Good afternoon everyone and thank you for joining us.
The Chief Minister is engaged in other duties this afternoon, so he has asked me to lead today’s briefing. I am pleased to be joined at the podium by the Minister for Education, Sport and Culture Dr Alex Allinson and our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart.
On Monday, the Island took another step in our journey back to normality, with the further easing of our border restrictions. For the first time since March last year, non- residents without a connection to the Island are able to visit the Isle of Man through the ‘No Test and No Isolation’ pathway.
Restrictions remain in place, of course, but this latest easing of our border restrictions and the new pathway means that people who meet three criteria are eligible to apply for an exemption to visit the Island on the grounds of being fully vaccinated. This means they will not need to isolate or have a test when they arrived.
Firstly: you must be travelling to the Island from the Common Travel Area – that’s the UK, Ireland and the Channel Islands.
Secondly: you must be fully vaccinated, meaning you have had two doses of an approved vaccine that was administered within the Common Travel Area.
Thirdly: two weeks must have passed since your second dose by the time you arrive on the Island.
Since the new regulations came into effect on Monday there have been more than 4,500 applications. That number will only increase over the coming days and weeks.
Just over 600 people arrived on the Island on Monday, when the vaccination exemption came into effect, followed by 358 on Tuesday and 552 yesterday.
More than 1,000 people are expected to arrive today, ahead of the bank holiday weekend.
I understand the process at both our sea and air ports is working well. Officers on duty to assist travellers who may not have their paperwork fully in order are doing a great job in keeping people moving.
The Travel Notification Service is seeing increased demand in terms of phone calls and emails however, and anyone wishing to make an enquiry is being encouraged to read the information and conditions which are online before making contact.
This is a new system, and these applications take time to process. Given the numbers, we are aiming for an average turn-around time of 48 hours. The uptake is welcome and encouraging – but it’s important that everyone understands the team is working hard to get through the applications as swiftly as possible. Please be patient.
We’ll look at the vaccination programme shortly, but first let’s hand over to our Director of Public Health Dr Henrietta Ewart for an update:
Thank you Dr Ewart. And I emphasise that people MUST stay at home if they have symptoms and call 111. That includes while waiting for tests and results – and also applies even if you’re fully vaccinated.
This also applies to people on the No Isolation and No Test Pathway. Test and isolation is waived at the border, but it still applies if someone develops symptoms.
In line with the changes to the borders that came into effect on Monday, Manx Care are reminding all travellers - residents and non-residents who arrive in the Island on any of the pathways – they must not attend any health and care settings for the first 10 days after their arrival, unless for emergency medical care or by prior authorisation.
This applies to all Manx Care facilities including care homes, GP practices, hospitals and residential homes.
However, there is an important caveat to that 10 day restriction on visiting health and care settings, forthose who have vaccination appointments.
Returning residents who have a first or second COVID- 19 vaccination booked within the first ten days of their arrival can now attend their appointmentso long as they follow the correct guidance depending on their travel pathway:
- Those who enter the Island from travel within the Common Travel Area (UK, Jersey, Guernsey or Ireland) on the ‘Test to Release’ pathway will be permitted to enter a vaccination hub after a negative COVID test within 48-hours of their arrival. They should call 111 first in order to arrange formal permission to attend the Vaccination Hub.
- Those who enter the Island having travelled from outside the Common Travel Area (UK, Jersey, Guernsey and Ireland) on the ‘7-Day’ pathway must first receive a negative COVID test within 48 hours of arrival, and then a subsequent negative test on Day Six. After this, they should call 111 in order to arrange formal permission to attend the Vaccination Hub.
Please come to the vaccination hub unaccompanied, or if you need someone with you, that should be someone who has not arrived on Island within the last 10 days.
And face coverings must be worn when entering and throughout the period you are within the vaccine hub. We hope this will make it easier for residents who have to go away and not have to worry about their appointment being in the first 10 days of their return.
This will also help the bookings team and reduce any waste of vaccine.
It is important to emphasise that people entering the Island must follow the direction notice they are issued and to follow the rules.
I am also hearing reports that people who are booked in to receive their COVID test through the pathways are turning up to the testing centre early, in some cases 2 or 3 hours before their appointments, which is causing massive delays. This is due to people believing that if they get tested earlier they may get their results earlier and in the case of ‘test to release’, be released earlier. However, this is not the case as results are sent off in large batches, normally around 400 and so turning up early does not mean you will get your results any quicker.
