Blog 21 Mar 21At midnight on 3rd March 2021 the Isle of Man entered into its second “Circuit Break” or third “National Lockdown” due to Covid-19 since March 2020. The latest lockdown was meant to be for a period of three weeks. However, after the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 on the Isle of Man reached 847, with 14 people in hospital by Monday afternoon, the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK confirmed that the latest circuit break would be extended by a further week until Wednesday 31st March 2021.

I guess the announcement came as no surprise to many residents given the sudden increase in the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 over the past 14 days, especially relating to the number of admissions into Nobles Hospital, which is a concern for us all.

Unfortunately, during the Friday media briefing the Chief Minister confirmed that the island’s circuit break would be extended by a further seven days until Tuesday 6th April 2021, which will put additional strain on many businesses and further financial pressure on so many families across the island at the moment – and it is before even looking at some of the mental health issues that island residents are suffering as a result of Covid-19.

At the heart of these decisions is the fact that the island is still getting a high number of “unexplained” cases of Covid-19, which is very surprising during the second week of a national lockdown. Unfortunately, this means that the messaging around “Stay at Home, Only Leave for Essential Shopping Trips, Exercise or Emergencies” is simply not working on this occasion.

Given the financial pressures that I have already mentioned on so many businesses’ and families’ budgets, I am not entirely surprised that some people are choosing to ignore the advice. However, the message is a simple one: the quicker we remove these unexplained Covid-19 cases from the island, the quicker this island will come out of the current circuit breaker and we can all get on with our lives…

I will give the latest vaccination figures in a moment, but it was good to see the Lieutenant Governor Sir Richard Gozney having his first vaccination against Covid-19 on Monday at the Chester Street Hub in Douglas, and hopefully I will be getting my letter towards the end of April 2021.

More on Covid-19 in a moment…

With so much happening over the past 14 days, I totally forgot to mention that my post last weekend was in fact my 250th Blog. I posted my first entry on 1st July 2016 and over the past five years it has been my pleasure to share this incredible journey with others. This included going through the actual election process when standing for the House of Keys, events leading up to Election Day, and then finally serving as a Member of the House of Keys over the past five years on behalf of the people of Onchan and the wider Manx Community.

It might only be my opinion, my journey and my view as a Member of the House of Keys, but I have really enjoyed sharing many of my highs and lows along the way, but more importantly giving a genuine and accurate insight into my work as an MHK on your behalf, which has been a privilege.

Having written more than 350,000 words over the past five years I am looking forward to drafting my final entry in a few weeks’ time. All of my blogs are available via my website (www.robcallister.im), and I hope to get an opportunity in the future to read a couple, in order to reflect on the past five years, which has been a period of so much uncertainty for the Isle of Man, with Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic to name just a couple of the major hurdles that we have had to overcome since September 2016.

Anyway, let’s move on – very little to report from last weekend. A lot of time was spent on the Tynwald Order Paper and catching up with various bits of administration, but I was able to switch off for a few hours along the way.

I had an early start on Monday as I needed to get a few things done before my first meeting that started just before 8am with Glenys Johnston who is the Independent Chair of the Isle of Man Safeguarding Board. It was also our last meeting before Glenys retires from her current role, and I take this opportunity to wish her well for the future.

I then had a brief OFT and DEFA meeting relating to the Competition Bill 2020 that will finally go through its clauses stage in the House of Keys next week, but again this legislation has been difficult to get right.

At 9.30am we had the latest Tynwald Members briefing that again was restricted to 30 minutes, which I felt was sufficient on this occasion. This was followed by a Tynwald Members’ backbench meeting, in order to informally discuss the current Covid-19 situation, and the approach and direction being taken by CoMin at the moment.

That meeting lasted around an hour and once it finished I was able to catch up with some reading and to go through the Tynwald Supplementary Order Papers. At 14.00 there was an update from the DHSC and the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK which focused on the island’s vaccination programme. A very interesting presentation especially around the vaccine and why the Department holds a certain amount of vaccine in reserve at any given time, which is something that has been raised by various Tynwald Members in recent weeks.

At 15,00 there was a general DOI update, in order to discuss various bits of ongoing work around the Landlord Registration Bill, Promenade and the Local Elections that have been delayed until July 2021.

At 16.00 I tuned into the media briefing, which confirmed a further 29 new cases of Covid-19 have been detected on the Isle of Man. Once the media briefing finished I took the opportunity to go through the terms of reference in respect of an independent review into the self-isolation requirements for Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and its employees, which will be undertaken by Stephen Hind, Director of Audit Advisory in the Treasury.

For ease of reference I enclose a link to the terms of reference;

https://www.gov.im/…/iomspco-independent-review-terms…

I won’t comment further on that particular topic until I have seen the investigation report and its recommendations or conclusions.

I was able to finish for around 18.30 on Monday.

As for Tuesday Ellen and I headed out for a walk just after 6.30am, in order to get some exercise and to simply switch off for an hour. Once home I started to get myself ready for this month’s Tynwald sitting that started at 10.30am with two emergency questions before we moved onto the main question paper that had 24 oral questions and 26 written questions for answer, which took the sitting into the afternoon.

