful vaccination programme has allowed us to reach this stage and will allow us to pursue further changes going forward. With data now suggesting that the severity of Omicron variant is lower compared to previous variants, that the risk of hospitalisation from Omicron is reduced, as well as the Island’s high vaccine uptake, the risk to public health is considerably reduced.
‘Additionally, the availability of anti-viral treatments means that we have another level of protection and can treat those who are more vulnerable should they get COVID.
‘The current situation in the Isle of Man and the British Isles suggests that we are in a position to change our approach to an endemic one, however I encourage everyone to continue following public health guidance of increased hygiene measures, testing when symptomatic and choosing to have the vaccine when offered.’