Today I am joined by Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ivan Muscat.
We are here to announce the Government of Jersey’s updated COVID-19 Strategy for winter which will outline how we plan to continue the suppression of COVID-19 in the Island, ensuring we safeguard public health and wellbeing, while balancing the need to keep our children in school, our businesses open and our Island running as normal as possible.
The situation around us is once again changing dramatically, and with France and now England going into lockdown measures we are acutely aware of what a good position we are in, but how fragile maintaining that can be.
We published our original COVID-19 strategy back in June. This is an updated framework to guide us through the next three to six months, built on the greater knowledge we have of the virus and how we will need to conduct ourselves to suppress it during the colder months.
We will not be following what either the French or UK governments are doing, because their situations are very different. Nor have we waited to see what they are doing – because whilst our connectivity to them is important, what we are doing is right for Jersey.
We want to avoid blanket restrictions which impact widely on Islander’s, their mental health, their job security and their social interaction. Our goal remains, above all, to protect the health and wellbeing of everyone, but especially those most at risk from the virus.
This approach is based on updated medical advice from STAC.
We know that winter naturally increases the risk of virus transmission due to a number of factors, such as increased time spent indoors and the increased occurrence of other respiratory illnesses, such as flu.
We have begun to see an increase in active cases of COVID-19 in the Island this autumn with the occurrence of different types of cases, including those of unknown source.
We understand this raises concerns, but it was expected and can be seen in our sister Island as well as in all those jurisdictions around us.
Through our robust measures and investment in tracking and tracing, we have kept onward transmission incredibly low.
This Winter Strategy outlines how we will continue to manage increased seasonal risks while seeking to avoid disproportionate restrictive, Island-wide measures on the whole population.
We will instead focus our efforts on targeted and direct action, based on evidence, which will minimise the overall harm to Islanders’ wellbeing.
At the beginning of the pandemic, with our systems not yet matured and our understanding not as rich, we needed to act quickly by introducing firm restrictions on the whole population.
The initial lockdown protected the health of Islanders from a highly contagious virus that we knew very little about at that time.
This was a heavy decision to take, as even then we knew that restrictive measures like lockdowns can be harmful to livelihoods, mental health, education and the economy and we want to avoid the need to implement them. Our world class health service depends on our economy.
Our track and trace, our testing, and all our Government financial support packages are eventually paid back by Islanders and so to limit and restrict their livelihoods will quickly limit and restrict the scale of Government support and response.
Our Winter Strategy aims to prepare, prevent and protect Islanders against these indirect harms by balancing the risk of the virus spreading within our community and sustaining a level of normality within our economy.
We already have strong public health measures in place which have served us well so far.
Our border testing measures rank amongst the most comprehensive in Europe and we have an excellent test, track and trace program, with a dedicated team, which is now also supported by our COVID Alert app.
The Council of Ministers commitment to Put Children First runs through our policy work and we will do everything possible to avoid disruptions to schools.
STAC evidence and advice confirms that a balance can be achieved between the risk of ongoing infection and children’s education and wellbeing.
We will support that balance throughout this winter by keeping schools open and avoid prolonged student absences.
We have agreed eight areas of focus to navigate the Island through the winter months and avoid disproportionate restrictions on the way.
Firstly, we will increase our testing and tracing capability with an enhanced workforce testing programme.
The Government will now be offering COVID tests to a wider demographic of employees across industries who are at higher risk due to the nature of their public facing roles. The goal of our Contact Tracing team is to identify positive cases and those who are found to be direct contacts of these cases.
Targeted contact tracing ‘breaks the chain’ of the virus spread by asking those identified to isolate.
We have built a team of 55 individuals who investigate the source of the virus and support those in isolation with their practical and emotional needs.
This work has been incredibly effective and a key factor in reducing transmission in our community, so far.
Dr Muscat will shortly give more detail on this programme.
Secondly, we will continue to monitor the risk from countries and regions and apply changes to our Safer Travel Policy.
