20 March 2020
The Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, has issued the following statement:
It is no exaggeration to say that we are facing the biggest threat to our Island since The Occupation began 80 years ago.
The Coronavirus has swept rapidly around the world from China and Iran, across Asia and Europe, America and Australia, to reach into the furthest corners of the globe.
Jersey, as part of the global community, has not escaped its tentacles, and it is inevitable that Covid-19 will spread across this Island.
Some people, who may already be suffering from other underlying medical conditions, will be taken from us before their time.
As our medical experts have made clear, the Coronavirus cannot be stopped. But it can be slowed.
At this time of unprecedented peril to our collective health, we are taking all necessary steps – so our health service can care for those who suffer the worst effects of the infection, so we can support our Island’s economy, our businesses and our employees as the virus attacks our way of life.
But, as in 1940, this is not only a matter for the Government. Taking the right actions as individuals, and as a community, will help to see us safely through the weeks and months ahead.
I want to talk to you today about what the Government is doing and what we all need to do, as our lives change around us.
First – it is now the right time for us to ask everyone to practice social distancing.
We have already been asking those who are aged over-65 to stay one metre away from other people when outside their own home. Now, all islanders need to follow the same advice.
This means avoiding public gatherings if you can’t maintain a safe distance, working from home if you can, and avoiding public transport during peak hours.
It also means changing how we greet each other – avoiding handshakes, hugging and kissing.
However, it does not mean staying at home.
You can still go out, get fresh air, do the gardening, and walk your dog along a quiet lane – just avoid close contact with others.
I cannot stress enough how social distancing is one of the most effective ways to reduce the rate of infection and the resulting demand on our health services.
If we all adopt these practices, alongside good hand washing and hygiene, the better our chances of preventing the rapid spread of the virus and protecting those who are vulnerable.
Secondly – from today, anyone arriving in Jersey from anywhere in the world must now self-isolate for 14 days, regardless of whether they have any symptoms. This applies to people arriving by plane, ferry or private boat, including from the UK.
This doesn’t apply to essential workers as we need them to help keep the Island running, and as they are few in number this shouldn’t affect our containment strategy.
We are also amending some of our laws to give the island’s authorities the power to withdraw permission for large events, to shut down any public gathering that threatens the health of our community, and to enforce self-isolation, testing and contact-tracing for Covid-19.
These powers may seem a far cry from the way we are used to living, but this is a national emergency and while we hope islanders will follow our advice, it is already evident that not everyone does. And we need to safeguard the more vulnerable in our community.
If we were to do nothing, health experts estimate that up to half the population would contract the virus and show symptoms. Of those, four per cent would need hospital care – that’s around 2,000 Islanders – during a ten-week period, and that is why we took the decision last week in respect of over 65s and social distancing.
This is a mathematical estimate - not a crystal ball. But it does help us decide how best to protect Islanders.
The modelling shows that effective social distancing can reduce the demand for health care so we have the capacity to provide it.
Expert medical advice
We still need everyone to practice good hygiene – washing hands regularly with soap and keeping coughs and sneezes contained.
It is essential that people with fever and a dry cough stay at home and self-isolate immediately for 14 days.
We ask people to travel off-island only if essential for medical or compassionate purposes, or for key workers who are needed to keep essential services running.
But let me make clear, we are not in lockdown, or confinement or Island-wide quarantine.
We are taking proportionate steps, at the right time, to contain and spread the rate of infection so that we can cope with its impacts.
But these actions rely on all Islanders to take heed and follow the advice.
The behaviour of each and every one of us is fundamental to how well, or how badly, the Island as a whole is protected.
Some of you may feel that you are at low risk of harm and can carry on as normal. But remember, your actions may put more vulnerable people – the elderly, and those who have underlying health issues – in serious danger.
You can help save lives by following this advice. Not doing so could contribute to someone’s death.
I turn now to some direct action that the Government has already taken to limit the spread of the virus.
On Wednesday, we announced that we would close most Government schools and colleges from 23 March until at least 20 April.
Students’ last day in their school or college is therefore today.
This decision was made in consultation with the Medical Officer of Health and is fully supported by the Emergencies Council.
The Children, Young People, Education and Skills department will determine whether further closures are needed, based on health-led advice. Parents, carers and students will be kept informed.
All students affected by the school closures will be continuing their learning at home with work set by teachers.
Parents and carers have been urged to maintain social distancing for their children – by restricting play dates, parties and all out-of-school activities that meet our guidelines.
And we are working across Government to see if we can organise childcare for some essential workers.
