Yesterday we reached the milestone of seventy days without any new cases of COVID-19 here in the Isle of Man.
As days with no new cases turned into weeks, hope and confidence grew that we had turned the tide on the virus. Acting on the evidence, Government responded accordingly, easing restrictions, which enabled many aspects of Island life to return to normal – albeit with heavy hearts, ever mindful of those we have lost to this horrible disease.
The economic shock of COVID-19 continues to be felt – both globally and closer to home.
I am acutely aware that there has – and continues to be – hardship as a result of the pandemic. We know that unemployment has increased and that some sectors are struggling. The truth is, there remain challenges as we seek to restore the prosperity of our Island for all.
As a Government we are not complacent nor dismissive of those who continue to experience the economic impact of COVID-19. We are working with focus and determination to minimise the effects of coronavirus on our economy wherever we reasonably can. And we are ready to adapt to the changing circumstances around us and to seek out and seize new opportunities.
As I mentioned at last week’s briefing, following the Budget Update by the Treasury Minister, this work is being led by the newly established Economic Recovery Group, which reports directly to the Council of Ministers.
The group will be working throughout the summer and beyond, with the backing of a new one hundred million pound Economic Recovery Fund.
Despite the challenges that remain, we must not forget that our collective, gritted determination to battle the spread of COVID-19 on our Island has put us in a strong and enviable position.
As we slide back into our routines, it is perhaps easy to occasionally forget where we have come from in such a short space of time and all that we have achieved, together.
People are back at work; our streets, restaurants and bars are bustling again; pupils and students were able to return to schools and college before the summer break; social distancing has ended; shops are open, as are leisure facilities; friends and families are able to once again see each other; and we can invite people into our homes.
The only aspect of life which has not returned to normal is our borders.
Our borders framework has enabled us to create a Manx bubble, which in addition to lock-down, self-isolation, social distancing, track and trace, and good hand and respiratory hygiene, allowed us to achieve local elimination of COVID-19 in the Isle of Man.
For now, living with border restrictions is our new normal. We will transition through the five levels of border control, depending on the situation around us.
We can already see this in action with our air bridge to Guernsey, which has been possible because of local elimination of the virus in the Isle of Man and in Guernsey. I understand the flights to and from our respective islands have proven very popular; indeed two new return flights have been added to the schedule to meet demand. To those visiting our shores I hope you enjoy your time on our beautiful Island. Likewise to those taking a trip to Guernsey, I hope you have a pleasant break.
That situation continues to evolve, both in terms of our immediate neighbours in the British Isles and further afield. There has been much talk this week of a second wave in mainland Europe. We have seen restrictions brought back in for those traveling home to the UK from Spain, and those returning from other European countries experiencing a spike may face similar restrictions.
It reminds us that as life – both here and further afield – returns to normal, vigilance must be our watchword. This pandemic is, sadly, far from over.
But as the situation with our near neighbours continues to evolve, so will our approach, where it is safe to do so and where the decision is right for our Island.
At today’s meeting of Council of Ministers it was agreed that Government would work on building capability and capacity in order to potentially introduce a seven day self-isolation and testing regime. I must stress that any date for introducing the change will be dependent upon infection rates in the UK and other jurisdictions. It is currently proposed that this will be further reviewed at the end of August.
As you can see, work continues behind the scenes and we will continue to follow the science as our collective knowledge of this virus grows.
My job as Chief Minister and that of my colleagues in the Council of Ministers is to protect you: our Island and our people.
I believe the measures we have in place: border controls and strict self-isolation for those returning to our Island, provides the right balance to ensure the safety of our community without jeopardising everything you and everyone on our Island have worked so hard to achieve – our return to normality.
So – for now we have a status quo. Some pain, yes, but for a great deal of gain.
Our borders remain on level four: that means you can make journeys off-Island and further afield, but must undertake a two week period of self-isolation on return. In terms of non-residents coming to our shores, only those with an exemption for specific reasons – such as essential workers or on compassionate grounds – will be able to come here and, when they do, they must adhere to strict safeguards and restrictions.
This status quo and our return to normality means there is increasingly less and less to tell you at these briefings.
That is why they have evolved, moving from sometimes being twice daily, to once a day, to every weekday, twice weekly and now just weekly.
I judge this to be a positive development. The uncertainty, the concern, the clamour for new information has waned as life has transitioned back to normality.
No Chief Minister would wish to find themselves in the situation that necessitated these briefings.
I believe they have been fundamental in keeping you up to date and informed, and have allowed us to come together as a community. They have been a vitally important platform from which to advise, inform, reassure and, importantly, be held to account.
But with the vast majority of restrictions lifted, and a prolonged and sustained period of no new cases, it seems an appropriate juncture to consider how we approach keeping you up to date.
Upon careful consideration, the decision has been taken that today’s coronavirus briefing will be the last for the time being.
We will – of course – continue to issue reminders on key advice and updates through Government’s social media channels, by working with the Island’s news outlets and, where appropriate, through advertisements.
Should there be a change in our situation, you can be assured that our approach to communication will flex accordingly.
So I say again: vigilance must be our watch word.
Throughout this, you, the Manx people have been the frontline in the battle against COVID-19. Your actions and your behaviours have been crucial. You have made all the difference and you are the reason we are where we are today. Eliminating the virus has been hard won, it has come at great cost and it has required sacrifice. We all have a responsibility to hold the line.
So please, continue to:
Wash your hands, regularly and thoroughly, with soap and hot water for at least twenty seconds; or use hand sanitiser
If you sneeze or cough, catch it in a tissue or your elbow.
If you have any one of the symptoms of COVID-19 please call 111 and get tested – making sure you self-isolate until you receive your result, even if you’re feeling better.
If you travel off-Island, take extra care and precautions and, when you return, make sure you self-isolate – no exceptions.
These basics could make all the difference between remaining free of the virus and a return to restrictions on our lives.
We must not become complacent or let fatigue set in. We are a strong and caring community that has not been cowed by this virus. What we have achieved together is truly remarkable, let’s continue to protect each other and our Island.
Before I go, I would like to thank the media who have attended these briefings and asked questions throughout, often on the public’s behalf.
And finally, my thanks to you, the great Manx public. Thank you for tuning in and taking the time to watch, listen and ask questions.
That’s all we’ve got time for, so it’s goodbye from me.