Blog 17 Jan 21The Island’s “Circuit Breaker” or “Second National Lockdown” continued this week, but the difference this time compared to March 2020 is the fact that we are all having to come to terms with wearing a face mask, which wasn’t a requirement during the first lockdown.

Although wearing a mask is still not compulsory (just a recommendation) for most day to day activities, it is fantastic to see people wearing them, in order to help remove this virus from the island once again. With so many shops and supermarkets now introducing a policy in which shoppers are expected to cover their faces, it has certainly helped generate a culture of people wearing a mask when outside.

However, as the Health Minister, David Ashford, MHK said this week, we shouldn’t abuse those individuals who do not wear a mask, because there might be a perfectly good reason why they can’t….

As for me, I had no advance warning of the lockdown so I had to wait a couple of days for my face mask(s) to arrive, because I didn’t want to go into town without a face mask on.

I have to say that it is a very strange sight seeing everyone walking around wearing a mask, it just doesn’t look right, but it is necessary. Most of the masks I have seen are very plain or ordinary, but there are few that look like they have come from the bottom of a “sock drawer” – it would be interesting to know how many people have actually made their own face masks or simply purchased them in town or online.

There has also been a lot of discussion around the island’s vaccination programme at the moment, with many people saying that the delivery programme is far too slow and it needs to be rolled out faster, which I fully support especially with one eye on our tourism sector that desperately needs to see some activities in 2021.

Despite some of the comments on social media this week, I can assure people that backbench Tynwald members have challenged the Chief Minister, Health Minister and the Council of Ministers to increase the urgency of the vaccination programme.

What I do know this week is all over 50’s (42,000 individuals) should be vaccinated hopefully by May 2021, and this will be followed by first responders, teachers, public servants and then all remaining adults who will be vaccinated by September.

We know that the Pfizer is a difficult vaccine to roll out, especially compared to the Astra Zeneca which has now been approved, along with the Moderna vaccine.

Let’s hope that the vaccine programme can be increased in the weeks and months to follow.

Anyway, as for last weekend, Saturday started with an unusual 8.30am Tynwald members briefing relating to the ongoing situation around Covid-19 on the island. I have to thank the Chief Minister and the Cabinet Office for trying to keep members fully informed on the latest developments, especially since New Year’s Eve.

Apologies, I couldn’t add that information at the end of my blog last week, but the meeting was called very quickly and to be perfectly honest I was a little concerned around the urgency and the importance, and therefore I didn’t want to set any hares running until I had all the relevant information.

The meeting related to two further positive cases for Covid-19 and unfortunately one of those cases related to a pupil from St Mary’s Primary School, which was certainly going to raise concerns from teachers, pupils, families and the wider community.

This brought the number of active Covid-19 cases to 20 but that figure would rise again during the week. As for the rest of weekend it was spent working through a few Tynwald papers or chopping more logs. On Sunday Ellen and I did manage to head out for a short walk, but a few hours were spent in the garden trying to put some glass into the new greenhouse.

Ellen has built the greenhouse frame that arrived in multiple boxes, but putting in most of the glass was definitely a two person job, although it was a little stressful at times…

Monday was a day spent at the kitchen table and ahead of my first meeting I needed to catch up with various department papers. At 10am I had a virtual meeting with the Head of Tourism and Chairman of the Agency, in order to discuss how the island’s tourism sector might look, especially when the Minister for DHSC, David Ashford confirmed recently that the island’s population will not be fully vaccinated until September 2021.

From a tourism angle this announcement does seriously concern me. The island desperately needs some form of tourism activity in 2021, in order to help the sector to survive over the winter months, and for them to be able to bounce back in 2022 and 2023.

An excellent catch up meeting and I know the tourism team and agency are ready to go, but the sector will need at least three months to prepare.

Just time to return several calls and answer a few emails before dialling into another Tynwald members’ briefing on Covid-19, which started at 12.30.

There were various presentations and additional information given, followed by another stream of questions from Tynwald members. The meeting lasted almost two hours and there was a lot information to take on board from a situation that continues to develop by the hour.

Any gaps in the day are being taken up with returning calls and correspondence. At 15.00 we had a DOI Policy and Strategy meeting, which again was very difficult as we went through the draft Landlords Registration Bill before it goes back to the House of Keys later on in the month or next month.

This was followed by a general update from the CEO before the meeting finished towards after 17.00.

At the press briefing on Monday evening, it was confirmed that we now have 27 active cases on the island, a rise of seven in just 24 hours, along with 296 Covid-19 tests taken between Sunday and Monday, which is very concerning.

Again, this was followed by various emails and calls, but I was able to finish for around 19.30.