The 111 team have booked people in for their appointments accordingly so please only turn up at your booked slot as otherwise it simply causes delay and disruption for others. It is important to remember that although results are generally returned within 24 hours it can take up to 48hrs for results to be returned, so please don’t chase 111 within that time for your result.
I am now going to hand over to Minister Allinson for an update on the current COVID-19 cases in schools and the mitigations which have been put in place:
It is clear that we do have some transmission of the virus in the community. Therefore it is important that we all do our part and monitor any symptoms that could be related to COVID-19. This also applies to those who are visiting the Island under the ‘No Test and Isolation’ pathway. Anyone who develops any sort of symptom is asked to isolate and call 111. Remember, ‘don’t guess, get a test’.
But as we have always been clear, it was ‘when’ not ‘if’ the virus would return. We must now adapt to live with the virus as part of our lives. This means being less concerned with case numbers. Our vaccination programme is breaking the link between having the virus and being seriously ill with it.
On that note, turning to our vaccination programme. The Island’s vaccination rollout is continuing at pace, and last week saw the programme administering its 100,000th vaccine into the arm of James Redmond – a huge milestone that is down to the incredibly hard working teams involved.
This afternoon we have completed 63,241 first dose vaccines and 43,625 second doses, meaning we have now vaccinated 87% of the adult population and 60% have received their second dose.
Having more than half of the adult population vaccinated with the full course is a huge achievement, helping prevent people becoming seriously ill with the virus or needing hospital care. More widely, this level of immunity adds to our community’s defence against the Delta variant which is extremely important.
I would urge all residents who are awaiting their second dose to please attend their appointment. Both doses are needed for full protection against the virus. Additionally, Public Health England studies have shown that two doses of the vaccine are highly effective against hospitalisation from the Delta variant. Having it makes sense! Our rollout has gone very well so far but I must emphasise the importance of attending your second appointment.
I am aware that some individuals may be concerned that they will experience side effects after both the first and second dose, but people should not worry as these are usually relatively minor and in most cases are much less severe than suffering from COVID-19 itself and the risk of potential long term health implications from having the virus.
We are nearing the end of this stage of the vaccination programme, and therefore I encourage those who are yet to register for the vaccine to please come forward. The vaccination is our way out of the pandemic and the best way to protect yourself, your family and the community. The vaccination teams are working extremely hard to book all residents in to receive their jab so it is vital that you attend your appointment at the right time and date.
If you can't make an appointment, please ring 111 to let the team know - please don't be a ‘no show’ as this results in vaccine being wasted. Those who miss appointments risk their first dose being delayed and being moved to the back of the programme.
This Sunday will see the closure of the airport hub as we head towards the end of the current vaccination programme.
In line with the border changes, the airport is already starting to see an increase in traffic so plans are in place to close this hub as the airport returns to its primary function. Since it opened on 28 January, nearly 30,000 vaccines have been administered at the airport, which is a credit to the incredible and hard-working team who’ve have worked at weekends to get jabs into the arms of our community.
Individuals who were originally booked in to receive their jab at the airport on Saturday 10 and Sunday 11 July, and Saturday 17 and Sunday 18 July are reminded that their appointment will now take place at Chester Street in Douglas. All appointments will be on the same day at the same time, just in the new location.
Many of you would’ve seen the announcement from the UK JCVI last night in regards to the COVID vaccination booster programme. The Isle of Man’s programme will follow the guidance of the JCVI, however this is only interim advice currently and so more will be announced when we receive further information.
Finally, before turning to questions from the media, I would like to talk about the NHS app.
I believe there has been some confusion around the use of the NHS app. This partnership with UK NHS for the COVID vaccine certification is designed to be used by Isle of Man residents for overseas travel as it will be internationally recognised. Currently, work is still ongoing to arrange for the app ability to be ‘switched on’ for Isle of Man residents. We are optimistic it will be done shortly.
However, it is important to note that this will not hinder anyone’s ability to apply for their vaccination exemption should they wish to travel back to the Isle of Man. There are various ways people can prove their status, including the vaccine record card given to you when you had your vaccinations.
There is plenty of information on this on the government COVID website under travel and borders.
It is important that individuals do not contact their GP for a vaccination letter as they will not be able to provide one. The official vaccination status certification is being provided through the UK NHS app or a hard copy vaccination certificate – this is not yet available, but much work is going on to have our patient data transferred so that it will appear on the app.
We are getting reports of GP phone lines being clogged with people constantly ringing to ask for a letter or about the app, meaning patients who are ill aren’t able to get through for medical reasons.
That is all for today. We will continue to review the position, here and elsewhere, and we fully intend keeping everyone updated if there is any news.