A senior doctor has slammed the government for “missing an opportunity to protect islanders” from coronavirus after the Chief Minister said people should still take holidays off-island.
The criticism from cardiologist Dr Andrew Mitchell came after Ministers unveiled a package of measures to address the Covid-19 outbreak following a four-hour meeting of the Emergencies Council last night.
Those included funding for urgent health checks on vulnerable islanders and tax breaks for struggling businesses, but the decision was not taken to restrict large-scale events, close schools or urge against non-essential travel.
Video: The Chief Minister's opening speech to the Emergencies Council.
“I am asking Islanders to maintain a measured semblance of normal life and this includes taking holidays off-island,” Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré said.
“Although our priority is to protect the community from coronavirus, the Government will be looking after the interests of public money sensibly.”
The comments sparked a furious backlash on social media, coming just hours after Guernsey’s Public Health Service took the opposite position, “strongly advising” against travel off-island.
“Go home and stay there. This is not just about you, it’s everyone else, especially the vulnerable. We have to work as a community,” Guernsey’s Chief Minister, Gavin St. Pier, urged.
Significant change in advice; we know it will have major impact on families and businesses but it is essential advice to help us contain this. Go home and stay there. This is not just about you, it's everyone else, especially the vulnerable. We have to work as a community. https://t.co/GrzLW3IiPu— Gavin St Pier (@gavinstpier) March 12, 2020
Cardiologist Dr Andrew Mitchell hit out at Jersey’s position as “astonishing” on Twitter, opting to issue his own “different” advice to patients.
“Don’t travel. If you are elderly then limit social contact to essentials. Work from home,” he wrote.
“If they have got it wrong then things are really bad,” Dr Mitchell added in the post that has since gained over 200 ‘likes’ and around 100 retweets.
In the wake of the news, a petition calling for the island to be put on ‘lockdown’ hit 2,000 signatures, and continues to grow.
Astonishing. So @GovJersey has chosen to miss an opportunity to protect Islanders from #Covid19. My advice to patients is different. Don’t travel. If you are elderly then limit social contact to essentials. Work from home. If they have got it wrong then things are really bad.— Dr Andrew Mitchell (@mitcharj) March 12, 2020
Responding to the waves of disapproval this morning, Senator Le Fondré tweeted: “We have been advised by the Medical Officer that the island at present does not need to be locked down and we need to enable islanders to retain normal activities.
"If you seek to travel, you should first check the current UK [Foreign Commonwealth Office] guidelines.”
Last night, the Health Minister, Deputy Richard Renouf, maintained the government was “committed to protecting our most vulnerable”, adding that islanders should still be able to socialise unhindered if they do not have cold or flu-like symptoms.
“However, for some, a level of social distancing may be required which would mean they should not attend social events or gather in groups until further advice is issued. We will keep Islanders updated regarding this advice,” he said.
Let me clarify what I was saying yesterday. We have been advised by the medical officer that the Island at present does not need to be locked down & we need to enable Islanders to retain normal activities. If you seek to travel you should first check the current UK FCO guidelines— John Le Fondre (@John_Le_Fondre) March 13, 2020
Hours after that advice was issued, Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham announced plans to protect the island’s economy as Covid-19 takes hold.
Senator Farnham also confirmed there was “support” from the local banking sector.
Yesterday, NatWest announced loan repayment ‘holidays’ for its personal and SME clients, among other measures.
Pictured: NatWest International has announced a raft of emergency support measures for customers and small and medium sized businesses.
Businesses across the island are clamping down on non-essential travel and visits to public gatherings and increasingly advising staff to work remotely.
This week’s Chamber Lunch was held ‘virtually’, while Jersey’s Institute of Directors as chosen to cancel its next meeting.
Numerous local care homes are now taking the decision to restrict visitors to protect their residents.
St. Helier-based St. Ewold's was the latest to do so this morning, explaining: “Whilst appreciating the inconvenience that this will undoubtedly cause, we feel that taking this precautionary measure now is in the best interests of our residents."
Pictured: St. Ewold's this morning announced it would be restricting visits to the care home.
“The St. Ewold’s Team will discuss the practicalities of how this will work with residents, family and friends," they added.
There are still only two cases of coronavirus that have been officially confirmed on the island.
Both individuals had recently returned from Italy and remain in self-isolation.
The illness was this week declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation, but they noted this related to the transmissibility of Covid-19, rather than the severity of it, with around 80% of cases said to be 'mild'.
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