Islanders are being strongly urged to wear masks in public settings and work from home again by Government, after new modelling forecast 500 new covid cases per day by next week.
Ministers announced the new guidance at a press conference this afternoon in which it was also confirmed that the final restrictions on stand-up drinking, nightclubs and private gatherings would not be lifted as planned this Thursday.
While direct contacts were recently told they no longer had to isolate, the 8,600-plus islanders caught in the contact tracing net are now being asked to minimise social contact, “think very carefully” about the places they visit, and avoid medical appointments. They were also urged to avoid visiting patients in hospital or care homes "except in special circumstances."
Children living with someone with covid should also avoid school if someone in their household has the virus, according to new guidance.
Pictured: Children with a positive covid case at home are now being told to stay away from school over the last days of term.
The decisions were taken by Competent Authority Ministers – the island’s emergency decision-making authority – today following urgent meetings of STAC, Public Health officials and the full Council of Ministers on how to address the island’s soaring virus case numbers.
Public Health officials believe that, if current trends continue, the island could be detecting around 500 new cases per day by 20 July. It is not currently clear when the peak will be attained, but the island has already surpassed the peak of the second wave.
This evening, cases stood just short of 1,600, with more than two thirds feeling unwell and showing symptoms. Nine cases are in care homes, which was not mentioned at the conference, and five people are in hospital.
Dr Ivan Muscat MBE, Jersey’s Acting Medical Officer for Health, said he was unable to give details of the five currently in hospital as the number was too small. However, he explained that since 28 June, there had been a total of 10 individuals in hospital with covid – half of those were fully vaccinated, and half were above the age of 50, and half of the group were admitted originally for non-covid reasons, but swabbed positive on admission.
The Health Minister said that Jersey would be prepared for more people being in hospital if necessary, with 80 beds free as of yesterday. He also reminded islanders that some people with covid in hospital may be there for treatment for another condition, rather than being there due to covid.
Pictured: Not everyone admitted to hospital since 28 June has been treated for covid, with around half there for other reasons, Dr Muscat confirmed.
The Chief Minister urged islanders to consider the statistics in line with the island's testing levels, which are the highest in Europe. Around 30,000 tests could take place this week.
Despite the high levels of covid in the community, officials said earlier yesterday that Ministers felt it was “not proportionate” to bring back legal restrictions or the type of ‘circuit-break’ measures in place prior to the island’s vaccination programme.
They said their decisions were based on: the success of the vaccination programme, the concentration of virus cases in the younger population, the dominance of the more infectious Delta variant, high levels of “covid restrictions fatigue” and a desire to move towards “living with covid.”
The aim of issuing new advice, they said, was to slow infection rates, preventing severe disease, hospitalisations and deaths among the vulnerable, and reduce isolation and mild sickness among the wider population.
Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré urged islanders to work from home where possible "to mitigate the spread of covid within workplaces, protect workforces and to ensure business continuity."
"At the same time, everyone should be thinking on how to keep workspaces clean and well ventilated, and ensuring you and your colleagues practice the enhanced hygiene measures we are all familiar with."
Following advice from STAC and in consultation with Public Health, Competent Authority Ministers have issued new guidance and extended measures to keep Islanders safe this summer.— Government of Jersey (@GovJersey) July 13, 2021
Read the full press release, here: https://t.co/patSwvSVBR pic.twitter.com/zsKHOCtAmC
In line with this advice, next week's States Assembly meeting will be fully virtual, and not held in the States Chamber, the States Greffe has since confirmed.
Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf emphasised that it was now a "strong recommendation" that islanders wear masks in public places and areas where "physical distancing is difficult". Wearing masks on public transport remains a legal requirement.
He also urged islanders to take "that extra time to use hand sanitiser or ensure your hands are washed thoroughly or thinking about the ventilation of your home when you have visitors."
As Express reported earlier this week, the contact tracing team is currently under severe strain – some islanders are having to wait more than 24 hours before being contacted.
Last week, the Chief Minister said 30 staff were being added to the team to help it cope, but Express understands that they are likely to need more.
Pictured: The contact tracing system is under severe strain currently.
Asked about pressures on the team by Express, Senator Le Fondré said this should be relieved by the decision to automate part of the process by informing direct contacts via text message.
Ministers also noted that more test and trace staff were being trained yesterday and would be working by the end of the week, and that students and school staff were being approached to join the team over summer. Express is aware some teachers were forwarded links to the gov.je job posts by their Headteachers to join the testing team last week.
Islanders were also urged by Deputy Renouf not to call the helpline if they believe themselves to be a direct contact.
"Our contact tracing team will contact you directly. Please take care, but be patient as we will be in contact with you if you are a direct contact," he said.
Addressing speculation that the Government was pursuing a hybrid herd immunity policy by allowing covid to sweep through the island's unvaccinated population, Dr Muscat was clear that "we are not playing that game."
He explained that the tactic was used in Sweden, which ended up being worse affected by its directly comparable Scandinavian neighbours, which decided to put mitigating measures in place.
Acknowledging the rapid spread of covid among primary and secondary school children, who have not yet had the opportunity to get vaccinated, he went on to state that it was better if they were to catch the virus in summer rather than winter to avoid an "overlay" of other respiratory conditions, which can place pressure on healthcare.
Dr Muscat maintained that "we are not using the summer to drive that - that is happening naturally."
Pictured: Covid stats released by the Government on Monday showed a much higher level of infections in the 18-39 age group, although infection levels are now rising among older people.
Deputy Renouf reiterated that the island expects "to continue to see high case numbers of covid-19... over the coming weeks."
He continued: "With expanding vaccination coverage, we are learning to live with and manage covid in new ways. Cases are increasing, but the risk of severe illness and hospitalisation is lower due to the protection afforded by vaccination. We are strongly encouraging islanders to adhere to public health guidance, particularly wearing masks in public places.
"This new direct contact guidance means people can more easily understand what they can do to reduce the likelihood of inadvertently passing covid onto others. Direct contacts are advised to be mindful of the activities they take part in and the settings that they visit while they are being tested. Remember, positive cases can be identified days after the initial contact, so it's important to follow the public health guidance."
Referring to the further postponement of what had been dubbed ‘Freedom Day’ on Thursday, the Chief Minister said it was “with regret that we’re not in the position to enable full reconnection at this point in time”, but added: "It is the right thing to do."
“We had originally agreed an additional 10 days to allow for more islanders to receive first and second doses of the vaccine, and while vaccination rates are increasing week-on-week, we are also seeing increased cases and so need to proceed with caution,” he explained.
“Ministers will continue to review the current position and work with STAC and Public Health to provide future updates.”
Earlier this week, Reform Jersey Chair Senator Sam Mézec blasted the Government's recent handling of covid as a "shambles" - a remark deflected by the Chief Minister during yesterday's conference as being purely "political" in nature.
Senator Mézec retorted on social media last night: "...When the Chief Minister has any form of criticism put to him, rather than holding his hands up and accepting he got things wrong but will promise to do better, or even just accepting that others have legitimate opinions which he doesn't share, he instantly dismisses it as just "political point scoring" or "game playing". This is a response more befitting of Donald Trump.
"Many people in our Island are angry with how this is being handled, and they deserve to be treated with more respect than this."
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