Entering a stricter lockdown would sacrifice the wellbeing of adults and children when Jersey is already on its way to stamping out covid-19, Ministers have said ahead of a key vote today.
The comments from Deputy Richard Renouf came ahead of a States Assembly debate this afternoon over whether the government should draft a strategy to work towards achieving zero cases of the virus locally by early June.
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”.
Pictured: Deputy Perchard said that eliminating covid-19 would allow the economy to get going again while islanders wait for a vaccine.
Deputy Perchard added that, while there are economic considerations, she felt the choice to ultimately be a moral one, stating: "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.”
But the Health Minister and Chief Minister both spoke against the idea during a press conference yesterday, with the former arguing that Jersey is “already on a path to ultimately eliminating” covid-19 and the latter commenting: "Not only did we flatten our curve, we flatlined it."
Deputy Renouf went on to explain that elimination is not the same as eradication, which means there are zero cases worldwide - the only scenario, he said, where the island would “no longer need intervention measures”.
He continued: “Only two infectious diseases have been declared eradicated by the World Health Organisation – smallpox in 1980 and rinderpest in 2011.
“While there are other countries who are close to declaring what is called elimination, this is not eradication and no jurisdiction will be able to close off their borders to the rest of the world and wait for the vaccine to come. This could take years.”
Pictured: The Health Minister said waiting for a vaccine could take years.
He went on to state that he was already “receiving reports of significant harms to peoples’ health and wellbeing”, adding: “The mental health of many – both adults and children – has got worse as result of lockdown. It won’t improve whilst under strict lockdown and we will see increasing numbers requiring care.”
Police said last month that reports of islanders harming or neglecting themselves had surged by 50% during lockdown.
He also went on to state that there are islanders “suffering pain who were expecting operations or treatments which we have needed to delay”, and that there may be “educational and welfare harms to children” as a result of not being in school as normal.
The Chief Minister later added that he felt a lot of the measures requested in Deputy Jess Perchard’s proposal were things “we’ve already done”.
He described adoption of the plan as “effectively going backwards” at a time when the island is seeing the results, stating that he would rather that the States Assembly has a general debate about the concept of elimination - in order that all politicians can share their views in an open forum - rather than voting on it.
Medical Officer for Health Dr Susan Turnbull expressed her view that such a strategy may be a "deterrent" to islanders taking "sensible and pragmatic" steps to avoid the spread of the virus, adding that they needed to acknowledge that the public health restrictions currently in place are likely for the "long haul".
Given the mental health implications of lockdown, Deputy Kevin Pamplin has suggested a change to Deputy Perchard’s proposals. He is asking that any elimination strategy includes “explicit provision for how, at each stage of the strategy’s implementation, mental health services will be provided and enhanced by the Government of Jersey in order to support islanders during the covid-19 pandemic.”
Pictured: Deputy Kevin Pamplin says that an elimination strategy could have a specific provision regarding mental health to protect islanders from the harms the Health Minister mentioned.
In a report explaining the idea, he writes that it would “allow the Mental Health services to adopt a more proactive approach to the support offered”.
“The Island’s Mental Health services have reacted to the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic with great speed, while keeping the needs and concerns of their patients in the heart of all they do, and they should be congratulated in achieving this. However, the earlier they are made aware of the strategic stages, the sooner they can determine the level and type of support that will be required.”
Deputy Kirsten Morel has also put forward an amendment to Deputy Jess Perchard’s proposal, asking that any border controls include PCR testing.
He said this would be “important in enabling travel to the island” and would “support the recommencement of the tourism industry, whilst still enabling the island to follow the ‘elimination strategy’”.
Medical Officer for Health Dr Susan Turnbull revealed in response to questions from Express during yesterday's press conference that this was a measure already being investigated by senior advisory group STAC.
Pictured: Deputy Kirsten Morel wants PCR testing rolled out at the island's ports - something the Medical Officer for Health says is already being explored.
She said such tests upon arrival, potentially combined with asking travellers to get a ‘negative certificate’ in advance of getting on a boat or plane, could be an alternative to compulsory 14-day quarantine for all new arrivals.
Meanwhile, Guernsey has decided to pursue elimination and is currently deciding what the exact definition should be.
In a press conference last week, the island's public health lead, Dr Nicola Brink, said that the island was in contact with Public Health England on the matter.
Speaking about the definitions under consideration, she commented: "We could say, 'We’ve had no new cases for 15 days.' Should that count? We’d argue not," added Dr Brink. "As you can see from our data we’ve still got seven active cases so, although they are in quarantine, there are still people who are potentially excreting the virus in the island.
"What we’re thinking of doing - we’ve opened this up for academic debate with various other colleagues in the UK - is look at the last active case disappearing and then a cycle of 28 days after that."
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