Testing Times

Cast your minds back to the start of March 2020, when we began to see cases of Covid stack up in the UK and questions were being asked surrounding what happens when the virus would come to the island. This was before we were testing for the virus on our island, samples were being sent to Manchester and were taking up to 72 hours to come back and then it happened.  It was also the first time many of us had heard of one Dr Rachel Glover.

Spring Tides

Despite the gov saying Covid posed a ‘‘moderate to low threat’ to the island, concern was growing among residents as shops sold out of hand sanitiser.

  • Thursday March 19 – first case of Covid confirmed on island in a man who had returned from Spain

  • Friday March 20 – second case of Covid confirmed and all new arrivals had to isolate for 14 days

  • Thursday March 26 – first hospitalisations for the virus, by the end of the day we were told to stay at home as lockdown 1 began

  • Saturday March 28 – Dr Glover was key in arranging for an RNaseP calibration plate to be brought to the island. This was vital in setting up the island’s testing regime

It would take just under a month before we were testing on the island, as Health Minister David Ashford confirmed we were now able to test for the virus ourselves.

  • Monday April 20 – on island testing begins as up to 200 people able to be tested each day with 24 hour turn around on results

The moment is easily lost in what happened here, the DHSC did already have the machine needed to do the tests on the island, it was just locked away in a store room. At the time Minister David Ashford said: ‘It began in early March when molecular scientist Dr Rachel Glover, from Taxa Genomics, reached out to ask if we could collaborate on our local solution. With our own senior scientist, Chris Helm, they identified a piece of kit at the public analysts lab that hadn’t been used for a few years, but was perfect for our needs.’

Testing would continue in this form until May, with new cases arising sporadically, most typically among returning residents and the heartbreaking situation at Abbotswood nursing home where 20 residents succumbed to the virus. At this point, 24 residents had lost their lives to Covid.

  • Wednesday May 20 – the last positive test for months is confirmed on the island

Following May 20, we had the summer none of us expected. As the island had achieved what even the most optimistic people assumed would not be possible, local elimination of the virus. 

Those Summer Nights

Now let’s fast forward to August 28 when the island hit 100 days without a positive Covid case, a figure reached only by other island nations such as New Zealand and one that marked a remarkable achievement for the Great Manx Public and our health services. But just over a week later, Covid would return to the island and we would continue to live with a steady flow of new cases in isolated individuals, but not in the community.

  • Sunday September 6 – first case of Covid since May is confirmed in a returning resident who took a test on day seven of their arrival. 

In September, with a backlash from some Tynwald members, the gov announced plans to charge £50 for a day 7 test for returning residents despite claims it would create a two tier system for those who could and couldn’t afford to pay. Residents were able to call the 111 hotline to request a Covid-19 test and if the result was negative on day eight they were able to leave their home.

A Fall Breeze and Autumn Leaves

However, in early October, a decision by the Council of Ministers was to cause a bigger row than anyone could have imagined in the island and would contribute to anger on the back benches of Tynwald and strong criticism from Dr Glover.

  • Wednesday October 7, Chief Minister HQ said CoMin had decided to end seven day testing for returning residents as the situation in the UK worsened

  • Friday October 9, Dr Glover, along with many backbench MHKs, criticise the gov decision to drop day seven testing and warn they may regret it

  • Thursday October 29, Dr Glover, following a series of public disagreements with government policy, announces she has quit the DHSC and is no longer working on the island’s testing team

November saw the sad news of the first death in the island from Covid for some time, bringing the total number to die with the virus up to 25. Two week quarantine continued for returning residents and those coming for compassionate grounds as cases continued to rise with a small handful of positive results each week coming in with isolating residents.

Winter Has Come

With December brought the return of more residents and a change in isolation policy, people either had to isolate as a whole household or returnees would be required to isolate in a separate house altogether. Meanwhile the Pfizer vaccine arrived on island, but it would be January before a roll out began. Then just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, the news was broken that Covid was in the community as a resident who had been isolated for the full 14 days required of them tested positive after being allowed out. 

Since then, we have of course had many people tested on a daily basis after potential spread linked to shops, cafes, the casino, the Gaiety Theatre and St Mary’s Primary School with a steadily growing number of positive results.

The latest government advice and rules around testing, can be found here https://covid19.gov.im/about-coronavirus/testing-results/.