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Statement by the Chief Minister on COVID-19 – 25 March 2020

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Our primary objective has been, and will continue to be, the preservation of life.

I have told you that we would take decisions based on:

  • Advice from our clinical and public health professionals
  • The evolving situation on the Island
  • The best interests of the Island.

The situation is changing fast. Not just on the Island but also across in the United Kingdom.  We speak almost hourly to colleagues there. They are ahead of us in the progression of the virus. We have been listening to them and learning from them.  But I need to make clear that we have been making our own decisions.

We are hearing the intense pressure they are under. The National Health Service across the United Kingdom is straining. Our Island is smaller. Our resources are more limited.

Hospitals in the United Kingdom are being overwhelmed. I was shocked to see one of the flagship exhibition centres in London being transformed into an emergency hospital.

Despite the excellent preparations across our own health and social care sectors, we need to accept that there is every likelihood that a moment will come where we are under these same pressures. We will continue to plan and to act. But we will have deaths in our community. Some of us will lose loved ones. We need to brace ourselves for that.

I chaired an emergency meeting of the Council of Ministers this afternoon. We have decided that now is the right moment for us to move to the next stage of our plan. This will broadly mean three things:

  1. Borders

We have already closed our borders to any non-residents. We will now move to extend this to all arrivals.

There will be no commercial flights or light aircraft permitted to land at Ronaldsway Airport beyond the last scheduled flight tomorrow.  The only exceptions will be for emergency medical transportation and the mail flight.

We will also stop all passenger arrivals by boat. This will come into force from the arrival of the Thursday night Ben-My-Chree sailing that is scheduled to arrive at 6am on Friday morning.

We had already indicated that this was imminent and we hope all those who were planning to come home to the Island will have done so.

The only exceptions to these travel restrictions will be a very limited group of people who are necessary for our critical national infrastructure or for the preservation of human life. These people will need prior written approval before they are allowed to travel.

This measure will be in place for an initial period of twenty one days. We will keep this under review in light of the spread of infection on the Island and the situation across in the UK.

Freight will of course continue to come in as normal.

  1. Shops

We have today agreed that from close of business tomorrow (Thursday 26 March) and certainly no later than 23:59 tomorrow - all non-essential shops must close. This includes salons, libraries – essentially all retail spaces where people might gather and spread the virus.

Exceptions to this list will include supermarkets and other food stores, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, pet shops, vets and post offices.  We will publish the exception list shortly.

  1. Enforcing Social Distancing

We have talked in numerous press conference about “breaking the chain”. You have heard from our Director of Nursing, our Medical Director and other medical professionals about the importance of social distancing.

This is the single most effective manner for stopping the spread of the virus. If we change our behaviours, together we can reduce the spread of this cruel and unforgiving virus by 30%.

I want to put this in perspective. According to the latest modelling, if we do not change our behaviour and over the course of five days infect an average of 2.5 people, within thirty days we will have over four hundred new cases.

But if we do charge our behaviour and engage in fifty per cent less contact, we may infect an average of 1.5 people and then over the same thirty day period we could end up with only 15 new cases.

I have been heartened by what I have seen. People have for the most part been respecting the guidance. Shops have stepped up. Thank you.

On shops, I would like to say one additional point. I know that staff in our most essential shops are working extremely hard to support us. Please respect them. Please treat them with the courtesy they deserve.

But we need to do more.  And a small number of people are putting the lives of others at risk. We can no longer allow this to happen.

We will therefore bring forward additional measures.

If you – or anyone in your household – has symptoms, the message is simple. You must stay at home.

If no one in your household has symptoms, then from the end of tomorrow (Thursday) we will require everyone to stay at home except for limited reasons:

  • Shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine. But even this must be as infrequent as possible
  • A brief period of exercise each day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household only
  • Any medical need, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person
  • Moving under 18s between the homes of separated parents;
  • Travelling to and from work, but only where this absolutely cannot be done from home.

We will be bringing in powers to be able to give on the spot fines to people who do not respect these rules on social distancing.

We will not at this stage close popular places for exercise – for example the promenades or the glens. But if we see numbers of people congregating there, we will shut them.

I am very mindful of the need for us all to be able to get some fresh air.  We want to maintain this ability for as long as possible.

But the message here is simple. Yes by all means exercise. But do it apart. Be responsible. Stay away from other people.

And it is not just about you passing on the virus to others. Ask yourself if you want others to infect you and your family.

We can move onto questions in a second. But before we do, I would just like to say a few personal words.

When I came into politics, it was to do the best for the people of Isle of Man. I never thought that I would have to make the decisions that we are currently having to make on a daily basis.

But doing the right thing for our Island remains my commitment to you today.

The Council of Ministers has listened to the clinical experts. We are united in our view that now is the time to take the next step to protect our Island.


Please work with us. Play your part. Stay at home. Save lives in the Isle of Man.