This week the coronavirus pandemic (Covid-19) is very much back in the headlines once again after a sharp increase in the number of active cases on the island. On Monday 18 new cases were reported, which brought the total number of active cases on the Isle of Man to 101, but that figure would increase significantly over the course of the week.
On Tuesday a further 30 cases were reported and on Wednesday there was an additional 48 cases which brought the total number of active cases to 182 here on the island. Unfortunately, some of these cases were also from unknown sources, which will give further concern to many island residents.
With Government scrapping the self isolation rules for close contacts of those who recorded a positive test for Covid-19, various locations round the island started to dispatch lateral flow tests.
It is also worth mentioning that around 52,000 residents on the island have received both doses of the Covid vaccine, and that might be one reason why no one is currently being treated in hospital for the virus despite the increase in the actual number of cases, which is welcome news.
As I walked between meetings this week, I can clearly see an increase in the number of people wearing face masks or observing social distancing rules. On a personal level I have continued to observe the 2 metre distance wherever possible since last year, but I only actually realised this on Thursday morning in M & S.
As an island and as community we are at a very difficult juncture at the moment, but it really is down to everyone to take personal responsibility for their own actions. That said, I fully acknowledge that on occasion the right decision just isn’t an option for many individuals and families, especially for those businesses and individuals that are already under extreme pressure from employers, customers and family etc…..
What concerns me is some of the advice being given to individuals, businesses and families at the moment, which I have already reported back to various Ministers this week.
One constituent contacted me this week to explain that they had all the symptoms of Covid-19, along with having two positive lateral flow tests, but the 111 helpline advised that it could take up to four days to obtain a full Covid test, which was a serious concern but understandable given the circumstances this week.
However, what concerned me greatly was the fact that the individual could continue with day to day life, including going to work and shopping etc until a negative or positive test was returned. At this point the individual would receive instruction as to what they should do next….
This particular individual has taken the right course of action, which is to self isolate until the test results have been received. If nothing else this shows that we desperately need to step up the testing process on the Isle of Man and we need a system that can test and release within 24 hours.
In the UK the number of active cases in England continues to grow, but the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson is already looking to publish details of their final road map to unlock Covid-19 restrictions next week, but it did come with a strong warning – not to be demob happy or think it is the end of Covid-19.
If the changes are introduced on or around 19th July, then England will look at removing limits on the size of groups meeting up, the one metre rule, wearing face masks and various other changes.
Our friends and colleagues in Jersey currently have 1,876 active case as reported on Friday morning and they have already announced a further delay in lifting their Covid-19 restrictions once again. The Chief Minister, John Le Fondre also advised island residents that they are expecting around 500 new cases per day next week, which is alarming.
It really does show that this virus will continue to be in our community for the foreseeable future.
As for my own activities this week, on Saturday morning I headed out just after 10am to get some canvassing done for the House of Keys General Election on Thursday 23rd September. I only managed to do around three and half hours, which was mainly due to the heat that was around 26C on Saturday lunchtime.
Some excellent discussions again on the doorstep with constituents, but there was one very difficult discussion with a constituent who gave me both barrels. Other than one particular point, I felt their comments were fair and valid, and for me personally I do genuinely try to help any constituent that contacts me, even those who are from outside the constituency.
On occasion I rely heavily on Onchan District Commissioners or a Government Department to follow something through, and on this occasion it was one of those areas where the local authority has all the powers to take formal action but the matter remained unresolved.
I definitely left the property with my ears still ringing, but once home and changed I headed into the office to collect various bits of paperwork and notes to be able to write formally to the constituent, in order to show that I have continually tried to resolve the issue over the past five years.
I finally finished at around 16.30 on Saturday.
As for Sunday Ellen and I headed out for a walk along the Douglas promenade, which also gave me an opportunity to take a long look at the work being done at the moment. This was after the DOI announced that the finish date had been extended until the end of September, which will again frustrate many businesses on the promenade.
I am sure that a lot of the questions will be raised once the project is finally finished, especially around how certain decisions were reached, the length of time, funding and the reason why the tram tracks didn’t finish at the Sea Terminal as per the Tynwald resolution.
Later on I headed back into the office to get a few things done, but I did manage to take Sunday afternoon off, in order to watch the tennis and the European Football Champion final in which Italy defeated England on penalties to lift the title.
On Monday I was in the office at 6.30am and most of the morning was taken up with next week’s Tynwald sitting, which meant getting through a mountain of reading, along with various bits department work, but I did manage to catch up with a couple of colleagues during the morning.
At 13.00 we had a DfE presentation on the National Broadband Plan, which continues to be rolled out across the island. Unfortunately, the presentation was suddenly halted after the fire alarm went off, so we had to head outside for a fire drill…….
Once the presentation resumed, we received an update on the island’s broadband plan, which confirmed that more than 20,578 properties can apply for a fibre upgrade, which represents around 48.4% of all properties on the island, and we are hoping to get 99% island fibre coverage before the end of 2024.
The Isle of Man was ranked 63rd in the global ranking for average broadband speed in 2019, but we are slowly moving back up the ranking and are currently around 40th.
