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Jersey at a crossroads: time to eliminate?

Jersey at a crossroads: time to eliminate?

Friday 15 May 2020

Jersey at a crossroads: time to eliminate?


A backbench politician has put forward plans to pursue the total elimination of covid-19 in Jersey amid deepening splits between politicians, business leaders and members of the public on where the island should go next.

If Deputy Jess Perchard’s proposals are voted through next week, the government will have to draft a strategy to work towards achieving zero cases of the virus locally by early June.

It comes after a report published yesterday showed that Jersey’s ‘R’ number had dropped below one - meaning that the number of cases is soon likely to peter out - while the number of new cases in the past week has been below five. 

Explaining why she had put forward the idea in a Tweet, Deputy Perchard said: “Given the groundswell of public concern about relaxing lockdown measures, I have, today, proposed that the Government implement  a ‘COVID-19 elimination strategy’.

“I do not know whether this is the right course of action but want the debate.” 

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CLICK TO ENLARGE: How Jersey's 'R' has dropped following the introduction of different measures.

The St. Saviour representative’s proposal asks that any elimination strategy must include rapid case detection by widespread testing, continued intensive hygiene promotion, a coordinated communications strategy, “intensive physical distancing that may include various severities of lockdown”, and “border controls with high quality quarantine of those arriving in Jersey”. 

In a report explaining her proposals, the Deputy said that flattening the curve without elimination could involve suppressing of economic activity for up to 18 months, whereas, “if we were to eliminate the virus locally, we could eventually see Jersey and its people experience a life that is somewhat similar to normality while we wait for a vaccine”.

Citing New Zealand as an example of a successful elimination programme, Deputy Perchard notes: “Despite mirroring the start of New Zealand’s ‘elimination’ approach, our Government’s declared ambition has been to ‘delay, contain, shield’ – not ‘eliminate’ – and we are now hearing disturbing rumours of Jersey entering into a potential ‘bubble’ with the UK, whose infection rate is alarming.”

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Pictured: Deputy Jess Perchard said she would have liked to see a pan-island travel bubble - if the island first got its covid-19 numbers down to zero.

Closer to home, Guernsey is now edging towards elimination.

Having gone two weeks without any new cases, the island’s Director of Public Health Dr Nicola Brink this week confirmed the island is now looking to eliminate traces of covid-19 when she Tweeted her pleasure when patient numbers hit just eight, writing "we need to all keep up the hard work to eliminate the virus that causes covid-19 from Guernsey”.

Deputy Heidi Soulsby, Guernsey’s President of Health and Social Care, said Public Health is working on a way to confirm the virus has been eradicated locally, which could involve a set time frame of two or three weeks or longer, with no new cases detected.

However, news of the move has led to questions over whether elimination will involve a difficult trade-off: being cut off from other jurisdictions in return for ‘normality’ on the island. 

Jersey is also currently grappling with the question of travel, with Medical Director Patrick Armstrong recently confirming that the concept of a ‘travel bubble’ with the UK has been considered by a senior advisory committee to government.

In this week’s States Assembly meeting, Deputy Inna Gardiner asked the Chief Minister about the size of the island’s ‘internal economy’ - how much money Jersey would be able to generate were it cut off - but Senator John Le Fondré was not able to provide that information.

However, he went on to hint that Jersey wouldn’t trade off-island travel for free movement on the island.

While acknowledging that “some want to remain locked down until a vaccine arrives”, he said that this could raise ethical and human rights issues, as it could mean islanders being unable to see family abroad for an extended period of time. 

He added that, in any case, the medical advice received “to date” is that it is unavoidable that the virus will spread as soon as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Part of Deputy Jess Perchard’s proposals included rigorous checks at the airport and harbour for those arriving in the island - something Ports of Jersey’s Strategy Director told Express this week is being planned - as well as quarantine.

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Pictured: The Deputy wants strict border checks.

