Isle of Man residents hit pubs to toast the results of their vigilant response to COVID-19

People shop on Main Street as non-essential retail stores open on May 19, 2020 in Douglas, Isle of Man.

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Imagine a place where face masks aren’t required, pubs and restaurants are open, and people don’t have to stand two meters apart. Welcome to the Isle of Man.

The small island in the Irish Sea has lifted all restrictions on COVID-19 after going 20 days without an unexplained case of the disease. As of February 1, all pubs, restaurants, schools, gyms and shops have reopened and face masks are optional.

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“You can stand at the bar. You can chat, shake hands with your friend and even give them a hug, ”said Guy Armstrong-Rossiter, who runs the Rovers Return pub in Douglas, the island’s capital. “We have our own little paradise here at the moment.” The pub has been doing great business all week, and some bars opened around midnight last Sunday to take advantage of the new found freedom.

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“It’s nice to be back,” said Howard Quayle, Chief Minister of the Isle of Man. “I just had my hair cut today, which was a joy. The only downside I guess is when you get back to work there is a bit more traffic on the road.

The Isle of Man’s government – the Isle of Man is a dependency of the British Crown and runs most of its own affairs – has made sure to tackle outbreaks of COVID-19. After an initial three-month lockdown that began last March, health officials relaxed most physical distancing measures throughout the summer and fall.

That changed dramatically after Christmas, when 40 infections surfaced on the island. Most of the cases have been attributed to people returning from family visits to Britain, but four could not be explained, suggesting the virus is spreading locally. The government ordered a 25-day lockdown in early January and closed pubs, restaurants, schools and all non-essential businesses. “We decided that instead of waiting for the cases to pile up, we had better go fast and hard,” Quayle said.

The quick action has paid off. Today, the island, which has 85,000 inhabitants, has just eight people in quarantine with COVID-19, while the hospital has no cases. Border controls have also been tightened and non-residents are prohibited from visiting without special authorization. Residents can travel abroad, but they must undergo a mandatory 21-day quarantine upon return. They can be released after 14 days if they have tested negative three times.

“We were able to flush him out of the system, kick him off the island and get back to our normal life,” Quayle said. “It was a fantastic achievement.

But the island has not been spared the ravages of the pandemic. There have been 434 cases of the virus in total so far and 25 people have died. The economy, especially tourism, has also been affected.

Since 1907, the island has hosted a series of motorcycle races called the Isle of Man TT, or Tourist Trophy, which now attracts over 50,000 visitors a year. The event was canceled last year due to the pandemic and it will not take place in 2021. “It has had a phenomenal impact,” said Rebecca George, who heads the Island Chamber of Commerce. Man. The tourism sector “is very dependent on TT racing. Not being able to attract visitors has had an extremely bad effect on our economy. “

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The government intervened with some support. Mr Quayle said about £ 100 million ($ 175 million) had been spent to help businesses; the overall cost of the pandemic to the treasury will be around £ 200 million in total, or about 20 percent of the government’s annual budget. However, he said many sectors of the economy have held up well during the outbreak.

The Isle of Man is well known as a tax haven and has no corporate tax, capital gains tax or inheritance tax. This has helped attract a range of financial services to the island, particularly insurance companies, as well as online gaming companies such as PokerStars. “Some areas were completely intact,” Quayle said. He added that the unemployment rate fell below 2 percent.

There is no guarantee the island will not enter another lockdown and officials have continued an unrelenting testing and vaccination effort. The Isle of Man is part of the UK vaccination program and so far almost all residents over the age of 80 have received their first dose. Mr Quayle said the government hopes that all people over the age of 50 will be vaccinated by May and all adults vaccinated by August.

“It would be naive of us to think that there might be no way that [the virus] will come back, ”he said. “But we are moving forward with our immunization program and you are learning all the time.”

For now, pub owners like Mr. Armstrong-Rossiter are celebrating a return to something close to normal. “We are much luckier than some of our counterparts around the world. We are aware of that and we are very grateful for it, ”he said as he got the bar ready for another busy evening. “These are very uncertain times and we just have to try to make the most of them while we can. Fingers crossed, I hope we can get the world back to normal soon. “

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