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WATCH: Test and trace chaos forces direct contact rule change

WATCH: Test and trace chaos forces direct contact rule change

Monday 05 July 2021

WATCH: Test and trace chaos forces direct contact rule change


People classed as direct contacts of a covid case will not have to isolate, as long as they are taking part in the testing programme and do not have symptoms, the Government has said.

And all direct contacts currently isolating who are awaiting test results, or for the helpline to get in touch to book an appointment, can immediately leave isolation.

Announced at a press conference hastily organised for Sunday evening, and effective immediately, the Government said that the contact tracing regime needed to be revised “due to the high levels of protection the vaccination programme has afforded islanders, and the risks of serious illness being much lower, despite the virus remaining in circulation."

As of Friday, there were 370 recorded cases of covid-19 in Jersey and 3,012 people classed as direct contacts.

Also confirmed in yesterday's announcement:

  • Direct contacts who choose not to be tested are required to isolate for 14 days.
  • Identified direct contacts will be contacted by the Covid Safe team to arrange testing. This may be by text message, phone or email.
  • All passengers who are identified as a direct contact when travelling to Jersey will not have to isolate, but will still need to follow the testing regime for arrivals as set out in the Safer Travel Policy.
  • The Safer Travel Policy testing and isolation requirements for arriving passengers remains unchanged.
  • If islanders develop any one of the main Covid-19 symptoms, they must immediately isolate and call the Coronavirus Helpline to arrange a test.
  • If islanders receive a positive result for Covid-19, they must isolate immediately for 14 days.

Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré said: “Ministers acknowledge that the successful contact tracing system, which was highly effective in earlier stages of the pandemic, now needs a revision due to the high levels of protection our vaccination programme has afforded islanders, and the risks of serious illness being much lower, despite the virus remaining in circulation.

We recognise the significant impact that the isolation policy has had on islanders personally and professionally, including children and young people, who have seen interruptions to their routines and education. Jersey’s covid-19 strategy has always focused on supporting public health measures which cause the least overall harm to islanders. 

“It is a balance between managing the wave of infections and illness with the need to implement restrictions on freedom of movement, which no Government wants to do. Ministers acknowledge this change will mean that covid cases will increase but we anticipate that the impacts on individuals will be less severe.

”The change in policy will allow for the Covid Safe team to focus on the management of testing and the enforcement of isolation for islanders who are positive with covid-19.

Together as a community, we have successfully protected each other against serious illness and kept the rates of hospitalisations and deaths lowThis couldn’t have been achieved without all islanders playing their part and adhering to the public health guidancewhich I ask you to continue playing your part in doing.

I am confident that the revised policy will ensure the integrity of our test and trace infrastructure, while ensuring that the overall harm to islanders is not outweighed by the restrictions.

Senator Le Fondré added: “In the context of vaccination coverage, it is time to stop seeing the number of cases as the primary risk factor. With these changes in policy, Jersey will see a significant increase in the number of positive cases but what we must now focus on is our hospitalisation rate and protecting our vital services. 

“As always, we will continue to monitor the impact of these changes and if that scale of harm becomes outweighed again,we will review restrictions. 

"Please remember the basics of good protection from covid-19. Public Health recommendations are to wash your hands, wear a face mask in publickeep two metres away from people in public spaces, and to allow good circulation of fresh air."

The contact tracing system has been put under severe pressure this week due to the high number of arriving passengers, the number of direct contacts and a technical problem with the software used. There were also long waiting times on the covid hotline as a result.

covid test track and trace contact tracing

Pictured: The contact tracing system was put under extreme pressure this weekend.

Some islanders reported having to wait days to be contacted for a test after being identified as a direct contact. Others were left waiting more than 24 hours for their result. Some islanders said that, when they did finally receive their results, they were told they were positive for the virus, before being told this was incorrect and they were actually negative.

Soaring numbers of untested direct contacts left some businesses with too few staff to operate properly, while one school wrote to parents yesterday morning, saying its staffing situation was "critical" and that one year group per day would have to be closed as a result.

Senator Kristina Moore wrote to Ministers on Saturday afternoon, calling for an urgent solution and an online booking system to resolve the chaos. Her message was backed by the Children's Commissioner.

