The Isle of Man went into its second lockdown, expected to last three weeks, at midnight today following seven new COVID-19 cases.
While this might seem like an overreaction given Westminster’s reluctance to impose national lockdown, the Isle of Man’s aim is different. It is not trying to suppress the virus but to eliminate it locally.
For six months this has worked and life on the island has been relatively normal. Pubs and restaurants have been open and the public has not been asked to wear face-masks, except on public transport.
Now however, the Isle of Man government has called for a circuit breaker lockdown and because a national lockdown in England has been called, the borders have once again closed to all but essential workers.
EHP Chris Ashford said: “We're actually locking down harder than the UK even though we've only got suspected community transmission at the moment. [This is] because the policy that they've decided to continue with is elimination.
“So we're looking to do a three-week ‘get it knocked on the head’ and then hopefully get back up and open and normal again.”
Ashford, who is part of the EH contact tracing team, celebrated his one-year anniversary living on the island on the day the lockdown was announced. He is “cautiously optimistic” that the circuit breaker lockdown will end after three weeks.
During this second lockdown Isle of Man EHPs will have powers to close non-compliant businesses, as well as enforce quarantining. During the first lockdown, however, these powers were not needed and businesses were compliant.
Ashford said: “We’re hoping that because it's only a three-week circuit break people, particularly businesses, are going to adhere to it.”
The community on the Isle of Man appears to display lower levels of ‘COVID fatigue’ and higher levels of cooperation than on the mainland. For example, after a person linked to a busy tapas bar on new year’s eve tested positive for COVID-19, almost 150 people who were at the bar that night self-reported the contact.
Ashford added: “The people that I see [who would normally be] criticising the [Isle of Man] government on Twitter and Facebook are actually saying ‘we're glad you've taken quick and decisive action’… There's a bit more of a community spirit over here, but we realise how much freedom we've had over the past six months and we want to get back to that.
“I think everybody is quite keen to do the right thing. Not everybody, obviously, there's always going to be skeptics around, and idiots. But I think it's probably at a lower level over here because we've not got the fatigue, like in the UK, and we've got a clear plan from government.”
Manx have taken COVID-19 very seriously, illustrated by the very different reaction to 'jet ski man' – this is the Romeo who hired a jet ski to cross from Scotland to the island in December to give his girlfriend a Christmas present. It’s been viewed as a sweet story in the UK but most Manx are furious at him, and the Isle of Man authorities gave him a four-week jail term.
Ashford said: “He wasn't just here to see his girlfriend – he went out clubbing. So this is, as far as people here are concerned, unbelievably irresponsible because obviously going to big, packed nightclubs - and potentially, bringing COVID over, it's just a ‘no no’.”
He added: “We've had a bit of a laugh and a joke about it over here. But most people really think he's an idiot and want him banned.”