Guernsey has confirmed that a new, more transmissible strain of covid has hit the island, while Jersey is still yet to receive the full set of results back from a batch of tests sent off before Christmas.
“As part of our surveillance we send our samples to UK for genetic sequencing,” Dr Nicola Brink, Director of Public Health in Guernsey, which current has eight active covid cases, said in a press conference on Friday.
“We sent some of our samples to the UK to specifically look to see if we have the variant virus. One of our isolates did confirm that.”
She added: “The important thing to note is, the one person infected did isolate as a household bubble, and did transmit the virus to everyone in that bubble. It has emphasised the enhanced transmissibility for this new variant.”
There are two new variants currently causing concern for global health authorities - the so-called 'UK variant', which is not linked with more serious illness but is up to 70% more transmissible, and the 'South Africa variant', which it's feared may be less responsive to the vaccine.
Pictured: Positive test samples must be sent for sequencing in UK laboratories to find out whether the new strain is present.
Jersey's Public Health team sent off a batch of 10 samples to the UK for analysis for new variants of covid in mid-December, and is planning to send 10 new samples off weekly.
Last week, the medic leading the island's response to covid, Dr Ivan Muscat, confirmed that seven of the first batch had been returned so far - all of which had been negative for the new strain of covid. As of this afternoon, a spokesperson told Express that the three samples were still outstanding, as "the UK is dealing with a backlog of samples."
Given the lag in receiving results, Ministers and health officials said last week that they had therefore adopted a “cautious” exit strategy from 'lockdown lite' based on the assumption that more transmissible variants that may not be as responsive to the vaccine are already present in Jersey.
“We are not sure yet how effective the current vaccine will be against the South African variant,” Dr Muscat said.
“It’s sensible to be more cautious with the South Africa variant than the UK variant until we know more about it.”
The medic said it was one of the reasons the island must be “really careful” with its borders.
Pictured: Dr Muscat urged extreme caution with regards to travel.
Jersey will be able to benefit from a degree of protection provided by the UK’s new travel rules, which have banned direct flights from South Africa. It has also announced that all inbound travellers must obtain a negative covid test conducted within 72 hours of their arrival.
The UK has been treated as a ‘red zone’ by Jersey since early December, meaning all those who pass through must isolate for at least 10 days, undergoing three covid tests.
Dr Muscat noted that the number of positive cases resulting from inbound travel had been “very low” in recent weeks due to a significant drop in visitor numbers, which are set to plummet further after EasyJet and BA slashed their routes to Jersey.
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