15 April 2020
I recently spoke about the detailed operational arrangements and planning that’s going on behind the scenes. Today I am providing a further update on key operational maters.
Firstly, I want to say that a huge amount of work is being undertaken to ensure that Islanders are protected from the effects of COVID-19.
That’s not just on the healthcare side, but also to deal with the social and economic impacts of the pandemic.
And I want to pay tribute to the skill and effort I am seeing from colleagues working across the public sector.
And thank you also to everyone outside the public service who is working with us – to provide community care, to support vulnerable Islanders, and to ensure that we can all continue to buy the food, medicines and other essential items we need to see use through this emergency.
As Ministers have made clear, we have a public health strategy for managing the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.
It is to delay the spread of the virus, contain it as much as possible and shield the most vulnerable in our community from catching it.
We know we can't stop the virus from spreading.
But we can influence how fast and how wide it spreads, so that our health service is able to treat those who fall ill and need hospital care and we can save as many lives as possible.
Our approach is informed by modelling, backed by an increased testing regime, so that we can see where and how the virus is spreading and therefore know how to intervene, although we can’t stop the virus outright.
Viruses don’t work that way, especially when people become infectious before symptoms start to show.
So we have to accept that at some point many Islanders will contract COVID-19, and that while the majority might barely notice, some will fall ill, and some will become critically ill.
When that happens, the Government must ensure that they have the best possible medical care, and resources to support Islanders.
And we must ensure that the actions we take are in line with the public health strategy.
That means, firstly, implementing the measures that limit the spread of the virus – through the Government’s Stay Home instruction, through social distancing, and through the closure of non-essential businesses.
Secondly, it means expanding the testing regime, so we have the fullest understanding possible of how and where the virus is spreading, and who has acquired immunity from it.
And, thirdly, as I mentioned, it means ensuring that there is enough healthcare resources, equipment and capacity to care for those who fall ill and need treatment.
At every step, we must endeavour to provide clear, straightforward and honest information to Islanders, so you understand what we are doing on your behalf, why we are doing it, and what the Government needs you to do in turn.
If I may, I’d like to say a few words about this last point before I update you on those operational matters.
I know that both the media and online commentators are keen to see more information.
I get that. But let’s be honest, we are never going to satisfy everyone’s desire for information.
None of us in Jersey have experienced a pandemic on this scale before.
Ministers are making decisions and officers are acting as fast as we can to implement them in response to an ever-changing situation which no-one has ever experienced, including larger jurisdictions than Jersey.
We are drawing on as many sources of information as we can to help us – both in Jersey and internationally – and unfortunately such information is not always timely and it’s not always complete.
It is also often raw data, which first needs to be properly assessed and understood before it can be released.
But I do know Ministers recognise that Islanders want more details and for information to be shared as quickly as possible.
And they also understand that Government can better balance the time we spend making decisions and the time we spend explaining those decisions to the public.
So, Ministers and officials will continue to make announcements via video broadcasts, where this is appropriate, so that these can be seen directly by Islanders on social media and shared with the press, radio and television.
But they also want to answer your questions, directly and through the media, and plan to do this more frequently.
Let’s start by updating you on testing.
Colleagues from the hospital lab, public health and commercial services have been working to secure on-Island testing that allows us to understand the full extent of the spread of COVID-19 in Jersey.
You’ll be aware that there are two main types of tests.
PCR or ‘swab’ tests show if someone has COVID-19.
Serology or ‘antibody’ tests show if someone has had the virus and since developed immunity.
All countries are competing with each other to secure test supplies, so it’s very challenging and the situation is subject to frequent change.
Despite this, we have been successful in acquiring both swab tests and antibody tests for the Island, and the first supplies have already arrived.
On-Island swab testing went live last week and is working well.
We have 4,500 swabs available and we started by doing 75 tests a day, which we have increased to 120 a day from today.
An order of 10,000 swabs is pending, which we expect to be delivered early next month.
We also anticipate further, smaller orders in the coming weeks, including through the NHS supply chain.
In terms of antibody tests, we received 10,000 of 50,000 rapid serology kits this week, which our lab technicians are testing for reliability, which will take seven to ten days.
Once the kits are confirmed as offering reliable results, they will be used to support an Island-wide immunity testing programme – starting with frontline workers – and we will order further kits as necessary.
We also expect the first batches of the order of 150,000 immunity test kits which we announced last week to arrive later this month, which will also need to be tested for reliability.
This wider testing will significantly improve our modelling data.
Tomorrow we’ll be publishing our weekly update on the infection curve, which will also show the impact that social distancing and the Stay Home instruction have had on the spread of the virus.