I am aware that there has been criticism of the Government for not closing schools earlier, but the timing of our decision was made on expert medical advice.
Children and young people are among the lowest-risk group in the Island. So taking them out of school too early would have disrupted their education and damaged their wellbeing, without significant health benefits for the community.
It would also have kept parents at home for longer – depriving our health service of the many hundreds of staff who are also parents.
I am confident that the Government made the responsible and proportionate decision at the right time.
The Government also issued guidance this week to organisers of large public events –many have already been cancelled.
The medical evidence is that large events and mass gatherings can significantly contribute to the spread of Covid-19, as well as adding to the pressure on our health and public services.
Over the next ten weeks, public gatherings are prohibited if they last for more than two days and involve 150 people or more in close contact.
This regrettably includes the high-profile events planned for the Liberation 75 commemorations.
We will keep the threshold for events under review – but it’s also up to us all as individuals to assess whether our attendance at an event will increase the risk of the disease being spread, particularly to friends and family who might be more vulnerable than us.
If you have any hint of flu-like symptoms – stay at home.
Support for the economy and Islanders
The Government has also announced measures to protect our economy and our people through the difficult weeks and months ahead.
We have launched a package of business support worth £180 million to maintain the Island’s current and future economy and prosperity.
We are deferring all GST payments and social security contributions from employers and employees for the next six months and we are introducing loan guarantees to support business.
Today we have announced additional support for a range of business sectors, including hospitality, retail and agriculture.
Infrastructure and utilities
We are keeping supplies flowing freely by working with the Island’s logistics providers to create additional resilience in Jersey’s supply chain.
Working with Condor, we have already improved the Island’s freight capacity and secured an additional ship to maintain our supply chain if circumstances change.
The Island’s telecoms providers have boosted broadband and mobile capacity for all Islanders at no extra cost, to ensure we can cope with a growth in home-working.
We are also working with the utility companies to give customers flexibility in their payment terms, including payment deferrals for people who find themselves in difficulties.
These measures reflect the gravity of the situation and the Government’s preparedness to provide political, financial and practical support to mitigate the risks faced by our economy, our businesses and their employees.
Because support for business is support for people – protecting jobs, lives and livelihoods.
I know that this is a lot to take in and it is constantly evolving. Please make sure you check the up to date advice, through the Government website, the local media, or for very urgent matters contact the helpline on 445566.
Finally, I want to say a few words about our behaviours and responsibilities – as a Government and as Islanders.
As a Government, I commit to Islanders that we will keep you informed – as I believe we have been doing well throughout the past weeks. Please remember that events are fast moving and we are in an unprecedented situation.
We will make decisions that are based on evidence and expert advice, not on armchair populism.
And we will lead our Island through these most difficult of times with steadfast determination.
But this is a two-way deal.
As I said at the beginning, we are facing the biggest threat to our Island since The Occupation.
And, just as during The Occupation, we have a responsibility and a duty to one another.
We are all in it together, as one Island community, so we must behave as a community and not act selfishly as individuals.
This means heeding and adopting the advice about hand washing, social distancing, self-isolation and travel.
Because that is how we protect the most vulnerable and save lives.
But it means more than that.
It means thinking about family, friends, colleagues and neighbours and finding out what help they might need.
It means making contact – by phone or video – to check on people who are in self-isolation, or living alone.
It means being flexible at work – perhaps doing things differently or willingly filling in for absent colleagues.
It means supporting local businesses where it is possible, which badly need your custom, while continuing to practice good hygiene and social distancing.
And it means behaving responsibly, with consideration for others, when shopping in supermarkets.
It means only buying what you need as you normally would.
It means not stockpiling for yourself thereby depriving others of the basic essentials that they might need today.
We should frankly be ashamed of ourselves at how some people are behaving in our supermarkets.
And it is so unnecessary – we have no problem with supermarket supplies, and we have strengthened our supply resilience.
This is not how we pull together as a community in an emergency; it’s how we fall apart.
It is not how Islanders withstood five years of Occupation.
It should not be how Islanders conduct themselves today.
It is with great regret that many Liberation 75 events have had to be cancelled.
But there can be no greater commemoration of those who lived through The Occupation than Jersey once again coming together as one Island, where neighbours and strangers look out for each other and help each other throughout the difficult times that lie ahead.
I have always had a strong faith in our community, voluntary and honorary spirt and I know that by all of us, diligently following the advice, we can get through this and come out stronger at the end.
That is the Jersey we should strive to be through the weeks and months to come.