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Infrastructure Minister’s statement on Covid-19 – 14 May 2020

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The way we live and work is going through a period of change.

We are adapting our daily lives and finding ways to manage by being creative, while taking precautions against the life-threatening infection governing behaviour around the world.

Simply going to work is out of bounds for many of us on the Island as the advice remains to work from home, if you can.

For key workers and those employed in sectors which have returned, such as construction, this adaptation is a case of putting in place methods to protect staff, and finding ways to simply get things done.

The work of the Department of Infrastructure has taken place on a range of fronts since the beginning of the crisis in mid-March, and continues to flex to the needs of the community.

The immediate focus – covered during my last appearance at a press briefing – was helping the hospital and creating capacity to ensure the Island’s health services were able to cope.

Our work on this front is largely completed. The new oxygen storage facility is in place. Newlands ward is converted and accommodating patients.

Staff from around the Department were asked to take on new roles – and they rose to the occasion. This included helping to manage the repatriation process, and the safe return of residents under extremely difficult circumstances.

Things are now – gradually – starting to move towards something more recognisable as people return to their usual roles.

But this will continue to be a period of change while we move, step-by-step, from our current Stay Safe status. As a nation we have been successful in getting the virus under some control and we can see a pathway to improve day-to-day living whilst staying safe. The opportunity to spend more time outdoors and for some to return to work has renewed peoples’ optimism and energy. It will be a long time before we return to “normal” but we can now see the road ahead.

For some time to come we will have to keep adjusting to the changing circumstances and rising to the challenges. There will be opportunities in the months ahead and this hiatus has given us all time to reflect on what is important.

I am delighted that from Saturday pleasure craft will be allowed to take to the sea. I am also delighted that the maintenance of Peel Marina has started and the coming months will see water depths increase, securing this wonderful facility for all.

Vessels must be occupied only by members of the same household, if you do set sail from Manx shores please notify the Marine Operations Centre by calling 686628.

This line is available 24 hours a day and applies to any type of vessel, including  canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards. Stay within the three-mile limit and do not stay out for more than four hours. All sailings must take place during daylight.

These criteria are in place to ensure people do not risk putting the emergency services under pressure.

Bus services continue to serve the needs of the Island, and rising passenger numbers mean a new timetable is in place from this week to accommodate social distancing requirements.

Protecting drivers and passengers while supplying this crucial service is the core objective, and we will be working with colleagues in the Department of Education, Sport and Culture to deliver the most appropriate solution when students start to return to schools.  Something we are all looking forward to.

The Douglas Promenade Refurbishment Scheme is back up and running and is working to a revised schedule to have a works-free prom in time for the start of the tourist season 2021.

Construction work is being carried out on a greater scale taking advantage of the fact that a number of Promenade businesses are closed and traffic is light.

Changes over the coming months may include the implementation of a one-way system and junctions being closed. The aim is to stop work before the summer season in March 2021. You will have already noticed that the site is busier than ever.

Promenade Hoteliers and businesses need a clear run at next year’s tourist season, free of any disruption to help them get back on their feet..

Traffic levels remain low around the Island as many people continue to stay or work from home. This together with the temporary all-Island speed limit, has led to a more pleasant environment and safer roads. It has been a delight to see so many people cycling  and walking. People have taken the opportunity to start walking and cycling to work as well as for pleasure. So much so that cycle shops are reporting fantastic demand. 

As a society we need these changes and there’s a reward here which should be  taken We are actively considering ways to support those wishing to make smart decisions and travel actively. These thoughts include allocating more road space to walkers and cyclists.

People are enjoying the 20 mph limit on Douglas Prom and we are considering making it permanent in keeping with the social and enjoyable space we are creating.

The Heritage Trail project has been able to restart and it is providing commuters and families with a beautiful and safe route to walk and cycle. The success of this project along the old rail corridors will be followed this year with work to reinstate and improve the St Johns to Kirk Michael footpath and in Ramsey to improve connectivity through the town and to the schools.    

Our highways Division is busy on a number of fronts and we are actively looking at ways to accelerate maintenance and rehabilitation work. This will not only improve the highway network but also support local businesses and the people they employ.

Vehicle testing has resumed from this week, which will be good news for road safety and it will support car sales when they resume.

How we can enable driving tests to take place safely, while observing social distancing does, however, remains a challenge. Motorcycle tests will be back on line first, and we look forward to taking things forward from there.

Looking beyond our shores, the contractor building the Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool, never stopped working as the UK Government allowed construction to continue.

However, social distancing requirements and supply chain issues have led to unforeseen setbacks which are being managed in collaboration with the Department.

Our borders remain closed to help us Stay Safe. When we do decide to open them, how and when air services will resume remains to be seen but the industry is likely to have changes for a long time to come. Isle of Man Airport continues to perform a vital role, however, in maintaining links for the Patient Transfer Service and freight flights, including deliveries of PPE.

I’d like to pay tribute to our local authorities, for rising to the challenges posed by this difficult period, and maintaining vital services under difficult circumstances. It’s work like this that often gets overlooked and I commend those on the front line that have continued to deliver.

Our bins still get collected, our streets get cleaned and housing needs, particularly for the vulnerable in sheltered accommodation, are met by dedicated colleagues.

In closing, I’d like to thank the community for showing such fortitude in getting us into a strong position and enabling us to move forward with confidence. There is some way to go, but we are winning by working together.

Stay Safe.