Early indications show that we are beginning to see some positive steps in reducing the rate of growth of infections, but the number of infections will still continue to grow, as we get more data and testing results, and until we reach the peak of infections.
More testing and more accurate modelling will allow us to predict, with as much accuracy as possible, the duration and extent of the infection curve.
But the peak is still likely to be some weeks away.
This morning I visited the hospital including the new Urgent Treatment Centre in the Gwyneth Huelin Wing.
What’s happened in the hospital has been a remarkable transformation to prepare for the changes ahead.
In short, the hospital as you and I know it has been transformed into a ‘hot centre’ geared up to support ICU and ward patients. The time colleagues have spent getting the hospital ready, training staff and preparing is fantastic.
This UTC is part of our urgent care provision, by managing and treating minor injuries and illnesses which have historically have been treated in the Emergency Department.
This means that the Emergency Department will have increased capacity to manage COVID-19 cases.
The UTC is also being run jointly by hospital staff and GPs, after agreement was reached between the Government and more than a hundred GPs to work together to tackle the pandemic.
For the next four months, all GPs will be directly employed by Health and Community Services.
GPs are also supporting care homes, triaging health cases in the community and supporting our Ambulance Service, so that more people can be treated outside the hospital, freeing capacity for Coronavirus patients and other serious cases.
Our shared priority is to save lives and it’s a tribute to both HCS and to GPs that they have come together at this time for the greater good.
It is critical that we protect our frontline workers, so they can protect and care for all of us
It is now well known that there is a limited supply of Personal Protective Equipment across all countries, including the UK.
Over the last two weeks we have, as a Government, decided to coordinate all PPE requirements on behalf of all necessary staff, as we found that different organisations had different arrangements which needed to be better managed.
To adapt to the limited PPE supply, we have updated our public health guidelines to ensure that staff receive the correct PPE equipment that they need, rather than the equipment they might want.
I know that is a difficult message to convey.
But let me be clear: at no stage will we let any staff be at risk of infection.
We have an expert panel of clinicians who assess each PPE request, to ensure that the right equipment is given to provide the level of protection needed.
And we’ve set up a PPE Coordination Cell to coordinate requests, deliveries, stock and distribution on-Island.
They’ve created an online portal, available seven days a week to any organisation in scope that requires PPE.
As I have said, this includes 150 on-Island organisations at present, including private care providers.
I want to reassure you that significant stocks of PPE are already held in Jersey and that we have been receiving flows of PPE into the Island to replace what is being used.
We also placed an order for more than a million items of PPE last week, which will begin arriving this week.
I want to finish with an update on health capacity.
Ministers have been absolutely clear that no Islander should be without the urgent medical care they need – even at the peak of infection.
That’s why they took the necessary decision to construct a temporary Nightingale hospital at Millbrook Playing Field.
We started work to scope this hospital facility on the 2nd of April.
The Emergencies Council confirmed the site and initial design and gave approval last Wednesday and construction began on Friday.
That’s a phenomenal undertaking and I want to thank the entire team involved in the commissioning and construction.
The Nightingale Hospital will provide 180 beds to care for patients suffering from COVID-19.
It is built to a scale based on the advice from Health and Community Services, after discussion with their NHS counterparts in the UK, where they are building similar hospitals, and based on predicted public health modelling for the pandemic.
The building and the first 60 beds are targeted to be operational on 4 May.
The building, flooring, partitioning systems and M&E services have all been sourced.
The building is a semi-temporary structure from the Netherlands, which was erected by a specialist team from the contractor Neptunus.
As of this morning, the groundworks are complete, the flooring has been laid and the roof structure has begun to be lifted into place.
The entire structure should be completed on Monday, ready for the fit-out phase.
We are on target to complete on time.
We have also sourced a dedicated oxygen generating plant, which we will use instead of an oxygen supply contract, which we couldn’t secure because of the worldwide demand for bottled oxygen.
This has the added benefit of being reuseable after this facility is decommissioned.
Apart from the building structure itself, all other work is being undertaken by local companies.
I want to repeat the Chief Minister’s thanks to all the local organisations that are involved in, or who have offered their professional assistance with, the construction of the Nightingale Hospital.
It is a true community undertaking.
I am conscious that during any emergency or crisis the demand for information will be significant.
My responsibility is to oversee the coordination of much of the operational detail to deliver the Government’s response.
I will continue to provide updates where necessary in order to give more detail behind some of the Ministerial decisions. We will also be providing specific detailed operational information on key issues such as testing and PPE stocks, but also on information about those who have tested positive for Coronavirus and those in hospital.