Don’t stop going on with life as normal, even with the extra measures brought in as a response to the threat from the new Omicron variant of Covid-19.

That’s the message from Chief Minister Alfred Cannan, who faced questions from MHKs after giving his update statement in the Keys yesterday (Tuesday).

Despite new requirements for face coverings and calls on the public to ramp up their efforts with LFTs, he said: ‘We are not telling people to stop undertaking their normal lives.

‘We are simply asking people to carry an enhanced level of awareness and to undertake precautions in a number of settings.’

John Wannenburgh MHK, who participated in the sitting remotely, after his own recent positive test, raised concerns about the impact of new measures on businesses, hospitality and the community.

Mr Cannan told him: ‘The issue around hospitality is that actually the community can work together on this. We have already encouraged people, multiple times now, to use the lateral flow tests or devices – which are free and are available on our island – to test themselves before they go out.’

Organisations planning Christmas parties should try to ensure those attending take LFTs.

‘That general recommendation now for people to undertake regular lateral flow testing, particularly if they are mixing in large groups or in environments with lots of people that they do not know must be a strong message that is coming through.’

  • Keep calm and carry on reading below for more from the Q&A that followed the chief minister’s statement. (We’ve tried to summarise. If it’s not in quote marks, it’s not a direct quote.)

Jason Moorhouse MHK: Why are face coverings only ‘expected’ in shops and schools?

Alfred Cannan (AC): ‘We have said to the community that we are raising our level of mask wearing to “expected” and we are enforcing that on public transport and in health and care settings.

‘I am urging our community to take the sensible precautions necessary.’ We’re doing this to protect everyone and need to ‘work together as a community whilst we try to understand what the potential impacts of Omicron are’.

Rob Callister MHK: How will the requirement for arrivals from the Common Travel Area to undertake an LFT within 12 hours be followed up?

AC: It will be in the form of an electronic declaration. All arrivals will be informed.

‘As it stands at the moment, in terms of arrivals, on the landing card the statement will read along the lines that the individual must confirm their understanding that they must undertake a lateral flow test within 12 hours and before they enter into an indoor public setting.

‘The relevant fines will be as they currently exist for anybody who makes a false statement or false declaration on those landing forms.’ E.g., stating falsely they will take a test. 

Rob Callister: What’s the score with face coverings in schools?

AC: ‘We remain at a level where we are expecting [those attending] our schools to wear face masks in their school settings and that also applies, I understand, across the educational spectrum.

‘There is, of course, a difference between ‘required’ and ‘expected’ and within the law as it currently stands those who are under 12 do not have to undertake the legal requirements that we have set out.’

Acknowledges ‘consternation’ about the situation but Education Minister Julie Edge working to ensure clarity and ‘reasonableness’ is applied.

Tim Glover MHK (taking part remotely): Why is the list of symptoms still ‘narrow’ – just high temperature, new cough and loss of taste and smell – while Guernsey and Jersey have added fatigue, headache, sore throat, diarrhoea, muscle aches and runny nose? From my own experience, an extended list is more relevant.

AC: That’s a Public Health matter. Will pass on feedback.

Claire Christian MHK: Do we have sufficient capacity to cope with extra PCR testing?

AC: Yes. But it ‘remains to be seen’ what level of enhanced PCR testing will be needed on the back of ramping up of LFTs.

‘I think that what we have done at the moment with the lateral flow device testing is the right proportional measure.’

Jason Moorhouse: What’s the low-down with the 21 people identified on Saturday as having come to the island from UK’s red list? Have they all had negative results? Has anyone else been identified as having come from areas of concern?

AC: Everyone returning from the African continent who remained here has been tested and ‘as I understand it’ all negative.

Chris Thomas MHK: What’s the criteria under the regs for having cause to suspect Omicron in a case?

AC: ‘That primarily would be around the return of a PCR test which identified a variant that was not Delta.’

Will soon be in a position to identify on-island whether it is Omicron or another strain.

On the regs: ‘Effectively, if a PCR test identifies a strain which is not Delta, then it gives the government the ability to ask that individual to isolate until further information has been acquired.’

Also to be considered is where someone has arrived from.

Clare Christian: UK is asking close contacts of a positive Omicron case to isolate for 10 days. Why isn’t Manx gov mirroring that exactly?.

AC: We’re trying to be proportionate. Manx gov actually suggesting that if someone identified or suspected of having Omicron, then the whole household should isolate.

Very aware of the social and economic impact of asking people to isolate.

‘At the moment, we are not operating on the island with such a high level of concern. We can clearly see that the Omicron variant is present in the UK at the moment. We are working on the basis that we are trying to buy enough time, in a balanced manner, to ensure that the island’s economy and social infrastructure remains intact before we move to bring in any further measures.’

John Wannenburgh: What are you doing to help the community, businesses and the hospitality sector?

AC: Economic Response Group met last week. Treasury Minister (David Ashford) and Enterprise Minister (Alex Allinson) liaising directly with business organisations and individuals.

Tim Glover: Hospital recently moved from requiring PCR test for in-patients to requesting an LFT. Is it going to go back to PCR? Also, what’s being done for schools? Castle Rushen High School had about 17 staff off Monday.

AC: We’re carefully monitoring the situation at the hospital. Don’t forget we’ve increased mandatory requirements in health and care settings.

Health service will give ‘clear communications’  on requirements. Will continue to assess risk.

Recognise heightened risk of spread among children in schools. Remember Covid could be around for years.

‘We have to learn what works and what does not work, and we have to carry on undertaking those types of measures and investigations to understand matters.’

It’s important to work together.

Let’s enforce the critical messages: have your vaccines, have your boosters, stick to the new rules.

Jason Moorhouse: Any additional support for businesses and schools?

AC: We’ll listen to people and try to address concerns.

Chris Thomas: What can a traveller arriving from outside the Common Travel Area expect? Is the requirement for a PCR test within 48 hours different from after a day two test? How long will the results take?

Has the gov thought about recognising non-Isle of Man PCRs tests?

AC: In terms of testing, we’re open to official advice, but we’re ‘extremely confident’ of current arrangements.

Current system is extremely reliable but will keep an open mind.

Aim will be to have results back within 24 hours.

Confirm ‘within 48 hours’ is the requirement.

Rob Callister: Just want to be sure: do those arriving from outside the Common Travel Area take a PCR in the UK and wait there for the result or can they come straight through? If coming straight back here, what protection is there for other travellers?

AC: Rules are clear: ‘If you are arriving from outside the Common Travel Area then, when you arrive back on the Isle of Man, you must self-isolate and take a PCR test within 48 hours of arrival.’

That applies if you have had a PCR test in the UK but have spent less than 10 days in the Common Travel Area.

‘You will have to abide by the rules which are self-isolation and a test within 48 hours.’

If/when you get a negative result, you’re free.

Mandatory masks on public transport include the Steam Packet and airlines have been enforcing mask-wearing.

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