There’s has been much said about the spirit of the Manx community over the past five weeks. I too would like to add my commendations to some of the businesses and people in our community.
Some Pubs and restaurants have become food delivery outlets
The Gin distillers have reconfigured their production line to produce much needed hand sanitiser.
Heritage rail staff have stepped up become security guards at Nobles hospital.
We have often said that, as a small Island, we can react fast to events, change legislation quickly and adapt our working patterns.
An excellent example of this is the work that and the staff in my Department – working seamlessly with colleagues from right across government - have put in, to shore up the Island’s defences against this invisible virus.
On 10 March, the Department of Infrastructure was getting ready for summer.
We were preparing for local elections, for the TT, for the opening of the railways and the trams, and of course for the work on the promenade.
Other projects were well advanced- the Isle of Man Ferry Terminal in Liverpool was progressing well. Work to begin to remove the silt from Peel harbour was under way and whilst the work on the Promenade was challenging.... at least no-one was accusing us of working too close together!
On the 11 March the World Health Organisation redefined the Coronavirus outbreak as a pandemic.
The Manx Government reacted quickly and sharply. In a matter of weeks, our borders were shut, local elections cancelled, construction sites and railways closed, only essential travel allowed, a 40 mph Island speed limit introduced and inevitably the TT was called off.
This also marked the first part of our fightback against the virus. The role of my department would be to deliver solutions around infrastructure and logistics and provide the DHSC with what they needed to save lives.
The Hospital required extra capacity, so we transformed the unused parts of the Newlands site into a new 50 bed ward.
Our army of builders, electricians, engineers, craftsmen, caretakers and cleaners swung into action immediately and delivered the first completed bays to the matron in less than 2 weeks.
The ward was fully fitted out to modern hospital requirements and has since helped accommodate patients from Abbotswood on a temporary basis while DHSC – again with support from DOI – deep cleaned Abbotswood and undertook important works to ensure a safe environment.
We knew that the supply of oxygen would be a key weapon in saving lives. However, due to worldwide demand, concerns were raised over supply issues to the Island. You might think that oxygen is all around us and plentiful. But medical grade oxygen has become a sought after commodity. We didn’t want to take any chances.
A number of approaches were considered and the Council of Ministers took the option to build the Island’s own oxygen generation facility. There was huge worldwide demand for this sort of equipment and our hospital estates and engineering teams were able to secure the units we needed, just before other countries grabbed them for their own temporary hospitals. We are commissioning the new plant this week, which we could not have done without first class support from the Island’s private sector businesses and contractors who sent all their staff to help us.
We had help from fabricators who sourced and built a whole new industrial unit. An army of, tradesmen refused to charge extra for weekends and bank holidays. Local businesses and charities lent us valuable equipment for as long as we need it. You all know who you are. We are very grateful.
Some of you may have seen the video of the equipment arriving, in the short film we made. This facility will ensure that we will now be able to deliver oxygen to COVID-19 patients at Noble’s Hospital whatever happens to the supply from the UK.
While this was being built, we worked closely with our bulk oxygen supplier to make sure that their tankers could get to and from the Island quickly and easily. There is a short film of this too- but what it doesn’t show is the incredible support that the Isle of Man Steam Packet and by the Constabulary gave my teams . We have been able to get an oxygen delivery off the boat, unloaded at Nobles and back on the boat within two hours- and the boat has been waiting for the oxygen in both directions to ensure that it makes the sailing. You cannot buy that level of service- it comes free with great people working together to help all of us cope with this virus.
We have all read in the news about the strains being put on NHS supply chains. We acted quickly, converting the NSC into a storage facility and using the vehicles that would have been putting out cones at the TT to distribute vital PPE equipment across nursing and residential homes.
Staff that couldn’t do their normal work due to the lockdown came in to operate the stores and deliver the PPE. Everyone has played a role. I remember that we had a call very late one Friday night and one of our Highways team dropped everything to drive from Ramsey to Douglas –at 40mph of course- to deliver PPE to a care facility that was in need.
I must not forget all those people who have kept working all the usual services that you rely on. There may not be as many passengers but the airports and harbours are operating as normal. We have fewer bus passengers now that buses are for essential journeys but our drivers have kept everyone on the move. Our priority has been supporting DHSC but we haven’t forgotten everyone else.
Looking at all the work that has been done and the efforts that all our staff have made to go the extra mile, it has been first class. We must ensure that we capture what we have learnt about agility, flexibly and cross-government working, and use it in the future.
It wouldn’t be right for me to finish without a few words about the Douglas promenade.
Work will begin again in earnest on the 4th of May. The site and its equipment are being checked and made safe this week. Work on the tramway has started. We have used the time when we were not able to work to think about how best we support the challenges to our economy and particularly how we can help next year’s visitor economy take off.
We will take the opportunity to revise the Prom programme and the scheme. Times are different now, we must accept that the economy and the Island will take time to recover. We now intend to change the way we work and to slightly change what we plan to do so that we can be finished before Easter next year. This will be a challenge but we are working closely with our contractor and are confident that between us we can do it.
As a nation we should be proud of that spirit we have shown in this the greatest emergency that we have seen in peacetime.
However, I also want to thank the people who support the front line behind the scenes - the comms team who make these press conferences work, the legal staff producing the complex emergency legislation, colleagues who have enabled key deliveries and the many many more people in government, in business and in charities who are keeping us all going.
I won’t be the only Minister that stands here this week and says this but I want to finish by honouring every member of my Department and all those who go to work to serve the public and to help our Island.
But I am proud of what DOI has achieved and what we have done to support others achieving their objectives. Thank you everyone, you are a credit to the Island.