THERE has been an angry reaction to a national newspaper report suggesting the Isle of Wight’s leaders want to test post-lockdown measures here, potentially allowing coronavirus restrictions to be eased early.

It follows reports that the leader of the Isle of Wight Council, Dave Stewart, is planning an ‘SOS - Save Our Summer’ campaign.

Cllr Stewart has refuted any claims the Island could see restrictions end early and said any exit needs a well-managed approach.

Scroll down to read his statement in full

Isle of Wight County Press:

In an article today (Wednesday), The Telegraph claims the Island is among a handful of places requesting an early end to the COVID-19 lockdown, due to an apparently low rate of coronavirus infection. 

Read more: Britain’s islands ready to break coronavirus lockdown and become guinea pigs for contact-tracing technology

According to the official numbers, the Isle of Wight’s hospital cases are among the lowest in the country. 

However, the impact of the virus in care homes and the community is less clear and widespread testing has yet to take place.

As of Wednesday, coronavirus had claimed the lives of fifteen Islanders.   

Read more: Fifteenth person dies on the Isle of Wight from coronavirus

A professor of bacterial science told the Telegraph that our official infection rates, combined with the ability to track visitors to islands like ours, means it is easier to trial a lockdown exit strategy.

'We're not guinea pigs'

Isle of Wight Labour says it ‘strongly opposes’ any early end to lockdown, given the Island’s high proportion of elderly residents in high-risk groups.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Island Labour Chair, Julian Critchley, said: "We've just had the army finish building new facilities. We have temporary refrigerated containers at the cemetery. Island police are tweeting daily about issuing fines. It is very difficult to square those facts, let alone unofficial accounts of the virus spreading in our care homes. The only criteria for assessing whether the Island's lockdown should end is whether it is safe to do so.”

Read more: More mortuary space sought on Isle of Wight

Echoing Labour’s fear that Islanders would become ‘guinea pigs’ for the new policies, The Green Party is calling for greater access to testing, for Isle of Wight key workers, vulnerable people and those with symptoms. It has called the idea of an early exit 'insensitive’ and ‘ill-considered’.

Daniel James, party chair, said: “There must be clear evidence of public support from Islanders before any pilot programme with ‘technology and Apps’ is even considered. 

“The Island has a significant population of elderly and vulnerable people, and Coronavirus is a fatal illness with no known cure. The priority must be the health of Islanders living here now, not a focus on a 'Save our Summer' campaign, to validate using the Island as a bolthole for wealthy people fleeing the mainland.”

Isle of Wight County Press:

Vix Lowthion, spokesperson for the Isle of Wight Green Party, said: “Is the Island population and demographic best placed to pilot the use of smart phone Apps? Do we have enough police to enforce a 14 day quarantine for new arrivals?” 

UNISON’s local government branch secretary on the Isle of Wight has written to the Chief Executive of the Isle of Wight Council, John Metcalfe.

Mark Chiverton said many members had contacted him to express their fears and cited the Island’s elderly population, and discrepancies over the number of cases in care homes: “It is clear there is already very deep seated and quite widespread feeling about this matter and I believe there will be a particular alarm amongst many council, NHS and voluntary sector staff, who are showing such dedication in working alongside vulnerable people at such a worrying and difficult time.”

Isle of Wight County Press:

Council leader Dave Stewart said: “There is no suggestion that the Island could come out of lockdown early. Any exit needs a well-managed approach, with comprehensive monitoring and testing, with the ability to reintroduce control measures to ensure that our vulnerable residents are protected to the fullest.

“The Island’s unique status gives it an opportunity to better manage any exit from lockdown than most other areas. This is an opportunity which should not be missed and would provide the stringent safeguards the Island’s community and the Isle of Wight Council would support.

“During these unique and unprecedented times, the council, working with partners in health and the voluntary sector, is working tirelessly to protect and support our Island community. Your response has been amazing, but there is no time to relax, we must continue to take personal and collective responsibility to protect ourselves from the virus.”