The aim is for the island to be in the top 10 broadband rankings.
At 15.30 I headed down to the Sea Terminal for an informal department meeting, which gave the political members an opportunity to discuss and raise questions on the latest update involving the Douglas Promenade scheme, along with the Pulrose Bridge project that will be affecting traffic in the area for the foreseeable future.
I finally got home for around 18.00, but any spare time during the day or in the evening at the moment is spent working on the election, which involves a lot of reading and drafting notes, and that is before I even consider writing my manifesto that will be getting delivered to Onchan Constituents in September.
I finally finished for round 21.00.
Tuesday was another day that was spent mainly in the office working on the Tynwald order paper, but again any spare time was spent on the election, which will be the main focus of attention as we head into August and September.
Two constituents called into the office to see me on Tuesday morning, one related to the level of traffic in Onchan at the moment and the behaviour of drivers generally on the island. The second meeting related to a business that was looking to see what grants and support might be available via DfE.
At 12 noon there was a DOI presentation to the Tynwald members on 20mph speed limits, which looked at the Tynwald motion from October 2020 that asked for 20mph default speed limit in residential areas.
Although I am in DOI as a department member I have to say it was a difficult presentation, and listening to some of my colleagues I think most of us would agree that the direction being taken by DOI appears to be back to front.
The recent Tynwald resolution asked for a default 20mph in residential areas, which means that the department only needs to explain why certain roads have to remain at 30mph or higher – and not the other way round.
For me the funniest part of the whole presentation was when one officer said that Onchan was to be recorded and seen as part of Douglas, which was, quite rightly, greeted by a large gasp from Tynwald Members.
Hopefully, that particular error will be corrected as a matter of urgency.
The rest of the afternoon was spent in the office and on Tuesday evening I went through the DfE agenda pack, which took a couple of hours but I did manage to finish for around 20.30.
Wednesday had a normal feel about it, I was in the office before 8am to get a few jobs done, before walking over to DfE for the Minister and Political Members catch up. This was followed by the Agency Chair update and the department meeting, which didn’t finish until around 12.30.
A number of missed calls from constituents, which related to the number of active cases of Covid-19 on the island, how to obtain lateral flow tests, and some general help and advice regarding the self isolation rules, which are confusing a lot of people – myself included at times.
At 14.00 there was a hustings for the President of Tynwald election that will take place next week. I think only 9 or 10 members went to the meeting, which I think was down to the very short notice given.
Unfortunately, for me I already had a meeting scheduled at the Sea Terminal relating to the promenade, which I felt was more important especially when the the department had just announced a further delay to the finish date.
Again, a robust meeting as we continue to push to get this project finished as quickly as possible. Back to the office to get a few things done, before going up to the Barrool Suite for a final farewell drink with the President of Tynwald Steve Rodan.
It was only a short stop for me as I needed to be in Ramsey before 20.00, in order to play the final league snooker match of the season. Definitely my worst season by a country mile, I have played so so poorly throughout the season.
On Thursday I was able to take a few hours off in the morning, so I headed into M & S at 8am to buy some shirts and shopping. Once home I was able to continue working on the Tynwald order paper, which has a lot of reading material this month.
At 13.00 I dialled into a Tynwald Members presentation given by Deborah McMillan who is the Children’s Commissioner in Jersey. It was such a shame that only a few Tynwald Members joined the meeting, which was organised by my colleague Daphne Caine, MHK.
During the meeting Deborah gave an overview of the role of the Children’s Champion in Jersey, which is an independent role that helps promote and protect children and young people’s rights.
It really was a fascinating discussion, and as the current Children’s Champion on the Isle of Man I fully support the next administration appointing a Children’s Commissioner on the island.
The rest of the afternoon spent either on the phone or continuing to work on the Tynwald order papers, but Ellen and I did manage to get out for a walk on such a lovely evening.
The Isle of Man has definitely been blessed with some wonderful weather over the next week or so.
I did also tune in to the latest media briefing at 16.00, which gave the Chief Minister, the Health Minister and Education Minister an opportunity to answer various questions and concerns.
At the media briefing it was confirmed that the island had 115 new cases of Covid-19, which brought the total on island to 298, but again no hospital admissions.
As for Friday it was a full day in the office continuing to go through the Tynwald sitting next week, which will go into three days, along with a few department papers, along with dialling into a Manx Care presentation at lunchtime.
I also continued to take various calls throughout the day, but overall not the most stressful day in the role.
We end the week with confirmation of a further 28 new cases of Covid-19 on the island, which brings the total up to 326, which is concerning.
Before signing off this week I think it best that mention that after 268 weekly blogs, which I started way back in July 2016, I have just two more weekly instalments to publish before signing off for the final time….
If I am very fortunate enough to be re-elected to the House of Key on 23rd September, then I will look at doing something else – possibly even an “Inside Politics” type blog that would look at how certain decisions are reached etc. It definitely won’t be a weekly diary because I think most people who have followed my own journey over the past five years now have a better understanding of the work undertaken by some MHKs.