Good afternoon and I hope you have had a good Bank Holiday weekend.
I would like to start today by going through the latest figures;
- The total number of tests undertaken is 4,569
- We have had 4,544 tests returned
- Which means there are 25 outstanding
- Today we have no new cases
- The number of confirmed cases remains at 336
- There are now 7 total active cases
It now seems surreal that on December 31 last year, China alerted the World Health Organisation to several cases of an unusual pneumonia in Wuhan. The virus was then unknown. As we came into a new decade with hope a threat emerged that would challenge the world. Governments have always prepared for pandemics, were aware of the lives lost due to the Spanish Flu outbreak on the 1920s but COVID-19 has served as a stark reminder about how vulnerable an interconnected world is and the importance of coordinated action by governments and health services to preserve life.
Due to your efforts we have got past the peak and the number of cases of coronavirus has been supressed. We have now gone for weeks with few if any new cases each day. People have recovered and left hospital and our island is now in a much better place than even two weeks ago.
This has been at a cost to many, and we must never forget those of our community we have lost and those who have been left unable to grieve properly.
Whilst isolated, the people of our island have worked together during the darkest times. Volunteers, care, compassion, invention and bravery have all made me immensely proud to call this island my home.
People have valued outdoor exercise. Reclaimed the streets on their bicycles and started to really consider where the food on their plate comes from. We need to bank these positives and make sure we can at least take some good out of all the loss we have gone through.
We must ensure that active travel is an intrinsic part of the new normal.
This island has always been a sporting nation.
And it has always been inclusive, with anyone being able to participate in a range of activities to suit them. With the announcement last week of a relaxation of the guidelines on gatherings all sports governing bodies have been sent information to help those involved in the management, planning and organisation of outdoor sports to start a safe return.
Indoor sports facilities will remain closed at this time but football pitches, rugby grounds, sports tracks and courts can re-open.
There are still restrictions. No more than 10 people can be in a distinct area or venue, social distancing must be maintained, sharing of equipment must be minimised and hygiene measures emphasised with changing rooms remaining closed.
I would like to praise the Isle of Man Football Association and a range of other clubs who have been inventive, already carried out risk assessments and who plan to run outdoor training sessions and coaching. Sports like tennis, golf, bowls, athletics, and cricket to have already started to reengage with their existing members and are planning to attract new people to join them.
Controlled outdoor exercise sessions and classes can re-start but please make sure you have permission from the venue you are intending to use.
Water sports and fishing have re-started. As we start the summer now might be the time to try something different and take up a sport or pastime you have always been interested in.
Christian Varley has shown what elite athletes can achieve with willpower and sheer determination. But if you have to stay at home maybe because someone in your household has symptoms or because you have an underlying health problem and need to shield there are a huge range of online classes on everything from fitness, to yoga and Pilates to help you improve your own health and wellbeing.
We know that sport is more than just fitness. It helps us mentally and connects us to our island and each other. I believe we need that connection now more than ever.
Culture also connects us. Although performances have been cancelled and rescheduled the Arts Council have gone online to show how Manx culture lives on in our living rooms and gardens. Performers are being supported and I hope that our streets will soon have buskers back and outdoor performances to lift our spirits and make us smile.
Although the Gaiety Theatre has closed its doors for a while, the memories of its 120 years live on and are being shared. People can share a written memory on the Gaiety Theatre's website or email an audio or video memory to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Villa Gaiety team are also appealing for anyone with pictures, programmes or memorabilia to get in touch with plans to create a gallery as part of their anniversary celebrations in July.
And artists are working to create ways of documenting what we are presently going through and the effects it has on all of our community.
As we move forward more children are attending nursery and child minders who have been excellent in adapting to new hygiene standards to ensure the safety of children left in their care. Preschool providers have continued to support working families and I thank them for this.
One of the building blocks of our community are its schools. Since most of these closed two months ago teachers have been working to look after those children who most need to be in school. They have gradually expanded the hub schools to take in more children and allow more parents to return to work.
Head teachers have been leading the way in developing online learning but this can be challenging especially for primary school pupils. They have used resources such as video lessons produced by the Oak National Academy in England and those produced by the BBC to supplement bespoke home learning.
And yet teaching is much more than setting course work and marking tests. Teachers are missing the interaction with their pupils and are aware of some who are not engaging with them fully.
There is a new found appreciation of the value of schools and our education services.
Parents are also more than aware of the lack of social interaction and personal development that school closure has imposed and many are struggling to work full time from home and try and supervise and support their children through this difficult period. I have had many message s from them and your voice is being heard.
We cannot let our children’s education continue to suffer and lets some fall through the cracks whilst we try and repair our nation.
That is why I am proposing we bring our children back to school in a gradual and organised way.
There is a growing body of scientific evidence that children and young people are at low risk of the catching the disease, if they do get it have a much milder illness, are not super spreaders, and that schools can be reopened with modifications without significantly risking the health of pupils, staff or the wider community.
Over the past few weeks head teachers have been working closely with the Department to look at their schools and carry out detailed risk assessments. They have been aided by visits from the Health and Safety teams and literally walked around their school to put together plans, systems and routines that will allow numbers at schools to expand whilst maintain safety and the confidence of parents.
I would like to thank the Director of Public Health for her personal help in speaking and advising teachers on the risks and opportunities available to them. The Department have ordered 100 hand washing stations to be distributed around schools and bespoke plans are now in place for the next phase.
After half term, on Monday 15 June all schools will reopen and after two days of extra preparations all the children who are already being taught in one of the hubs and their teachers will return to their own schools.
The Department is currently working with all sectors of Government to perfect plans for catering, cleaning, support staff, transport and testing capacity so that we can further reclaim our schools.
Over the next week I will be discussing further plans to allow the key year groups to return to their schools. We will need to ensure we have the right facilities and sufficient staff to re-start face to face teaching and prioritise educational need.
But for those pupils and staff who still need to remain at home we need to further engage in remote learning and offer enhanced support and reassurance.
Teachers have had to respond to a rapidly changing situation with creativity, supporting those pupils still in school and using online teaching and more traditional paper based resources for those at home. Online learning with real time lessons using IT platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been piloted by some but have problems in terms of access. The Department will continue to work with and support more schools in further developing this approach.
As the Chief Minister has said, we need to put our best foot forward. Over the next weeks we, as an educational service need to examine how we move forward without leaving anyone behind. We will need to look at how we can let pupils catch up so they are ready for the start of the next term. This may involve providing summer schools and camps by engaging with local communities and using the potential of teachers and volunteers.
This health emergency has proved to be a wakeup call for the value of education. For the importance of our teachers and the role they play in our society but also that we can do, and should do more to ensure that all the children on our island have the chance to reach their full potential and achieve the future that they dream of for themselves.