One thing that didn’t change as the clock struck midnight at the end of the 31st December was just how uncertain life has become.
Yesterday, Ministers added some clarity on the road ahead, and that is to be welcomed – but it is still a little like looking through heavy rain on the windscreen, in that you can see the road, but the details are obscure, and the view is wiped afresh by the second.
What do we know? They have set out (see below) the priority order for releasing the measures making up our current lockdown-lite. Those have been grouped into three, based on whether they are judged to be low/medium/high risk.
Every fortnight, Ministers will take a look at case numbers, and the progress of vaccinations, and make a decision as to which ones can be released.
Pictured: the priority order for releasing covid restrictions.
With those caveats, it therefore looks likely that all shops will re-open on 25th January, but cafés will have to wait until at least mid-February - with working from home, and some other hospitality businesses waiting until the end of that month, or even March - and perhaps Easter.
They admit it is going to be a slow and gradual re-awakening from our covid winter, with the buds of ‘normal’ life only really pushing through into the tentative warmth of a late spring.
The reason for that caution seems to be twofold: firstly, the rapid surge in cases through the early part of December, which drove active cases above 1,000, was not in Ministers’ scripts or their Covid Winter Strategy. Clearly, the virus hadn’t read the plan. What happened in mid-November to provoke that major surge? We don’t yet know for sure, but it wasn’t just one party.
Which is where Ministers’ second ‘reason to be careful’ comes in: virus mutation.
The medics have sent 10 samples of the local covid virus to be tested to see if they are the variant which emerged in the final months of last year in the south of England, and which has comprehensively blown the wheels off the UK government’s containment plans. Underneath the BoJo bluster, the virus is running rampant, the NHS itself is now in critical care, and the UK government is fighting a desperate last-stand.
Pictured: The time-table is very loose.
Seven of the 10 Jersey samples have come back, and none is this new variant – but it is a very small sample, so more tests are being sent weekly, and the medics are working on the precautionary principle, of assuming the variant might already be here.
What has happened in the UK, with a variant which is 70% easier to spread, is a major reason for Ministers’ caution. In total, we have already passed the threshold of 50 covid-related deaths in Jersey, which was given earlier in the year by the Government as a potential worst case. So much for the covid deniers, and those who still call it a minor case of the flu. Perhaps they should spend a day in the NHS.
And of course, the virus doesn’t stop mutating. What has become known as the ‘South-African’ variant has also been identified – yesterday, the possibility (as yet not confirmed) was raised by Dr Muscat that this one doesn’t respond as well to the current versions of a vaccine.
And it is certain there will be others.
Pictured: Dr. Ivan Muscat suggested the 'South-African' variant might not respond as well to current vaccines.
So, as we peer nervously from behind the curtains at 2021, what has really changed? In line with our very limited social activity, case numbers have fallen dramatically; a vaccine program is underway. We know, in very broad terms, what the road ahead looks like – subject to virus mutations.
In effect, our borders are closed by the limited flights, backed up by the 0/5/10 day testing regime; and you have been told not to travel anyway unless essential, simply because it is clear the medics do not want the more pernicious virus variants to take hold here.
And we wait. Will our vaccination program proceed quickly enough, and be effective enough, to allow life to resume quickly, and the many businesses (aka jobs) which are now on the edge, to survive?
Will a continuously mutating virus mean that we still haven’t yet thought of the long-term solution to covid?
What will be the rebuilding cost, once the covid bills come in?
For now, we go forward, step by step.
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