On Tuesday I was up early and in the office before 7am, in order to collect some paperwork and to print off some documentation. Back home for 8am and straight into the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association agenda pack before the meeting got underway.

Once the meeting finished I caught up with any correspondence and phone calls, then I started to work again on the Landlord Registration Bill, along with the changes being proposed. I also need to find some time to go through the correspondence sent in by the Landlords Association over the next week.

At lunchtime I managed to take a few hours off, in order to continue putting the new glass into the greenhouse. Back to work from 15.00 to go through the DfE agenda pack to catch up with a few other things until around 18.30.

No press briefing on Tuesday, but the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases on the island increased to 30.

As for Wednesday it was another day in the kitchen and it started just after 8am with working on a few projects. Towards 9.30am I dialled into the DfE political meeting in advance of the Department meeting that started with the usual Agency Chair updates.

This was followed by the department meeting, which didn’t finish until around 12.15. Just time to catch up with my colleague Lawrie Hooper, MHK and return a couple of calls before a presentation by the Education Department that lasted almost two hours.

The last hour or so was spent going through the Tynwald Order Papers before I finished for around 17.15. At the press briefing on Wednesday afternoon the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases increased by a further 6, which brought the total on island at the moment to 36, along with one individual receiving treatment in hospital.

Late on Wednesday evening news came through that Donald Trump became the first US President to be impeached, not once but twice…. and all of this happening within a few days of the President leaving office and his political rival Joe Biden being sworn in.

The Democratic led House of Representatives, along with 10 Republicans voted to impeach the President after the shocking events that unfolded last week in the Capitol Building,

What happens in the Senate will be very interesting, because it is also controlled by Democrats – my prediction is that the Republicans and Democrats will take the opportunity to ensure that the Donald Trump is barred from running for office in 2024 and from holding public office again in the future.

There was also an interesting article on Sky News this week, which outlined some of the perks given to Presidents when they leave office. These include an annual pension of around $200,000, along with $1 million for travel expenses and money for staff. However, these perks are not available for anyone removed from office after being impeached…

I am sure that the Donald Trump saga will continue to roll on throughout 2021.

As for Thursday, it was a slightly later start (9am) because I was expecting it to be a very easy day just going through the Tynwald Order Paper, but in the end I didn’t even get to look at the Order Paper.

The first hour was spent going through a couple of planning appeals and then at 10am the tourism team had a meeting with the Chief Executive of Ramsey Town Commissioners, in order to look at the tourism offering in the North of the island.

An excellent meeting and it was great to catch up with Peter at Ramsey Town Commissioners, and this was followed by a general update meeting with Ann Reynolds, the Director of the Airport, especially with one eye on establishing routes in the near future.

The next three or four hours were on the phone. I think I received somewhere between 20 and 35 phone calls on Thursday, mainly from self-employed contractors and from people desperately looking for some help and advice on a wide range of topics.

Some of the stories I am hearing are just heartbreaking, with people who cannot travel to the UK to attend the burial of loved ones and therefore funerals having to be delayed for up to two weeks; an individual having to sleep in a car; and others unable to access the financial support schemes because they have a small NI balance outstanding, but have no money to pay the balance.

Other cases included an employer not willing to apply for the Government’s financial support scheme, and thereafter expecting employees to apply for MERA or to sign on for Income Support, which is at a significantly lower level, but they are still expecting the employee to be back at work once the lockdown has been lifted.

I think I took my final call at around 19.00, and I am extremely grateful to Mark Lewin, CEO at DfE for his advice and help on a number of issues, along with other Government officers.

On Thursday afternoon I had a further DOI meeting on the Landlords Registration Bill, particularly looking at the level of fines in the legislation being proposed. Again, another difficult meeting, but after two hours we reached some form of conclusion.

On Friday the day started with several missed calls and going through various department papers, along with looking at a couple of planning appeals. At 11am the DfE political members had a catch up meeting, which gave me an opportunity to relay back the phone calls and feedback I received from Constituents over the past 48 hours or so.

At 12 midday I dialled into a planning meeting as we reviewed two appeals that were anything but straightforward. I have to say that planning appeals are extremely complicated.

The meeting lasted around 90 minutes and the next couple of hours were spent on the phone or responding to correspondence. I am definitely getting the impression that people are finding this short lockdown period more difficult then the first last year, maybe it is the time of year or simply due to the fact that people and businesses haven’t recovered sufficiently since the initial lockdown – but it is a concern.

At the press conference it was confirmed that we have one additional Covid-19 case on the island, which brings the total to 39 active cases at the moment.

As for the weekend, I definitely need to look at the Tynwald Order Paper.