The Chief Minister has attempted to reassure islanders after test and trace systems descended into chaos today, crippled by excessive demand and technical glitches.
Senator John Le Fondré said “additional resources” were being poured into the contact tracing team to manage the growing direct contact backlog, and that Ministers would be holding an emergency meeting this weekend to come up with a solution.
His statement followed a call for an “urgent rethink of policies around contact tracing” from Senator Kristina Moore, who emailed Ministers earlier today to share the frustrations of businesses, schools and families.
The total number of direct contacts passed 3,000 yesterday as the island recorded 370 covid cases.
New isolation rules mean that not all 3,000 have to isolate for 10 days - double vaccinated people, and nursery and primary school children are allowed to leave isolation after a single negative test.
Pictured: Senator Moore urged the Chief Minister to take vaccination levels into account as she called for a more pragmatic contact tracing solution.
However, some individuals and children caught in the contact tracing net have reported having to wait up to three or even five days to be called for a test.
Even those who have been tested are also facing difficulties, with some reporting this morning that they had been waiting more than 24 hours for a result.
Amid social media clamour and a barrage of calls to the covid hotline, the Government confirmed around 13:20 that this was down to a technical fault.
They said it would be “resolved shortly” and that the contact tracing team was “calling as many people as possible who are direct contacts to bring forward first test appointments.” It urged islanders not to call the helpline in the meantime.
The number of direct contacts is continuing to climb, leading some islanders to brand it “lockdown by stealth.”
We are experiencing some technical issues with messages confirming test results and appointments. We are working to urgently resolve these issues and they will be resolved shortly. We ask that if you are waiting for results, please do not call the Coronavirus helpline. pic.twitter.com/kgVUWS5VI1— Government of Jersey (@GovJersey) July 3, 2021
Some businesses have reported their operations have been affected as a result. Predicting a “summer of chaos”, El Tico said earlier this week that it had had to cut customer numbers due to staffing issues.
In the past 24 hours, several schools have sent out contact tracing emails to parents and guardians. At least one school has informed a whole year group that they should not attend school on Monday.
Express is aware that some parents have planned not to send their children to school next week to avoid being contact traced and having their holiday plans disrupted, even though this will be recorded as an unauthorised absence.
Senator Moore wrote to Ministers shortly after midday: “Whilst those working in the contact tracing centre are doing their best, they are clearly inundated by callers. The lengthy process they have to go through takes time which is causing the system to fall over.
“The time has come for an urgent rethink of policies around contact tracing and a simpler solution is needed.”
Having outlined the current island-wide disruption, as well as the fact 60% of the population are fully vaccinated, while “those who have yet to be vaccinated are young and fit and unlikely to suffer if they contract the virus”, she went on to suggest personal responsibility should take precedent, accompanied by a digital test booking solution.
Pictured: At least one whole year group has been contact traced and some islanders say they are thinking of taking their children out of school next week to avoid being caught in the net.
“I call you on to please reconsider the risk that this virus is posing the lives of islanders and act now to spare the education and livelihoods of those who have already suffered enough," she said.
“The island needs to utilise the technology it has to in the first instance provide online booking forms for PCR tests. Ultimately an automated system to speed up the process and keep our hospitality industry and our classrooms functioning.
“The majority of islanders have demonstrated over the past year that they take their personal responsibility in society seriously. If you ask them to step up so that we can better control this situation, I have no doubt that they will.”
Senator Moore added: "Once again I call upon you to be clear in your communication and not to hesitate so that we can genuinely protect the education of our children as well as the lives and livelihoods of islanders."
Pictured: Senator Moore said she wanted to see a digital covid test booking solution.
Her message was shared with business groups, teaching union NASUWT and the Children’s Commissioner, who responded: “Dear competent authority ministers,
“I fully support this message and ask that urgent action be taken to ensure that our children and young people can go about their lives with minimum disruption. We cannot allow the rest of term to drift by without a resolution to the issues.”
In a statement issued three hours after Senator Moore's message, Senator Le Fondré said that Ministers were “acutely aware of the issues currently being faced by many islanders and businesses as a result of covid-19 contact tracing and isolation requirements”.
He continued: “We also understand the frustration felt by those who are unable to access the Coronavirus Helpline or who are seeing increased waiting times for test results. We have allocated additional resources to manage the demand, and staff are working hard to reduce the backlog.
“The Competent Authorities Ministers will be meeting over the weekend to urgently review our policies and to achieve a resolution that minimises the negative impacts on islanders, and protects businesses that are currently unable to operate.”
Pictured: The Children's Commissioner, Deborah McMillan, backed Senator Moore's calls.
The group of Competent Authorities Ministers - often referred to as 'CAM' - is made up of the Chief Minister, and Ministers of Health, Home Affairs, Economic Development, External Relations and Infrastructure. The Treasury and Education Ministers are not statutory members, but were invited when the importance of their portfolios in relation to covid-19 measures became apparent.
At an 'Ask the Ministers' event broadcast live on social media by Government this week, Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham, who is on CAM, suggested islanders aged 18 to 35 that had only had one dose of the vaccine should also be able to leave quarantine after their first negative covid test, rather than isolate for the full 10 days. He said the idea was currently being reviewed by the Government's scientific advisory team, STAC.
The island's final covid restrictions - including stand-up drinking, the opening of nightclubs and no more limits on private gatherings - are currently due to lift on 15 July.
They were supposed to go this Monday (5 July), but were pushed back to allow the vaccine programme to catch up due to the rising Delta variant-linked covid cases - STAC predicts 500 by this weekend, and up to 15 people eventually ending up in hospital with the virus. Currently there is only one person in hospital.
Many have speculated that the reopening will be pushed back yet again, but Senator Lyndon Farnham maintained that this would not be the case at the online Q&A event.
Video: The 'Ask the Ministers' event, during which Senators Gorst and Farnham maintained that 15 July would still be "freedom day."
External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst said he and Senator Farnham believed that should be "Jersey's freedom day", which he defined as the day "we start to live with covid."
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