But local business guru Kevin Keen has said maintaining strict 14-day self-isolation measures for new arrivals is incompatible with easing lockdown and restarting the economy. 

Jersey is currently on ‘Level Three’, where travel is only permitted with government approval for medical or compassionate reasons.

However, an answer to a written question shows that commercial travel could return by Level Two, and that quarantine will depend on the risk level in the region islanders have travelled from.

Asked by Express, government officials said more announcements on Level Two travel would be released in the coming weeks.

The elimination debate has divided islanders, with a recent Twitter poll by Deputy Kirsten Morel seeing 50 people vote in favour of Jersey maintaining a stricter lockdown to eliminate the virus over the next two to four weeks, and 28 saying that the island should continue on its current course, which may see the virus circulate again. 

Deputy Perchard wrote in her elimination proposal that she sees the issue as a moral one, commenting: “Most importantly, this is an ethical issue. The Public do not want to keep hearing that ‘more people will die’. The Government have to justify the decision not to strive for elimination, given the lives it would certainly save.” 

Others, however, have pointed to advice from WHO Executive Director Mike Ryan, who has been quoted as saying "the virus may just become one of the viruses around the world that kill people annually".

“We have a new virus entering the human population for the first time and therefore it is very hard to predict when we will prevail over it,” he said.

“This virus just may become another endemic virus in our communities and this virus may never go away. HIV hasn’t gone away.

“I’m not comparing the two diseases, but I think it is important that we’re realistic. I don’t think anyone can predict when or if this disease will disappear.

“HIV has not gone away — but we have come to terms with the virus.”

Speaking to Express earlier this week, Jersey’s Medical Director Patrick Armstrong said the he also believed the island would be coping with covid-19 over the long-term.

However, he said that he believed the health service to be “well-prepared” for any new surges in cases, having reorganised the health service with a new Urgent Treatment Centre and given the opening of the new field hospital at Millbrook, which is being described as the Nightingale wing of the General Hospital.

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EXPRESS OPINION: We musn't build a wall

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Posted by Paul Troalic on
I applaud the Deputy’s initiative but I am firmly of the opinion that closing the islands borders is the only way to suppress the virus.
In my view there is no necessity for business or other persons to travel off island and even less for people to come here. We have the internet or don’t people appreciate that this is one of the reasons it was invented? Video calling, internet or virtual meetings should become the norm for the foreseeable future. Why can our politicians not understand this. I have been saying this publicly for months on social media. Business travel is just used as a form of benefit for most traveling off island. It is time to suspend it for the time being.
I don’t feel our politicians and ministers are really in tune with things at all. It appears that their policy is to justify the Nightingale Hospital wing by allowing the virus to be managed and not overload our existing hospital.
Posted by Keith Marsh on
Jess Perchard’s ideas have some good points. I hope the debate will be available for transmission.
Posted by Jon Jon on
I can see her point,Guernsey up to now has had fourteen days of no more infections,whereas Jersey is still getting infections albeit slower than before .The government in Jersey has relaxed lockdown by allowing certain eating places to open,shops to open,therefore they say infection rate will increase but we have this nightingale hospital so alls well.Had this government followed Guernsey and waited till we had fourteen clear days of no virus,then with the island locked down with no travelling in or out ,possibly everything could of reopened properly.At the current moment do I want to go shopping for clothes etc or eat in restaurants...no thank you .
Posted by Richard Miles on
Human coronavirus was first isolated from volunteers in the Common Cold Research Unit (CCRU) in 1965. Despite extensive research, no preventative vaccine was found and the CCRU closed in 1989. Research which lasted decades has found no effective vaccine for coronavirus. Covid-19 is a far more serious coronavirus, but is part of the same family. It is therefore unlikely given past failed attempts that a vaccine will emerge. Like the common cold coronavirus, it might be that Covid-19 is something we may have to learn to live with, however unpalatable that is.
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