25 March 2020
Last week, I said that Coronavirus poses the biggest threat to our Island’s wellbeing and way of life since the Occupation began 80 years ago.
As part of the global community, Jersey has not escaped COVID-19 as its tentacles have spread around the world and entered our Island.
Our medical experts have made clear that Coronavirus cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed, so we have had to make some rapid and extraordinary changes to how we live, work and play in Jersey, the like of which we have not seen since the Occupation.
I understand that you are worried about your health and that of your family, friends and colleagues. You are fearful about your jobs, your bills and whether you can buy the food and medicines you need. Businesses are worried about their very survival.
I want to reassure you that the Emergencies Council, the Council of Ministers, our medical experts and Government officials have been working together tirelessly in recent weeks to understand, prepare for and respond to this health pandemic and its impacts on our economy and society.
The escalating series of health measures that we have put in place over recent weeks and days have all been agreed by Ministers on the basis of expert medical advice and our understanding of where Jersey is on the infection curve of this virus.
The Government’s primary objective is and has always been to save lives.
To date, Jersey has had very few confirmed cases, but this number will grow and it is sadly inevitable that we will see loved ones taken from us before their time. We should all be prepared for that.
Therefore, the Government’s approach, from the start, has been to protect Islanders by implementing the right measures at the right time to prevent, contain and delay the spread of the virus, backed by effective testing so that we know as quickly as possible who has the infection and can take the right steps to treat them and keep them isolated from others. This is still our approach.
In essence, while we cannot stop the virus, we can take steps to slow the speed at which it spreads among us. This is critically important, because if we can spread its impact across months and not weeks, fewer people will be affected at any time, fewer people will become critically ill and our hospital will have a much better chance to save their lives.
We have also taken steps to ensure that our health service is as prepared as possible for what we are facing. We have ordered more essential medical supplies. We have ordered our own testing equipment, so we can test more people more quickly, and we expect to be up and running with this within the next few weeks.
We have cancelled non-urgent operations and outpatient appointments to free up beds and health staff for Coronavirus cases, and we have closed the General Hospital to visitors. We have also reached out to the whole healthcare system – GPs and pharmacists, community nurses, care homes and clinics – to ensure that we are working together as one healthcare service with the same objective: to protect Islanders and save lives.
The measures that we have introduced are responsible, proportionate and timely for our circumstances.
This is a Jersey response, based on where we are currently on the infection curve – not because we have to be different to everyone else, but because our circumstances are different. We have not reached the rapid growth rates of infection that we are seeing in the UK, Italy, Spain and elsewhere.
Nor are we the same as Guernsey, which has its own circumstances, as we have ours. We are in constant contact with our closest neighbours, sharing information and experience. Both Governments are following similar strategies but tailored to their respective islands and respective circumstances at any given time.
But we need your help. We require everyone in Jersey to do some simple, but crucial things.
Everyone should now be practising social distancing – keeping at least two metres apart from each other at all times, whether at work, in public or while shopping. This is vital, because the virus is carried on the fine droplets of water that we all emit when we cough or sneeze, and we need to keep out of their range.
This doesn’t have to mean completely locking yourselves away and staying indoors. But it does mean being sensible, responsible, vigilant and mindful of others when you go outside for exercise or for essential shopping.
In addition, we have published specific guidelines on the Government website about self-isolation. These explain under which circumstances, when, and how long you should self-isolate for. I would also remind Islanders of the helpline on 445566 if you have specific concerns.
People who can work from home should already be working from home, to limit social contact at work and on public transport.
And, of course, we must practise good hygiene at all times, with frequent and thorough handwashing, coughing and sneezing into tissues or the crook of your arm, and not into your hands.
For these measures to work, they rely on us all to do our bit to help each other. It really is very simple: avoiding unnecessary contact and keeping two metres apart will save lives.
If we don’t, the virus will spread faster, people will get sick and some people will die.
And if Islanders flout these measures, then the Government will have to consider stricter actions to limit our freedoms, including compulsory self-isolation for people over 65 and people with underlying health conditions – or impose even more draconian restrictions.
We have already advised against large public gatherings and instructed the closure of pubs and restaurants, nightclubs, schools, youth clubs, the cinema, museums, library, spas, gyms, swimming pools and betting shops. Regrettably, we have also had to impose restrictions on weddings. There will be special guidelines issued for takeaway establishments.
We will go further if we need to, and when we have to.
All of the Government’s decisions and actions have been made on the basis of expert medical advice and our understanding of Jersey’s position on the infection curve. The Government has not made its decisions on the basis of popular opinion or politics, and we never will. Public pressure and political expediency are not the same as medical expertise, and we must not allow uninformed armchair opinions and unevidenced social media assertions to gamble with people’s lives.
Let me put this at its starkest: if we adopt the UK approach now, at the wrong time for Jersey, people could later die who might otherwise be saved.
So the Government must not impose extensive restrictive measures too early, if they do not reflect the sound medical advice that we are receiving. We would potentially be condemning some Islanders to an avoidable death and as Chief Minister, I do not want that on my conscience.
In our small Island community, we are all in this together and we are all responsible for protecting and looking out for each other. The Government will continue to take the right actions for our Island at the right time, based on expert advice, and we will continue to provide clear, truthful and regular information that you can trust, which we will communicate widely and frequently.
But as Islanders, we must all be the best that we can be and heed the medical advice and the Government’s instructions so that we can stay safe, save lives and come through the next difficult months as a stronger community, able to rebuild our economy and our society once this peril has passed.
Senator John Le Fondré