We then went through the main Order Paper that was relatively light after several key motions were withdrawn. The final item on the order paper related to “Genomic Testing”, which generated a lengthy debate. The motion was brought by Lawrie Hooper, MHK and I was surprised that it did actually generate a debate, because Lawrie’s opening speech captured everything that needed to be said on the topic, which was another excellent speech.

In the end the motion was fully supported by Tynwald Members.

We also went through part of Supplementary Order Paper No 1 before the sitting concluded just before 20.30, but I still needed to catch up with a couple of things before finishing for around 21.15.

Although there was no media briefing on Tuesday afternoon due to the Tynwald sitting, a formal press release was still published confirming that we had a further 45 cases of Covid-19 bringing the total number of active cases on the Island to 872, with 19 people in hospital.

On Wednesday Ellen and I headed out for a short walk again just after 6.30am before another busy day. Our arrangements at home are very similar to the last two lockdowns, I have set up my office in the kitchen and Ellen has set up camp in our second bedroom, which has worked well over the last year.

I started from 8am and I was able to catch up with some department work before day two of this month’s Tynwald sitting that got underway at 10.30am with a debate on the Isle of Man Joint Clinical and Public Health Advisory Group, which Tynwald Members supported with an amendment by my colleague Clare Barber, MHK.

This was followed by a statement by the Chief Minister on Covid-19 before there was a general debate on the Government’s “Exit Framework”. This was again another lengthy debate and there was a clear division between the Council of Ministers and many backbench Tynwald Members who wanted a simpler exit strategy, which gives the public a better understanding on how the Isle of Man will move from “Elimination” to “Mitigation”, along with getting the vulnerable residents on the island fully vaccinated as a matter of urgency.

That debate didn’t finish until around 16.00, but we still needed to go through Supplementary Order Paper 3 before finishing this month’s sitting around 16.25. The latest government press release confirmed a further 30 cases of Covid-19 had been detected on the Island.

This brought the current number of active cases of Covid-19 to 865, with 22 people now receiving treatment in Nobles Hospital.

As for Thursday, again Ellen and I headed out for a walk just after 6am, which is a great way to start the day at this time of year. Once home I needed to prepare for an emergency sitting of the House of Keys, which only had one piece of legislation and that related to the Elections and Meetings (Local Authorities) Bill 2021.

In advance of the sitting I was able to pick up some department work and a couple of constituent issues, which related to a housing application and a financial support application.

At 10am I dialled into the emergency sitting of the House of Keys and although there was only one item on the agenda, the Elections and Meetings (Local Authorities) Bill 2021, which still generated a considerable debate amongst Members, especially around whether Local Authority Elections should be held on the island in July or in October after the House of Keys General Election, which will be held on 23rd September.

Given the urgency around the legislation it went through all the stages in the House of Keys on Thursday, which is unusual and this included consideration of the clause stage. The sitting finished just before 13.00, which was perfect timing because I needed to deal with a small family crisis, because my poor mum is one of those 800-plus island residents who has unfortunately caught Covid-19 in the past couple of weeks.

The Legislative Council had their meeting at 14.00, in order to consider the Elections and Meetings (Local Authorities) Bill 2021 that gave me time to catch up with some other bits of work before the House of Keys was recalled at 15.30 to consider the amendments being proposed by our Council colleagues.

The sitting was relatively quick lasting less than 30 minutes.

In respect of Covid-19, although the number of confirmed cases has decreased significantly over the past seven days, there was still a further 28 new cases confirmed on Thursday afternoon.

This brought the number of active cases of Covid-19 on the Island to 866, with 23 people in hospital.

Again, a change of pace on Friday after what felt like an extremely long week so far. After Ellen and I got home from our walk, I headed into the office to get various reports and papers that I will need to go through over the weekend, especially ahead of a very busy House of Keys session next week.

I also managed to get some shopping done before my first meeting at 10am, which was a general catch-up with backbench Tynwald Members. Unfortunately, I had to leave that session after 30 minutes, because I wanted to listen to the Environment and Infrastructure Policy Review Committee evidence session, which involved the DOI Minister and Chief Executive. It also gave me an opportunity to catch with some reading and a few other things.

At 13.00 we had the latest Tynwald Members briefing from the Chief Minister and officers from within the Cabinet Office, and the rest of the afternoon was spent working through various things, but it was good to be able to de-stress just a little.

I also tuned into the latest media briefing at 16.00, and we end the week with a further 21 cases of Covid-19, which brings the number of active cases of Covid-19 on the Island to 862, with 20 people in hospital.

A very difficult week in many ways, let’s hope that we are finally moving towards the end of this very difficult Circuit Break.

As for the vaccination programme, we end the week with 40,000 vaccinations delivered on the island so far. This includes more than 27,789 first vaccinations, along with 12,253 island residents receiving their second vaccination jabs.