Port Douglas, Isle of Man

Isle of Man intends to test, trace – and keep borders closed

Island has forged own path through coronavirus crisis and now looks at easing lockdown.
12 May 2020 , Katie Coyne

Popular mood on the Isle of Man is to ease the lockdown but keep the borders closed, says an EHP at the heart of efforts to tackle COVID-19.

The Isle of Man reacted quickly to the pandemic shutting its borders six weeks ago, and EHP Chris Ashford described the public mood as keen to keep the borders closed (although there has been no official survey to that effect).

The Crown dependency – which has a population of 84,000 – quickly set up contact tracing. Frustrated with delays when sending samples to the UK, it also set up its own testing centre with capacity for 200 tests a day.

Now easing lockdown measures, the island is still keeping its contact tracing in place and may look to track and test asymptomatic COVID-19 carriers to gain a better understanding of the virus in its population.

The island has recorded 330 cases of COVID-19 and 23 deaths, but the number of new cases has been in decline. “We have had a bit of an uptick of one or two cases a day recently but these tend to be more complicated cases involving police or health workers, who have come into a lot of contact with the public,” said Ashford.

Particular concern has focused on care homes following an outbreak at Abbotswood Nursing Home in the second half of April, where 19 people died and 47 residents tested positive for the virus.

The government suspended the home’s licence and, taking over management, has transferred the residents to alternative accommodation. After this outbreak a new rule was applied on the island where care workers needed to have two negative COVID-19 tests before they could go back to work.

Ashford said EH is investigating clusters and how the virus is affecting key workers. Ashford said: “As EH officers we get involved in infection control and virus outbreaks with care homes quite frequently so it’s been good to be working alongside public health colleagues in care homes to advise them on how we have helped in the past with things like norovirus.

“Through contact tracing we believe we have stopped some outbreaks from becoming worse. We have issued a lot of advice on PPE, how they should operate, and best practice. It’s always difficult to know what you have prevented.”

However, overall, Ashford said the modelling suggested a much worse scenario than has played out, and the government’s six phase easing of lockdown restrictions announced at the end of April has been broadly welcomed by the public. EH has been working with departmental colleagues to prepare guidance for different workforce sectors.

He said: “Looking at the number of cases we have at the moment it makes sense to have a phased return. Most people are taking it very seriously – businesses and members of the public. Quite a lot of people are reporting problems, sometimes justified and sometimes not.”

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