Ramping up testing to 1,500 a day and getting as many islanders vaccinated against flu as possible will be the two key weapons in Jersey’s fight against a second wave of covid-19, the island’s leading infection control specialist has told Express.
Deputy Medical Officer for Health Dr Ivan Muscat says it’s possible that Jersey could be hit by a “resurgence” of virus cases as we enter the autumn and winter period.
While he said he was “hopeful” that an effective vaccine will be developed, it is not yet clear whether this will be by the autumn or winter - when flu and other respiratory illnesses start to thrive.
If there is another outbreak of covid while other viral infections are circulating in the community, Jersey’s hospital could become overwhelmed.
In January this year, operations had to be cancelled after a spike in seasonal flu cases seized beds.
Pictured: Dr Muscat said there may be a second wave of covid.
The co-existence of both illnesses would also put the elderly and vulnerable at even greater risk of suffering severe symptoms or even death.
Dr Muscat says the Health Department is therefore looking to get as many islanders immunised against flu as possible.
“The danger is that people have both the usual respiratory viruses coming through, which is influenza and RSV, on top of covid,” he explained.
“We can’t do anything about RSV apart from respiratory hygiene and hand hygiene, but we can certainly do something about flu and that is to encourage flu vaccination as much as we possibly can.”
The programme will start in late September to early October, with efforts primarily focused on over-65s, who are more vulnerable to serious cases of covid, and schoolchildren, who are ‘superspreaders’ of flu, but not covid.
Pictured: Flu vaccines come in the form of a nasal spray for children.
The latest publicly available statistics show take-up of flu vaccines among both age groups during the 2018-19 flu season was just below 60%.
Alongside that, Dr Muscat shared plans to significantly scale up testing for covid-19 in advance of the winter.
Next month, the hospital is expected to take delivery of a self-contained lab, which will help to push capacity to between 1,000 and 1,500 a day.
Explaining the evolution of Jersey’s PCR (diagnostic) testing programme, Dr Muscat said: “In late December, early January, there were no tests for it and they had to be quickly created in reference laboratories, which develop things from scratch.
“Initially, we were completely dependent on Public Health England, as was the rest of the UK, on PCR tests that they developed to pick up covid, which put a huge strain on them and on us because our testing was limited by their capacity and limited by transport and IT connections as well.”
Video: PCR tests being processed in the hospital. (Gary Grimshaw)
He added that there is now a “commercial kit” on-island, but it has a limited capacity and is therefore only used at present for “urgent admissions to hospital and urgent discharges to care homes that require a negative swab” or any other emergency requests.
Tests taken as part of a general screening of health workers and the wider public sector workforce, as well as those conducted at the ports, are currently sent off-island, “with a view to a 24-hour result if everything goes well”.
“We are though very mindful of the fact that it would be a much more efficient system if we actually got the PCR testing to scale on-island and we are pushing really hard to getting that type of PCR testing by August and that is the ambition.”
Beyond securing the equipment needed for processing more than 1,000 tests a day, Dr Muscat said there were other hurdles to overcome.
“It’s the practicalities of it. It’s got to be the right equipment and of course… all this is over and above what we do on a day-to-day basis, so we need more staff that can operate that equipment. We need to organise all that within a relatively short timeframe.
“We have been working at it – we didn’t start this morning – but we’ve got a goal in mind.”
Dr Muscat was speaking to Express as part of a wide-ranging interview focusing on his career and what the island has learned so far from the health crisis.
Read the full interview soon…
Comments on this story express the views of the commentator only, not Bailiwick Publishing. We are unable to guarantee the accuracy of any of those comments.
Once your comment has been submitted, it won’t appear immediately. There is no need to submit it more than once. Comments are published at the discretion of Bailiwick Publishing, and will include your username.