The situation forced the Government to not only speed up the relaxing of its direct contact rules but also to apologise to islanders.

schoolclassroomeducation.jpg

Pictured: Prior to the contact tracing changes, one school said it would have to close to one year group per day because it had too few staff to operate.

Indeed, the Chief Minister started yesterday's conference by saying: "Over the past 48 hours, many islanders have been left feeling frustrated because of delays in the processing of PCR tests, test bookings and extended wait times when contacting the coronavirus helpline,” he said.

“Many of these delays have been linked to our covid-19 contact tracing and isolation requirements. This has led to detrimental impacts on schools and businesses, especially those in the hospitality sector.

"I am sorry for the frustration felt by Islanders who have been properly following guidance and seeking clarity, and for the negative impacts on individuals and businesses.“

“I am also sorry that our systems have not coped in the way we anticipated.”

Elsewhere in the conference Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham alluded to further isolation relaxations for inbound travellers.

“We are currently reviewing the Safe Travel Policy. STAC and the team are looking at a number of aspects of that, including the possibility of looking at some relaxation for those who have received one jab and I am particularly interested to see where Guernsey are going at the moment," he explained.

“Currently in Guernsey, fully vaccinated persons are not required to test or to isolate. So, all of those points are under consideration and I think, in light of today’s announcement and the fact that a lot of work has gone into coming to this decision in the last few days, that is a clear signal that we are gaining momentum as we get towards the end of the pandemic.”

When asked why the final steps in the island's covid reconnection plan could not be brought forward, Dr Muscat said that while the 'four pillars' of the fight against the virus - diagnosis, infection control, vaccination and treatment - were still incomplete, the island's current position justified the latest move as well as the remaining restrictions.  

"The price to be paid for isolation is quite high. The benefit, on the other hand, of the last remaining restrictions, which are due to be lifted I believe in mid-July, if all continues to go well, the benefits are not as great as allowing people to leave isolation if they are direct contacts, which is why the priority is the way it is at the moment."

Covid travel airport mask.jpg

Pictured: Senator Lyndon Farnham wants to see further travel relaxations.

Children's Commissioner Deborah McMillan said she was behind the direct contact policy changes, saying: "I am adamant that careful consideration of young people’s health and wellbeing must always be at the heart of decisions regarding public health and covid-19 measures. Having spoken at length with the officials involved, I am satisfied that this has been the case so far, and that all decisions will be kept under constant review."

She continued: "This remains, of course, a difficult and worrying time for many young people and their parents and carers. I would advise anyone who has concerns to either contact their school or GP directly, and to continue to be diligent in taking the measures that are within our control. These include things like maintaining good hygiene, exercising common sense in relation to face-to-face meetings, and so on.

"As a community, we have worked well together during this protracted period of crisis and disruption, with our Island’s children and young people being among some of the most resourceful and considerate of our citizens. I hope that this will continue to be the case."

WATCH: The full press conference...

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Comments

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Posted by Jon Jon on
Should of kept masks in place and what about those persons who refuse the vaccine,there the ones who will spread this around so if they come in contact at all with positive case they are forced to self isolate for two weeks.
Posted by john garner on
If islanders develop any one of the main Covid-19 symptoms.....is rather subjective ...what is a "main symptom"?...is this a legal requirement or guidance dressed up as law? ( they seem very fond of doing that) ..
Posted by Private Individual on
Jon Jon, normally I agree with your comments, however in this case you are wrong.

People who have had 2 vaccinations or even 1 jab are just as likely to spread the virus as those who have not had the jab. People are under the false impression that just because they have been jabbed they are immune to the virus and cannot spread it. This is factually incorrect, people who are vaccinated are more likely to spread the virus as they have a sense of immunity that non vaccinated individuals do not have. Ask Andrew Marr who was double jabbed and still caught Covid.

You cannot stigmatize people for not wanting to take a vaccine that is still in its trial phase and has not been given full approval. The vaccine is designed to stop you from getting seriously ill and having to go to the hospital. Besides the fact that it should be the individual's choice whether they have it or not.

Where does it stop? Do you stop teenagers from having sex and mandate that they must all wear condoms to stop the spread of HIV if they do?

The list is endless of why you should have the choice of takling the vaccine or not, so please do not discriminate against people who use their democratic right, and chose not to have it, if only for medical reasons.
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