Government testing of fully vaccinated passengers at the border will be stopping, but islanders will be encouraged to self-test more frequently, as Jersey braces for a “likely” fourth wave of covid.
Announced by Ministers this afternoon, the measures are the key tenets of Jersey’s Covid Winter Strategy, which marks another significant relaxation in Government-mandated actions and a shift towards islanders taking personal responsibility for their own testing needs and risk assessments.
As well as for the fully vaccinated, border testing will be removed from Tuesday 2 November for those who can present a negative pre-departure covid test or show proof that they have recovered from covid within 90 days prior to travelling.
The change is expected to lead to an 80% drop in the number of border tests being conducted.
Travellers who are not fully vaccinated will still have to undergo a PCR swab test and isolate until their result, and all passengers will still need to complete a pre-departure form. Everyone who has been to a UK 'red list' country will still need to isolate for 10 days, regardless of vaccine status.
While the Government’s scientific advisers previously called for the introduction of random covid testing for passengers in the event of universal PCR testing being phased out, no additional traveller ‘surveillance’ measures have been announced.
But while the Government is stepping back border testing, it wants islanders over the age of 12 to test themselves more frequently during the festive period – particularly if they are returning from travels or seeing vulnerable or elderly people. The intention, the Chief Minister said, was to test more people on a weekly basis.
By 26 October, Ministers are hoping to have a website up and running that will allow islanders to register to have lateral flow tests posted to them. The tests can then be administered at home, and sent away for processing. Anyone who tests positive will then be invited for a PCR test to confirm their result.
Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, said that lateral flow tests were very effective at picking up the more infectious Delta variant of covid even in early stages.
Other recommended mitigating measures during this time include booster vaccines, keeping a small social group, physical distancing, ensuring good ventilation of spaces and ensuring good hand and respiratory hygiene.
The strategy announcement comes as covid cases are beginning to rise locally, in the UK and in Guernsey.
Officials say they’re anticipating a fourth wave, but haven’t modelled when it will come, its scale or impact on the hospital.
While the island’s high vaccination take-up saw rates of “serious” disease drop from 4% of infections in the second wave to 1% in the third, there are concerns of a bounce in light of waning vaccine protection.
“As soon as islanders are eligible for boosters, we need them to come forward – any lacuna between that fading protection and the uptake of the booster dose could be a danger point for vulnerable and more elderly islanders,” warned Alex Khaldi, Interim Director of Public Health Policy.
While Guernsey has now "strongly recommended" the return of masks as a result of cases doubling to more than 200 in the past week, Jersey Ministers are not issuing any additional guidance or enforceable measures at this stage.
However, if there is a sharp increase in “severe disease” that places pressure on the hospital or high levels of sickness among Emergency Services, ports or key utilities starts causing disruption then “strong” voluntary measures will be introduced as a first step.
Ministers will only look at legal measures as a “last resort”.
UK Health Minister Sajid Javid insisted that “life is not back to normal” and that people should continue to be cautious in a downbeat press conference yesterday, in which he said cases could reach 100,000 a day over the winter, with new variants emerging.
During today's press conference, Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré described Jersey's winter strategy as a means of "safeguarding public health without significantly disrupting islanders’ lives."
He said it was about the actions "we can all take" to "avoid the need for imposed legal measures."
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