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Minister Ashford's statement on COVID-19 - 27 May 2020

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Good afternoon everyone,

It is great to be speaking to you here on what has been a beautiful day on our Island.  

Last week, we heard from Margaret Knight, the head of our Infection Prevention & Control team. This evening, I am very pleased to be joined by Doctor Duncan Gerry who is our Consultant Geriatrician.  

Before we turn to Doctor Gerry, I should give you today’s statistics.

Before I ask Doctor Gerry to update us on his work, I would like to pick up on something that has been discussed a little on social media. In yesterday’s statistics, we said that the number of people waiting for tests was twenty four.  

The eagle eyed among you picked up the fact that this was much higher than the usual daily figure. I know it caused some puzzlement. Some people were worried that we may have been about to announce new confirmed cases.  

There is a much simpler explanation. And in fact a good news story. As the Chief Minister mentioned last week, and as we heard from Doctor Gregor Pedden on Friday, because you have done such a great job of suppressing the spread of the virus, the number of calls to our COVID-111 line are now at a much lower level.  

Because of this, and because we established our own testing facility on-Island, we found ourselves with spare capacity. The Department of Health & Social Care looked at how we could put this capacity to best use.  We decided to offer weekly tests to those key who work with the vulnerable or in direct one on one contact.  

At the moment, this includes those working in care and residential home settings, supported living and voluntary sector partners in those fields.  It will also include prison and police officers.  

I am delighted we have been able to offer this to our frontline workers. We will review each week to see how demands looks. If we are able to widen the categories that this is available to, then we will. We will of course want to ensure that we maintain a certain capacity to deal with needs at the hospital or referrals from COVID-111.  

This takes me nicely to Doctor Gerry. 

Our testing strategy – along with the tracing and self-isolation process that follows where there’s been a positive case - is one part of our success story.  

Preventing the spread of infection - in society generally and among vulnerable groups in particular - has also been crucial in preventing a spike in cases and a surge of demand on the hospital.   

One important task in this area has been to offer proactive assistance to residential homes, so they can become, and remain, resilient to coronavirus. Beefing-up that resilience has been the job of a special task force we set up some weeks ago.  

Like other initiatives across government during this crisis, we’ve drawn on the expertise, commitment, local knowledge and insights of our own professionals and subject experts.  

I’m very pleased to welcome to the briefing today our Consultant Geriatrician Dr Duncan Gerry, who will tell us more about the team and the challenge it’s taken on.

Thank you Dr Gerry and thanks to your team for all you do. A great demonstration of agile work across disciplines in this challenging times.  

As I mentioned in the statistics, we again today have no confirmed cases. This is of course wonderful news. It gives us plenty of cause for optimism.  

And it is not just us. The situation in the United Kingdom is steadily improving. They now appear to be past their peak and starting their exit. It was also encouraging to see that in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland there were no reported deaths yesterday.  

I know people will be tired of me saying this, but we must not be complacent. Even though we now have so few active cases, we still have to assume – for the moment at least – that the virus is still present in our community.  

Why do I say this? Well when we have conducted the contact tracing after the last few confirmed cases, they has been no obvious link to another known case. They have to have come from somewhere. It is not Immaculate Contagion.  

We have to remember that a significant proportion of people who contract the virus only show very light symptoms that they may ignore or write off as something else. Others can show no symptoms at all.  

This is why we need to keep focussing on the basics that have had such an impact. Hand washing and all the rest. And for the moment at least, we have to ask you to keep your distance from others. 

Even as we try every day to give you back more of your lives, we will continue to share with you the best guidance we can. Less and less it will be laws. More and more it will be guidance for you to make the decisions that best fit your circumstances.  

A great example of this is how our businesses are responding to need for social distancing. Yesterday in Tynwald, the Chief Minister laid down the challenge. He said that businesses – and here we mean all business including office based – were best placed to decide how to ensure they were providing a safe space for customers and their employees. We will lay out the standards and they can work out how to make their business fit this. 

I saw an excellent example yesterday of how we are working together to make this work. The Isle of Man Chamber of Commerce conducted a webinar for the Hair and Beauty sector on how to safely return to work. They were joined by the Head of our Business Agency and our Director of Public Health.  For anyone that missed it, there is a recording of the webcast – on the Chamber’s website. I am grateful to the Chamber for stepping up.  

This is the model we want to replicate more and more. We are not going to meddle. We will be there to support and advise. And if necessarily to step in and take action if we feel companies are putting people’s health at risk.  

As we continue to step out of your lives, we need you to step up and take more responsibility. You will hear that more and more from us. Maybe as often as you hear 'baby steps' from me.  

I will now take questions.

Thank you.  

I will do some shout outs today.  

First, Fran Caley from the Cronk y Berry Hub School has been nominated by a number of colleagues for her tireless work to support teachers, parents and pupils in accessing online learning.  Fran has gone above and beyond in ensuring a smooth transition to support students with learning from home and has offered support to colleagues across the Island. 

Second, we’ve had a request from a number of teachers for a thank you to the cleaning and caretaking staff across all of the Island's hub schools. The nomination says:

'We couldn’t teach if these dedicated colleagues didn’t provide safe, clean spaces for us and the children.' 

Third, Alison and Steve Taylor run the Drop-Inn charity shops and Renew Wellbeing groups in Ramsey and Jurby. They've been busy baking goodies and making cards which they drop off - socially distanced - at people's homes.  The person making the nomination says:

'I've had homemade shortbread, scones - with jam and cream - and brownies delivered. All were made at Alison and Steve's own expense which they deliver around the north of the Island. It's the little things like this that really make a difference and is very much appreciated. They don't make a big fuss, they just decided to do something for our community.'

All being well, the Chief Minister will be back with you tomorrow to brief you on COVID-related discussions at the Council of Ministers.  

Until then, please keep on doing what you have been doing so well.  It is making a huge difference.  

Make the right decisions for you, your family and your Island. Stay safe.