18 May 2020
Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré
Welcome to everyone who is watching on social media and listening on local radio.
I am joined today by the Minister for Health and Social Services, and the Medical Officer for Health, Dr Susan Turnbull.
I want to start by acknowledging the pain and hardship that Islanders have faced over the seven weeks since we instructed you to stay home.
The negative physical and mental effects of the lockdown have fallen disproportionately on lower-income Islanders, on those in smaller flats and houses without gardens, and on those who are here in Jersey without family and friends.
It is falling especially on those severely vulnerable Islanders who have letters form their GPs instructing them to continue to shield.
People long for things to get back to normal. And I understand that.
I know the measures we are taking to ease the lockdown may feel slow to you, but I promise you, we are getting there, and this week we delivered, by post, advice and guidance on how we can support you more during this time.
On the 29th March, we instructed all Islanders to stay home to slow the spread of Coronavirus. We made this decision when we had 63 positive cases but were experiencing delays in receiving results back from the UK laboratory.
Estimates of the virus reproductive rate show that on this date our R number was close to 1. That meant, that on average, one infected person was infecting one other person.
Had this been allowed to continue unchecked, the R number would have grown and the virus would have spread throughout our community.
If it had spread like this, with the finite health resources we had available in our Island, we would have potentially reached the full capacity for intensive care, and our health care staff would have had to make difficult clinical decisions about who got critical care and who did not.
We had been preparing for COVID-19 for weeks prior to this, based on what we then knew of the virus and expert information we got from Public Health England and from elsewhere, including the World Health Organisation and the Centre for Disease Control in the USA.
We increased the scale and pace of measures that would help us prepare for slowing the rate of the infection which is referred to as ‘flattening the curve’.
We had seen what had happened in Italy and we could see what was happening in England and France too. With a rapid increase in cases expected in Jersey, we mobilised the public, private and charity sectors into our Island-wide pandemic response.
We brought the GPs into direct employment, made substantial investments in PPE, built a Nightingale wing, and set up a community taskforce with Parishes and volunteers.
We instructed Islanders to wash their hands frequently, to keep a physical distance of two metres apart from one another, to self-isolate if symptomatic, and finally ordered most of the population to stay home to flatten the curve.
We needed to delay the spread of the virus and preserve our critical health services for those who would need it most – those Islanders with underlying health conditions.
To further protect this group, we ordered them to follow the most severe form of lockdown, known as shielding; keeping them physically away from others and away from the virus.
These measures allowed us to focus on tracing those Islanders who had come into contact with the 63 positive cases and contain them at home in self-isolation.
This was… and is to this day… our Delay, Contain, and Shield Strategy.
Through the diligent actions of Islanders adhering so closely to the lockdown measures not only did we flatten our curve, we flat-lined it.
Seven weeks on from the beginning of the lockdown our new positive cases are near-zero.
Thanks to this strategy, we have seen only 10 positive cases over the last two weeks and 1394 negative results.
Our R number is closer to zero than it is to one – currently at 0.4.
While our experts tell us that this is a good place to be, it does not mean we can go back to normal.
We know more about COVID-19 today than we did back in March, and we also know that most countries in Europe are anticipating a second wave.
Therefore we will need to continue our Safe Exit measures such as physical distancing, border controls, and our enhanced testing and tracing to minimize any such wave.
This will form part of our new normal.
And it could be around for some time.
The Minister for Health and Social Services will now explain how we are going to move into that new normal and why this is right for Jersey.
The Minister for Health and Social Services Deputy Richard Renouf
We are on a path to ultimately eliminating Coronavirus in Jersey.
This has been achieved through the adherence of Islanders to our guidance. Our healthcare system, whilst rapidly and fully prepared to meet the demands of the virus, has not been overwhelmed.
We have put in, what I think, are some of the most comprehensive resilience measures Islanders could wish for, and this includes the Nightingale Wing.
But eliminating COVID-19 does not mean eradication. Disease eradication is when there are zero cases worldwide. Only in this scenario, would we no longer need intervention measures.
Only two infectious diseases have been declared eradicated by the World Health Organisation – smallpox in 1980 and rinderpest in 2011.
While there are other countries who are close to declaring what is called elimination, this is not eradication and no jurisdiction will be able to close off their borders to the rest of the world and wait for the vaccine to come. This could take years.
Staying in lockdown creates, and stores up, other health harms that are unrelated to Coronavirus.
I am receiving reports of significant harms to peoples’ health and wellbeing.
The mental health of many – both adults and children – has got worse as result of lockdown. It won’t improve whilst under strict lockdown and we will see increasing numbers requiring care.
We have Islanders who are suffering pain who were expecting operations or treatments which we have needed to delay.
Neither must we overlook the educational and welfare harms to children of not being in normal schooling.
All of these harms are recognised by other countries around the world and this is why they are all pursuing a safe exit from their lockdowns.
It is not right to expect Islanders to wait to face these non-COVID related healthcare issues until we have eradicated the virus.
An elimination strategy may suggest to some that our over-riding goal is to see zero cases in Jersey for a period of weeks – no matter how high the cost.
Given the extensive health harms that might be inflicted to achieve that goal, the Government has taken the approach to ease the restrictions when we are advised by the health experts.
These decisions are informed on the latest evidence on COVID-19, which is changing as the world researches it more, and is based on the evidence showing the benefits and harms associated with our public health measures at each level.
