A ’monumental blunder’ led to lockdown three and the current Covid outbreak, a Manx advocate claims.
Ian Kermode believes the circuit breaker could have been entirely avoided but for ’glaring government omissions’.
He has called for a rigorous and impartial inquiry into how a Covid cluster now running to hundreds of active cases originated from a Steam Packet worker who tested positive for the virus.
’The failure to put in place and enforce proper Covid procedures for Manx shipping crew represents a gaping hole in our defences which has ultimately led to disastrous consequences,’ he said.
’This is not a minor misunderstanding, rather it has all the hallmarks of a monumental blunder.’
Chief Minister Howard Quayle said there had been a ’genuine misunderstanding’ over isolation rules for island-based crews of the Ben-my-Chree.
Mr Quayle has asked the chief secretary Will Greenhow to carry out a review.
But Mr Kermode says this is like ’asking your best friend to mark your own homework’.
He has written to Mr Greenhow with a series of questions about the direction notices issued to Steam Packet staff, and about the initial investigation instigated by the Chief Minister.
At Monday’s media briefing the Chief Minister insisted that the inquiry would be independent and said its terms of reference would be on the government’s website.
Mr Quayle was asked how the inquiry conducted by Treasury officials could be independent when Treasury was the shareholder and owner of the Steam Packet.
He replied that Treasury audit was a ’totally independent organisation’ and he was ’more than happy that a thorough report will be done’ and the review will be published.
Mr Kermode said he reserves the right to refer the matter to the police himself, given this is an issue of national importance.
He insists he is not seeking to blame the Steam Packet’s seafarers who he believes are being used as ’scapegoats for government failings’.
It was announced on February 18 that a Steam Packet crew member had tested positive for Covid.
Attention was directed to the Covid measures which ought to have been in place for Manx workers on the Ben-my-Chree.
The government said all Manx crew had been subject to an official direction notice since March 2020.
Speaking on February 19, the Chief Minister insisted it had been ’clear from day one’ that island-based seafarers had to isolate at home when they came off-shift.
But the staff said the need to self-isolate between shifts only applied to UK-based crews - otherwise they would effectively have been in perpetual quarantine.
Steam Packet chairman Lars Ugland says on-board safety rules have been followed to the letter.
But Mr Kermode said if the direction notice had been clear and accurate, it would ’beggar belief’ that the Steam Packet directors did not know that up to 80 crew had not been isolating at home between shifts for the last 11 months. He queried why no checks were apparently carried out on those ordered to self-isolate.
Mr Kermode said the government must shoulder some blame for the current Covid outbreak due to the apparent ambiguity regarding the legal isolation requirement and the lack of spot checks.
He said a second issue, of ’fundamental constitutional importance’, relates to the Chief Minister’s subsequent handling of the crisis.
On March 1, Mr Quayle said he had taken advice on whether there is any prosecution that can be made and the answer was ’no’. He stated there had instead been a ’misunderstanding’.
But Mr Kermode pointed out it was for the police to investigate if any offences had been committed and the Chief Minister cannot sit as judge and jury.
He contrasted this to how 60 people have been jailed for breaching Covid rules since March last year.
And he added: ’It appears around 80 Manx crew have unwittingly been breaking the law not once but apparently on a weekly basis for the last 11 months, right under the noses of the Manx authorities.
’How many of us have inadvertently been rubbing shoulders with Steam Packet crew in Marks and Spencer or McDonald’s or at the NSC over the last year?
’We do not know why the law does not seem to have been applied consistently and fairly. And so we are left with the real appearance of double standards. We are left with the suspicion of political expediency.
’We are left with the uneasy feeling that the decent men and women of the Steam Packet are being used as scapegoats for government failings.’
Under revised Covid safety arrangements agreed last month, Steam Packet staff will be tested at the beginning and the end of each shift.
But island-based crew members will not have to isolate when they go off-duty.