02 November 2020
Winter brings us many health challenges. As the weather becomes colder and wetter, we spend more time indoors and the respiratory viruses like flu and now COVID-19 increase.
Across Europe, COVID-19 infections are seeing a sharp rise which has led to the strengthening of our travel policy measures. Throughout winter, arrival numbers will drop as people tend to travel less, but we will see an increase in the percentage of positive cases coming through our borders. With most of the countries around us now in some form of lockdown, it is likely that numbers of arrivals will be very small indeed.
But we have COVID cases here already and many other countries who have locked down for significant periods, have also seen new active cases crop up as we’ve moved into winter.
To mitigate against the increased risk of onwards transmission in the Island and the increased severity of infection, we must be winter ready.
An enhanced workforce testing programme will work alongside the existing border programme.
With the increased likelihood of on island transmission and sources no longer being traced to the borders, we need to ramp up PCR testing within the community, to identify cases and contain them before infection is spread to others.
We have identified priority groups of employees, across a number of sectors, who are at higher risk of COVID due to the nature of their public facing roles.
Increased testing within these groups has huge importance for the Island this winter.
This measure is of course in addition to the continued screening of symptomatic individuals and admissions to health facilities.
Furthermore, this testing programme will provide information on COVID activity in the Island and help direct our responses accordingly. It is a flexible and responsive programme that will be tailored to react to any changes we see occurring within our community.
The priority is to test not only people who are more likely to contract COVID-19 because of where they work, but also those who are more likely to transmit the virus, with a particular emphasis on those more likely to transmit to those more high risk or in enclosed communities, like care homes.
We want to proactively seek out the virus and prevent COVID-19 clusters to keep people healthy and help keep our services and Island economy running.
Some 60% of the Island’s workforce will be asked to join the enhanced testing programme and they will undergo regular PCR swab testing at frequencies based on the risk of infection and onward transmission.
Workforce testing will continue and indeed be increased for frontline health care workers such as those who work in the hospital, community health, care homes, primary care and the ambulance service.
Employees will initially be split into three groups depending on the frequency of testing. Some will be tested every 4 weeks, some every 6 weeks, and some every 8 weeks.
The schedule of proactive PCR testing will be continually reviewed to adjust to infection patterns and trends to ensure that we are doing everything possible to protect workers and the community.
This may well include an increase in the frequency of testing amongst certain groups if we find or believe there is an increased risk.
For this important measure to work properly, it is vital that as many of those workers identified within the relevant sectors participate in the programme.
The test will involve a simple swab taken from the back of the throat and nose. We are testing to determine if someone has the virus at the time of the test and not to test if someone has previously had the virus. We are not looking for antibodies.
We will not require any period of isolation before results are back but if positive results come back then that employee will need to isolate for the usual 14 day period until recovered, and contact tracing and further testing will take place. Due to the continuous nature of the testing, we can’t be isolating people before they get their results back, as this would have a disproportionate impact on the workforce.
If we don’t employ these pre-emptive measures then infections will continue to present themselves in the community but in larger numbers and with more severe outcomes, putting many individuals and the Island at greater risk such that more restrictive Island wide measures would need to be considered. And we want to avoid this.
Businesses have been contacted about this testing programme and I strongly encourage workers in the invited sectors to be tested regularly and be proactive in helping to keep themselves, their loved ones, their colleagues, their industry, our community and our Island safe.
No single measure will work by itself to protect us from COVID.
We all need to adhere to the public health guidelines – which I will continue repeating these as they are hugely important in this fight.
Increased hygiene involving washing hands regularly for at least 20 seconds with soap and hot water.
Use alcohol hand gel and wear masks when entering indoor public places.
Use the contact tracing QR codes in venues and download the Jersey COVID-19 App.
Maintain a physical distance of 1 metre or more where possible from those you do not live with. If you can keep 2 metres apart from people at any time, then please do so.
Keep gatherings limited to 20 people or 40 people for controlled events. If you are unsure, the guidance is online, or you can call the helpline for advice.
The wearing of masks is fundamental to reducing the spread in the community.
Masks act as barriers to the droplets that we spread when we breath, talk, sneeze or cough. Wearing a mask in indoor public areas is a huge service to your fellow islanders.
As the Minister has said, these measures act as protective layers. The more layers we apply, the more protection we have.
We have done well so far in keeping this virus at bay.
Please continue to act responsibly and with an awareness that we are not immune from this virus or its impact. Your positive actions will help the Island get through the next six months.