So, the way we are moving out of the pandemic is one that continues to contain the virus and shield vulnerable Islanders, but which also enables civil liberties to be restored, patients to access healthcare, Islanders to earn a living, and schools to re-open.
It’s a way that takes into account the health of our society, the wellbeing of Islanders, the structure of our economy and the future of our children.
Underpinning our ability to do these things is our expanded Test and Trace Programme.
We have increased both the swab testing to establish whether someone currently has the virus currently and the fingerprick antibody test to establish whether someone has had the virus previously.
Thousands more Islanders will be tested in the coming weeks.
The increase in swab testing has started with a range of essential workers who we have identified based on their risk of contracting COVID-19 through direct contact with the public.
The essential workers who will be offered tests in the first instance include patient-facing health and care workers, police, fire and prison officers.
The fingerprick antibody test will build on our ongoing household testing research with the nearly 500 households continuing with their regular testing.
By expanding this programme, we will make these fingerprick antibody tests available to teachers, utility workers, cleaners, supermarket staff, and other workers who have remained at work through Levels 4 and 3 of the lockdown.
We are still recording positive cases some days and will see more as we expand our testing.
But these positive cases are small in number, they are contained, and the medical experts who advise have said we are ready to open up our working lives, our social lives, our economy, and eventually our schools by doing it as safely as possible.
We may later expand our Test and Trace Programme to our ports. First of all we will conduct trial studies to rigorously test inbound passengers on the lifeline Blue Island flights and then, when we choose to safely open the airport to commercial airlines, to passengers at risk of bringing COVID-19 into the Island. As of today our 14 day self isolation remains in place.
I want to thank the healthcare teams delivering these tests and our tracing team who are working to keep us safe as we open our lives a little more.
Rapid detection, isolation and contact tracing will allow us to open Jersey safely – making sure we maintain a level of connectivity as we carry on living with coronavirus.
If you are invited to test, please consider taking part.
We are all in this together as an Island community.
We’ll continue to monitor what other countries are doing and learn from their experiences.
But that doesn’t mean we will automatically copy their approach.
By following our Delay, Contain and Shield Strategy, we have seriously limited the spread of this virus in Jersey and we hope to maintain at near-zero cases.
That’s why we are still asking you all to maintain strict hygiene, to keep your distance from other people, and to follow the latest guidelines as we publish them.
None of us can assume COVID-19 isn’t with us. But we can move forward safely towards a way of living with very low levels of the virus.
By delaying, containing and shielding, we can protect Islanders and enable family life, good quality healthcare, education and employment to resume to varying degrees in the new normal.
Tomorrow we will debate our strategy in the States Assembly.
We have been providing States Members and members of Scrutiny regular briefing sessions with our medical advisers and our senior officers.
As the weeks go on, we will allow for more social and economic activity based on the advice of our medical advisers and according to the guidelines prepared by these officers.
So long as the advice recommends it, we will continue to move cautiously through our Safe Exit Framework until we reach the new normal.
We will continue to enhance and expand our Test and Trace programme, continue to promote good hygiene, maintain a border control programme, and enforce physical distancing.
We will continue staffing our COVID-19 helpline for Islanders to ask questions and report symptoms, and we will continue to support Islanders with our community taskforce and communication campaigns.
We remain vigilant and stand ready to increase the severity of the lockdown if our medical advisers recommend it.
Only if there is a threat of a sudden significant increase of the virus will we force Islanders back into their homes or again shutdown businesses.
Our strategy is working.
Our curve has flat-lined, our R number is well below 1, our cases are near zero. We have Islanders to thank for that.
It has been, and will continue to be, a challenging time for our Island. Crushing the initial spread of the virus, creating huge economic packages to support lives and livelihoods, and communicating complex, difficult and sometime anxiety raising messages have strained us.
But as much as we have learned more about Coronavirus, we have learned more about our own community.
Now is not the time to go back on all the advances we have made.
Now is not the time to reverse back into severe lockdown in order to pursue a strategy that would curtail our freedoms unnecessarily.
And now is not the time to dash the hopes and aspirations of parents, small business owners, students and the elderly.
Slowly, over the coming weeks and months, you will be able to see friends and family more, you will be able to spend more time doing the things you enjoy, and you will have more choice to buy what you want.
Birthdays with grandparents, eating meals together, and allowing our children to play in groups are all part of our future with COVD-19.
We will only do this when it is safe to do so and while our cases remain near-zero.
It also fundamentally depends on you, everyone in this Island, continuing as you have been to follow the guidance including maintaining physical distancing.
Please, keep looking out for one another.
We are stronger as an Island when we do this together in a steady, informed and controlled way.
We will now take questions from the media.
Chief Minister Summing Up
Thank you to the media for your questions.
I want to close by saying that, as a community, we should be very proud of the position we are in, and the way we have handled the impact of this virus.
Compared to the restrictive measures seen in other jurisdictions, we did not need to impose a complete lockdown.
By taking the measured steps combined with the support and cooperation of Islanders we have successfully suppressed the growth and spread of COVID-19.
Together we have reduced our R rate below 1 and our new weekly cases to almost zero.
Together we have bought the time needed by Health and Community Services to prepare the infrastructure, equipment and testing and tracing schemes they need.
And together, we will ease out of the current lockdown.
That requires time, and the careful, thoughtful measures that the Health Minister has set out.
And it requires your continued cooperation.
So, thank you for all that you have done and all you are continuing to do, to protect our Island and our community.