We Have Not Undermined EAG

Chief Minsiter Howard Quayle has said the Council of Minister has not undermined the role of the Emergency Advisory Group, but rather a decision had to be taken quickly and it didn’t have time for a consultation.

This brief report should not be treated as a verbatim transcript of the sitting, to listen back to the Tynwald sitting, click here.

Julie Edge – What advice has CoMin received from the Chief Medical Officer and the Emergency Advisory Group about the latest decisions on testing and isolation?

Chief Minister Howard Quayle – Recently, with the support of this court, we have moved from elimination strategy to mitigation. The virus was always going to return so we knew our approach would need to change and be flexible. The council was very concerned with the volume of the public being placed in precautionary isolation, this was unsustainable and we agreed that a lockdown would not be a good idea. Inaction would have led to thousands of people being isolated as cases grow and an indirect locking down of society with an isolation rate of four contacts for every confirmed case, however, our info shows that close contacts in most cases do not go on to develop the virus. 

We already considered fully vaccinated adults but we also needed alternative options for the general population. The clinical and public health silver group and the testing strategy group discussed a range of options and it was their recommendation that CoMin implemented.

We have not undermined the role of the EAG and we will continue to seek their advice when time permits, especially with longer term thinking but sometimes the pace we need to make change precludes a wide consultation. The Isle of Man does not have a Chief Medical Officer as this role is shared between people, consensus views are not always achieved and individual views are always documented and valid but the council’s decisions are always based on a wide range of views. Throughout the pandemic our small island has had to find its own path with a small group of people looking for the right answers. As we navigate what is still a very difficult and complex path ahead, we will continue to do what we can to put choice in the hands of all our residents so they can choose what is right for them as we learn to live with COVID.

Rob Callister – Why was there no extra support and resources given to 111 in the face of increased enquiries?

HQ – I asked the same question and found we had not scaled back support but a huge 1600 calls in the last weekend, although only 3% with COVID, swamped the team. People have to be trained up so you can’t just instantly jettison them into the team. The 111 group were doing an excellent job but were just overwhelmed by bigger numbers than expected so I can only apologise to anyone who had to wait for a long time.

Bill Shimmins – Has the EAG advised on wearing face masks in busy and confined areas, and are you considering mandating the wearing of them as part of the mitigation strategy?

HQ – Yes they have and CoMin have looked at it but we’re not moving forward with the mandatory wearing of masks for now.

Julie Edge – Will the CM circulate the recommendation given to CoMin by the silver and gold groups and did the Ministerial lead of the EAG provide any advice to them?

HQ – I think I’m allowed to share that info so I will if that’s the case. This was a quick decision so whilst the ministerial member of the EAG was part of CoMin and had input, we were unable in the short time we had to go wider than the command structure for a decision.

Julie Edge – Will the CM confirm that info from the silver public health group reached the gold group and then Comin and also why was there no email to the EAG for input on the strategy?

HQ – CoMin has engaged with the EAG before on and will continue to do so but on this occasion CoMin asked for a recommendation within hours so we needed to get on with it quickly this time.

Capt Paul Quine – Is the CM still of the opinion that the primary risk from COVID is to the NHS and our hospitals?

HQ – Of course we are looking to support the hospitals but there’s only one person in there at the moment and they’re not in intensive care. Everyone who is eligible for a vaccine has been offered it and 90% have taken that up and got at least their first jab, around 70% have had their second. The vaccine rollout has meant that hospital admissions are not as much of a worry as they were last year, we have to move forward. In the UK there’s more people dying from cancelled hospital appointments than COVID. Not everyone agreed on the strategy but the overall majority of clinicians advised on what we moved forward with.

Lawrie Hooper – Will the CM accept that household close contacts are a higher risk? Can he also confirm the numbers around who has been offered the vaccine? Many people can’t have the jab for various reasons so why was the decision taken to treat everyone the same way instead of a more risk-based approach?

HQ – There is obviously a difference in close contacts at home and work compared with out and about etc but it is a small percentage so we went with the recommendations given. 90% of the eligible population have taken up the vaccine but advice from the UK is not to vaccinate younger children so we are following that until we hear otherwise. This risk assessment was supported by the majority of our medics.

Robin Callister – What is the maximum number of tests in 24 hours and can this capacity be increased? Does the CM have data on how many double vaxxed people have caught COVID?

(Tynwald stream cut out for the CM’s answer)

Julie Edge – Can the CM circulate the risk assessment he mentioned? Also, he said there wasn’t a majority decision and then there was an overall majority from the medical profession so which was it?

HQ – Apologise for confusion but overall there was not 100% support but there was still a majority support from the clinicians. There’s always people that don’t agree, even in this chamber we often have one or two members that disagree on what’s being proposed.

Rob Mercer MLC – Is the CM aware that the MHRA approved the Pfizer vaccine for years 12 and above on June 4th?

HQ – I am aware of this approval but the UK gov have not approved policy. We receive vaccines from the UK so for us to go ahead of them would lose us the indemnification that they carry out creating phenomenal risks to the taxpayer.

David Ashford – Would the CM agree that it’s important to focus on hospitalizations rather than raw case numbers and that the vaccine rollout has changed the way we go forward? Also to give data asked for earlier by Mr Callister, the max number of tests in a day was 802 but we are building this up so we can do 1,000 tests in a day. We don’t have a full set of data for the number of double vaxxed people who got COVID as people don’t have to disclose their vaccination status. We have to go back to remembering the figures in the adult vulnerable category as 93.5% of them have taken up on the offer of a vaccine. Of that number, 96.7% are double dosed and 94.6% are two plus two.

HQ – Thanks for helping me out with the data there. We have to take into account that people are nervous, even I am but as the health minister said, the vaccine rollout has significantly reduced the risk. We feel in CoMin that we can move forward now to live with COVID instead of being a Brigadoon where we shut down in fear. Risks of people dying from other illnesses are greater than the risk from COVID at the moment. We feel we’ve got it right, I know people are nervous but we’re moving forward with the best evidence we have.

Tanya August-Hanson – Children over 12 of higher risk will now be offered the jab in the UK, based on recommendation from the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, is the CM aware of this?

HQ – Yes and I look forward to a paper from our team on Thursday’s CoMin meeting.

Julie Edge – Will the CM provide breakdown on the number of clinical people, officers and politicians who were part of the overall majority decision? Also, the 96.7% of the vulnerable that are double vaxxed doesn’t stop kids from bringing the disease home, I know of two plus two people that have got COVID. The Dept knows who has a vaccine as otherwise they couldn’t approve travel so why can that data not be made available?

HQ – I’ve already agreed to share medical evidence but Mrs Edge is missing the point. We never said you won’t catch COVID if you’re not vaccinated but the risk of dying and needing intensive care has been greatly reduced. I fully expect the number of cases to increase substantially but that is life, we have agreed to move forward and learn to live with the virus and we think this is a step in the right direction.

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