As the Coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic continues to affect our daily lives here on the Isle of Man, attention is now moving towards lifting some of those restrictions, which has certainly created its own concerns amongst the Manx Community this week.
With the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK back at the helm from self-isolating for a couple of weeks after catching Covid-19 himself, he took the opportunity during Tuesday’s press conference to announce that from 6am on Friday the Isle of Man Government intended to enable some businesses and workers to resume activities.
He also announced that island residents will also be able to enjoy greater freedom, but the message from central Government remains very clear – “Stay Home to Stay Safe” and to continue to observe “Social Distancing”.
Just to be absolutely 100% clear with anyone reading my Blog this week, I am not against the decision to start resuming activities in certain sectors, but I am questioning the timing, especially when I think most people feel that the decision is possibly a week or so too early.
Does the date really matter?
In reality every single decision around Covid-19 over the past couple of months has generated a considerable amount of comment, especially around making those very difficult decisions as to when to close our borders, when to implement a lockdown of our community and when to ask all non-essential businesses across our island to cease trading.
None of these are easy, and I guess lifting some of these restrictions will be even harder.
Personally, I have taken an element of comfort from the Chief Minister in his response to my question in Tynwald on Tuesday, when he said that the island’s peak for this pandemic is no longer forecasted for the beginning of May, and that the island is suppressing this horrible virus.
Unfortunately, the number of deaths relating to Covid-19 on the island has been horrific this week, especially at Abbotswood Nursing home in Ballasalla, and I will expand on that in a moment but as an island and as a community we have to start searching for the light at the end of the tunnel, however difficult that might be…
As an island neither can we disguise the millions of pounds of income that the Government is losing every day or the number of people that have lost their jobs in recent weeks or had them mothballed until their particular sector starts up again.
From a selfish viewpoint, we do need to get the promenade finished as quickly as possible, in order to help rebuild our tourism industry, which will have to start from the ground up once again. This year’s tourism season has all but gone, so I am now in favour of closing down a large section of the promenade, in order to get this work done as a priority.
We will also require the regional air-links to and from the island to be re-established, but this is unlikely to happen for a few more months. If we could only take a snapshot of how Island life was from January this year, because I would be very surprised if we could achieve that level of normality by April 2021.
On a more positive note the Isle of Man is now carrying out Covid-19 testing here on the Island, which is fantastic news.
Anyway, more on Covid-19 and that media briefing in a moment.
As for last weekend, on Saturday I held my first virtual Political Surgery from the comfort of my kitchen table, and although there were a few technical issues I felt the surgery went very well.
Topics discussed included the new Manx Gas agreement that is still pending, Covid-19, Repatriation, Quality of Workmanship on the island. I even spoke to one Onchan Constituent who is currently stranded in Pakistan, which was definitely a first for me.
The surgery finished around 12.30 and from there I needed to draft several emails but I was able to finish for around 16.00.
During the 12 noon briefing the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK confirmed that two further Manx residents had lost their lives to this horrible, horrible virus. These deaths were in the Community and not in the hospital environment and unfortunately it brings the total numbers of deaths to 6 on our island, but that would soon rise further.
On the road again just after 5.30am on Sunday morning in order to get 8.7 miles completed whilst most people were still in bed. I managed to complete the walk in 2 hours and 6 mins, but my goal is to do it in under 2 hours 3 mins.
Not entirely sure if it is the current weather pattern or simply due to government’s advice on mental wellbeing during the self isolation period in respect of Covid-19, but I am enjoying putting the trainers back on and switching off for a couple of hours.
When I first met Ellen in 2003 I was walking between 30 and 50 miles a week, and somehow I encouraged Ellen to enter the Parish Walk with me one particular year. We both reached Peel in about 8 hours 10 minutes if I remember correctly, but I have never been able to encourage Ellen to do it again….
These days I am now 50 and a little heavier than I should be, but 8.7 miles is still well within my comfort zone and I already have my eye on a new 13 to 14 mile course.
After getting changed I needed to go into the office to print off various papers and reports ahead of a number of Department and Parliament sessions next week.
At 11am I had scheduled a meeting to discuss Manx Gas and the new User Agreement, which is still yet to be presented to Tynwald for consideration.
A big thank you to Nick and Barry for their input as always on behalf of many Manx Gas customers looking for a fairer deal on the island, but also a big thank you to the Policy & Reform Minister, Chris Thomas, MHK and the OFT Chairman, Martyn Perkins, MHK for giving up an hour or so of their time on Sunday.
I still had bits of correspondence that I needed to finish going through before finishing at around 15.00.
Monday was a day in the kitchen going through a mountain of paperwork for the week ahead. The first job was to go through the agenda pack for the Department of Home Affairs meeting that was scheduled for the afternoon.
This particular Department is the complete opposite of DfE as it is mainly operational with very little input around the work undertaken by the Police or the Fire and Rescue Service, but as political members you are still given an overview of the issues they are currently facing on a daily basis, along with an update from the Prison Service.
Between everything else this week I am still receiving a number of calls and correspondence from businesses and individuals that have applied for funding and were either waiting for an update or for the funds.
The rest of the morning was spent working on the Tynwald Order Paper, which was relatively straightforward this month, along with the DfE agenda pack.
At 12 noon there was a presentation relating to the Isle of Man Loans (Amendments) Bill 2020 and Isle of Man Loans Act 1974 by the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan, MHK and his team ahead of a House of Keys sitting on Wednesday.
