Business365 editor, Simon Richardson – like so many other people on the Island – is working from home. He’s been keeping a daily blog about the experience and reflecting on the strange times we find ourselves in as a result of the Coronavirus epidemic.
With our Manx summer a distant memory many of us are thinking of trips off Island – or not, as the case may be. It was thought that the Chief Minister might announce the first tentative easing of the Island’s border restrictions at yesterday’s media briefing. We are currently at stage 5 – almost complete shutdown. Level 4 would have meant people could travel off Island, but with the requirement to self-isolate for two weeks on their return. Another announcement will be made next Thursday.
Mr Quayle’s decision was met with vociferous support in some quarters, and despair and disbelief in others.
Whichever side of the argument you sit this is in danger of developing into a divisive and unsettling stand off. The increasingly vitriolic exchanges on social media between the closers and the openers show the scale of the problem.
The UK, despite its chaotic and often baffling strategies to deal with the pandemic, is finally seeing a sharp drop in overal infection rates. The number of people dying in the country – from all causes – is now lower than the normal average. That said the dangers posed by Covid19 can never be understated.
The Isle of Man has done extremely well and nobody wants to see the virus return. But the reality is that it may do so, whether the borders are open or closed. Now though, we have the structures and tracing mechanisms in place to deal with a small outbreak quickly and effectively, which should reduce the risks of a serious spike.
That is why Mr Quayle and his team must begin the process of re-connecting with the outside world. Level 4 is a small step in that direction that would not, as many people seem to believe, expose the Isle of Man to a huge, new influx of virus.
What mustn’t be forgotten is that our Island population is diverse and increasingly cosmopolitan. More than 50 per cent of residents were not born here. That means that – in most cases – they have close family and friends living in the UK or beyond. For the rest of us who are Manx born, a large number will have children and grandchildren based in the UK.
The ongoing border closure is causing many people genuine anguish and mental anxiety at being unable to visit relatives in the UK, or welcome them home. This is a very different issue to people who heading off for sunshine holidays to the Mediterranean, though no differentiation is made in the arguments offered by those who want to keep us cut off from the outside world, indefinitely.
The treatment of people returning to the Island from around the world has been another area of concern during the pandemic. The government’s approach was insensitive at best at times, in sharp contrast to New Zealand, where every effort was made to repatriate NZ nationals with minimum red tape and stress.
Our own people, some of them elderly, were forced to stay, under strict security, at Mount Murray at their own expense, while their homes, a short distance away, lay empty. In contrast, key workers entering the Island from the UK were trusted to self-isolate in their respective accommodation.
Our government has done many things brilliantly during the crisis – and closing our borders was a key element in keeping the virus at bay. Now though, the time for a controlled relaxation of the restrictions has arrived, and people who have all done their bit to help the Island through the crisis, must be rewarded, under controlled conditions, with an opportunity to re-connect with loved ones elsewhere.
The goverment has show strength, resilience and decisiveness during the pandemic – now is the time to add compassion to its list of plaudits.