We will continue to change the classifications of countries and regions as necessary and continue a daily review of how cases are changing internationally. This is important as we still have Islanders returning to Jersey from essential visits.
The numbers of passengers arriving in Jersey has dramatically decreased, but the percentage of those passengers found to be COVID positive will likely increase in the coming weeks due to the high prevalence of the virus outside of our borders.
Our continued monitoring of countries risk will determine the isolation requirements on those arriving passengers, and we are making sure that they get the support the need when undertaking this isolation.
Our Monitoring and Enforcement team will ensure arrivals and their direct contacts are adhering to the requirements and the law will be strictly enforced against those who are found to be in breach.
Thirdly, within the last week we introduced a new policy for masks to be worn indoors in public areas.
This policy applies to areas where contact tracing and physical distancing cannot be guaranteed.
This means places where the public interact, but names are not recorded, for example supermarkets, banks and the bus station.
The States Assembly will consider legislation to make mask wearing mandatory but right now we all have the power to act responsibly towards each other by putting on a mask to reduce the risk of infecting others with this harmful virus.
Fourthly - We will review our guidance for those Islanders who are at moderate and higher risk.
We acknowledge that implementing more defensive guidelines for these groups may have indirect negative impacts such as social isolation.
For the time being, all those at higher risk of serious illness from COVID will continue to be advised to follow personal risk-based decisions with the help of our framework which outlines the risk levels for certain activities.
We will continue to review the types of cases we have on Island and if necessary, bring in enhanced guidance for this group with their core wellbeing in mind and a support system prepared for any outcome.
Fifth. We have already seen a successful take up so far of this year’s flu vaccine.
Vaccine stocks continue to be ordered and received by both Government, Pharmacies and GP Surgeries who are all working together to deliver the flu vaccine to a wider group of Islanders.
We are due to receive a batch of 20,000 vaccines this month to continue vaccinating higher risk Islanders and I thank those who have been successfully encouraging a greater take up this year.
We have already broken records with the number of health staff we have vaccinated with a 10% increase in take up already which puts us in a good position with maintaining a strong workforce.
Sixth. The Government will continue to prepare for the delivery of a COVID-19 vaccine.
There is no guaranteed date when a COVID vaccine might be available, but we can be ready to receive and deploy the vaccine as soon as it is available.
Good progress has been made on building a team of vaccinators within health services for peer-to-peer vaccinations and work continues in planning for the deployment of a vaccine which is likely to begin in early 2021.
Seventh, Government departments have been preparing COVID response strategies to ensure Government services can continue.
Health and Community Services has planned what support is required to reduce the risks for patients and the health and social care workforce over winter.
We want to minimise disruption of our services by ensuring the core functionality of health and social care is maintained.
These departmental plans also ensure that if escalation of measures is needed, we are prepared.
This includes ensuring our emergency capabilities are maintained such as PPE supplies and the readiness of the Nightingale Wing should it be needed, which we remain hopeful, it will not.
And finally, we will continue to focus on how our messages are communicated to the public.
It is crucial Islanders continue to understand and adhere to the public health guidance.
Our communications will fall under three themes.
Prepare, Prevent, Protect.
We will continue issuing advice and guidance aimed at bolstering public confidence in the work the Government is doing, responding to this pandemic.
With Christmas around the corner, we know this is an important celebration for many Islanders to plan.
We have set up a task group to provide advice and support and offer guidance on how to proceed with planning events safely. We will provide further updates on this in the coming weeks.
While we continue through this challenging time and as we come towards the end of the year, I want to remind us all of the inherent strength and security we have as an Island community.
Our Island is a special place and we can respond with the shared incentive that our individual actions can play a part in keeping it a safe place.
Our actions have an impact on not only ourselves and our friends and family but on our neighbours, our bus drivers, shop workers, cleaners, our tradespeople, businesses and our health and care staff.
Our individual actions have an impact on everyone.
I therefore urge Islanders to follow the public health guidance and I thank those of you who have continued to do so. Without your response, we would not be in the strong position we find ourselves in today.
Government of Jersey News Release.