That briefing lasted around 90 mins and it certainly generated a lot of questions by Tynwald Members. This was followed by a further briefing from the Chief Constable, Gary Roberts who gave Tynwald Members an update from their point of view.
Unfortunately, a sharp increase in domestic abuse offences and mental health issues remains a genuine concern at the moment.
I don’t normally mention items of post, but I received a strange package from London on Monday lunchtime, which caught my attention. Enclosed was a letter, which gave details of this individual’s life story that is both fascinating and tragic, along with various supporting documents showing that the individual had a brief connection to Onchan and the island back in the 1950’s.
Anyway, after a few calls and correspondence to Government Departments I was able to point the individual in the right direction. Hopefully, in time I will be able to publish further details on that particular correspondence, because it is an unbelievable story.
At the daily press conference to the local media, the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK announced that a further three Manx residents from Abbotswood Nursing Home had died from Covid 19, which brings the total number of deaths on the island to nine.
Once again I offer my condolences to their families and friends at this difficult time.
Hard to focus on other things when you hear news like that, but I continued to work on various things until around 17.30.
On Tuesday I was back on the promenade for 6am as I desperately tried to break in some new trainers, but it is a losing battle at the moment. I then called into the office to collect some papers and clear out my inbox, but I still managed to get home and start working from 8am.
The first job was to go through several TT decision papers before going to the Department for a final decision, along with a number of Constituent issues.
At 10.30am there was a virtual sitting of Tynwald that got underway with a couple of emergency questions, which was followed by the normal question paper and a Covid-19 statement from the Chief Minister, Howard Quayle, MHK who was back at the helm after catching the Coronavirus.
The sitting finished before 13.30 and the next couple of hours were spent going through various correspondence, along with investigating the letter I received from London that took an hour or so.
I have already mentioned the briefing at 16.00 in which the Chief Minister announced the resumption of certain activities from Friday morning. From my point of view the statement generated an increase in questions and concerns from small businesses etc, so I spent the next four hours either on the phone or answering messages and correspondence etc.
As for Wednesday I was back at home after my walk and collecting various documents from the office by 7.15am. I then needed to go through the amended documents received for the DfE meeting that started at 8.30am.
A relatively straightforward meeting ahead of an emergency sitting of the House of Keys that got underway at 10.30am. The sitting began with six emergency questions relating to the announcement made on Tuesday, and this was followed by consideration of the Isle of Man Loan (Amendment) Bill 2020, which was being tabled by the Treasury Minister, Alf Cannan, MHK.
That particular Bill went through a First and Second Reading before going through the Clause stages in a single day, which took a few hours.
I genuinely wrestled with this particular Motion, mainly because the Treasury was looking to increase the amount that they could borrow from £5 million to £50 million without any real oversight from Tynwald, which raised serious concerns with me.
In the end I voted against the Motion, but it had sufficient support in the Keys to be passed.
The Keys sitting finished at just before 13.45, which gave me time to return a couple of calls before the Public Accounts Meeting at 14.15.
The Public Accounts Meeting lasted a couple of hours as the Committee discussed Covid-19 and other items. Just after 16.00 news broke that Covid-19 on the island had claimed another six Manx residents.
They were all deaths were in the community meaning there have now been eleven deaths in the community and four in hospital, which is simply heartbreaking for the Manx Community and for the families involved.
I still needed to draft several emails before finishing at 18.00.
Thursday involved the usual routine of a 4 mile walk and once home I was hoping to start drafting a couple of speeches relating to reports that will be laid in Tynwald in the near future, but most of the morning was spent either on the phone speaking to a number local hotels etc or dealing with correspondence received in respect of the Government’s finance packages, along with going through a number of Department papers.
At 13.00 there was a catch-up meeting amongst a number of Tynwald Members before I attended another excellent presentation from the DHSC, which gave Tynwald Members a very detailed update on the current situation involving Covid-19.
I have to say that I am very impressed with the new interim Chief Executive, Kathryn Magson at the Department of Health and Soical Care, and I feel David Ashford is very fortunate to have that level of knowledge and support by his side, especially during this very difficult period.
I would prefer to have the right person on the island three days a week than have the wrong person seven days a week, and she definitely has all the skills and desire to help transform the island’s health service.
The next couple of hours was spent catching up with a few things before finishing at 18.00.
A very early start on Friday as I headed down for a walk just after 5.15am and managed to complete the 8.7 miles in 2 hours and 1 minute.
Just enough time to get changed before my first meeting that started at 8.15am with Randall Caldric, Chairman of the Visit Isle of Man Agency as we examined and discussed the current position of the island’s tourism section, and what are the next stages for this sector to start recovering, but that journey will be difficult and long.
At 10am the TT Motorsport team and the Digital Agency as they explored the idea of the virtual TT, which is still at the very early stage of discussion, which was followed by a DfE team meeting.
During the meeting each political member gave an update from their relevant sectors and the meeting lasted more than 90 minutes.
I was able to take an hour off before logging into a Policy Review and Public Accounts Committees meeting, which looked at a number of relevant topics.
That meeting finished just before 16.00, which gave me an opportunity to catch up with the last few emails before finishing for the day.
At the 16.00 Friday briefing to the media it was confirmed that Covid-19 had taken a further two Manx residents, one was in the Community and the other in the hospital. In total there have now been thirteen deaths in the Community and five in the Hospital, which is terrible news to end the week on.
The total number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 now stands at 308.
As for the weekend, I’m definitely looking to get into the garden for a few hours, but I still need to catch up with a few projects and correspondence.