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Speech by the Chief Minister, Senator John le Fondre

23 July 2021

Today I am joined by the Deputy Medical Officer of Health Dr Ivan Muscat, the Director General of Justice and Home Affairs, Julian Blazeby, and the Group Managing Director for HCS Rob Sainsbury.

We will be providing an update on Jersey's position and management of the latest wave in cases.

One thing I want to absolutely emphasise from the start is that this is a different phase of the pandemic.

We have high levels of infections, but hospitalisations to date remain low. And our vaccines are working, thanks to our world class vaccination programme.

As you are about to hear, instead of using the force of law, we are relying on the good sense of Islanders to act sensibly to protect themselves, their loved ones and our community.

So, we will be announcing new measures and guidance that fits the needs of Islanders and is proportionate to our current environment.

We want people to remain careful – but we have to move to a new way of managing COVID. People need to be safe but also need to be able to look after their loved ones, to go to work, and to live their lives.

We are closely monitoring the increase in positive cases and continue to work at pace to ensure the risk to Islanders is minimal and our public health is safeguarded.

This week, Ministers and Public Health officials have met four times in as many days and decided upon a series of measures which are proportionate to the level of risk currently posed by COVID-19 which I want to run through.

Ministers have agreed a series of optimisations to our vaccination and testing programmes.

So, for example, any Islander with symptoms of Covid-19 will now be able to book a free PCR test online, at any time, day or night, without having to call the Coronavirus Helpline.

The Helpline itself has seen an increase in staff in recent weeks and the average wait time yesterday was 5 minutes, with the busiest time still being the first few hours of the day.  The wait for calls to be answered after 10:30am is now minimal. 

 Ministers have also decided to offer all direct contacts with a positive case in their household free Lateral Flow testing kits from Monday. Unfortunately, we will not be distributing these retrospectively but if you have a test booked on or after Monday these will be given to you when you receive your PCR test.

Many of you will already be familiar with these kits which are self-administered and provide quick results.

If a member of your household has tested positive, or if you are a direct contact who works in critical infrastructure, we want to strongly encourage you to take up this offer. Not only to provide you with peace of mind but also to keep your friends and loved ones safe.

I also want to remind Islanders that if you are a direct contact you should engage in lower risk activities, avoid gatherings and meet others outside where possible, even if you have tested negative.

Ministers have also agreed a series of changes to optimise our vaccination programme to ensure as many Islanders are vaccinated as quickly as possible.

We will be reducing the dosage interval between first and second doses to four weeks, enabling 1,800 Islanders to have their doses brought forward.

We will also be piloting walk in appointments from Monday, between five and six PM. These will be for first doses of the vaccine and, if you haven't yet had your jab, please take advantage of this.

Additionally, we will be updating our isolation rules to ensure the mental wellbeing of Islanders, and particularly young Islanders, is not unduly impaired.

Therefore, with immediate effect, Islanders who have been instructed to isolate will be permitted to leave their homes for a maximum of two hours to exercise or to take in fresh air. We recognise that the current isolation requirements have been particularly hard on Islanders and especially difficult for those with young children or on larger families.

This period of no more than two-hours must be spent outside and must be away from people who are not in your household. This must be done safely, at a distance and at no risk to others. Further details and specific requirements will be available on the website.

We know that isolation has had and continues to have a very real and detrimental impact on the mental wellbeing of Islanders, and we are confident that this change will make an important difference but must be done responsibly. Islanders who have been told to isolate will now be able to go and safely enjoy the fresh air we so often take for granted.

But I want to be clear, these changes do not mean that you can visit a friend or loved one who is isolating, it does not mean you can invite them round to your home and you cannot meet up in a café or restaurant.

There are many Islanders who remain concerned by the rising cases which we have seen in recent weeks.

To those Islanders, I want to assure you that we are alive to your concerns – we are watching the current situation very closely and we will not hesitate to bring in stricter measures if that is what is required.

The reason why we have not done this, is because the evidence we are seeing indicates that the risk of severe illness in individuals or to our broader public health, posed by COVID-19 is lower than in previous waves.

We know that being fully vaccinated makes an individual twenty-five times less likely to end up in hospital because of COVID and significantly reduces the risk of serious infection.

What's more, despite the fact that the majority of Islanders are now fully vaccinated, this group only makes up a minority of our active cases.

Furthermore, the majority of our active cases are under 40 and we know that the risk posed by the virus to this age group is lower than in older Islanders.

Our world class vaccination rollout means that fewer Islanders will experience the severe symptoms COVID can cause and that even fewer will end up in hospital.

It means we have entered a more manageable phase in our pandemic response, one where the scientific advice is to focus not on total case numbers but on those few Islanders who do need hospital care.

At present, we have 11 patients in hospital who have tested positive for COVID and of these 9 are being treated for COVID as their primary healthcare need with the remaining two being treated in hospital for other reasons not related to COVID.

Of the nine patients being treated primarily for COVID, one is on the ITU.

An additional four patients were discharged from hospital earlier today because they are now medically fit.

I'd like to take the opportunity to say a huge thank you to our very dedicated healthcare professionals and I know that we all wish those who are currently in hospital a speedy recovery.

So, we are seeing a rise in the number of Islanders who are testing positive. However, as we have said previously, the percentage of positive cases who are hospitalised has been greatly reduced since previous waves and our dedicated team at the General Hospital are confident that any cases who do require hospital care can be treated safely.

This is not to say that there is no risk. COVID-19 is still a dangerous disease particularly to those who have not yet been fully vaccinated but the evidence we are seeing indicates that for those who are fully vaccinated, the risk is greatly reduced.

Finally, you will have seen that earlier this week we announced that masks would once again be mandatory in indoor public places. I know that with the sunny weather we've had, masks might seem uncomfortable, but they are an important tool which we should all use to limit the chances COVID has to spread.

So please, wear your mask when in an indoor public space and do your part to keep our Island safe.

Before we take questions from the media, I want to briefly cover some of the messages which we have given during recent press conferences.

We are still advising Islanders, where possible, to work from home and officers have been working closely with businesses to assist this. We appreciate that some occupations don't allow for home working, and we are working closely with these sectors to ensure that appropriate measures are in place to keep employees safe.

Unfortunately, the increase in numbers will mean that the reconnection of Stage 7 will remain paused throughout August, and this has unfortunately meant that some large events will not be able to take place.

There will be an announcement next week in relation to the business support measures which will be in place over summer and kept under review.

I know that the Hospitality and Events Industry in particular has faced significant pressure and Ministers continue to work closely with the sector to assist them through this difficult period and we absolutely recognise and appreciate the challenges that this sector has felt during what was meant to be an easier summer.

I think the slides that Dr Muscat has just run through demonstrate the scientific rationale behind our shifting approach. Our emphasis at this stage of the pandemic is on hospitalisations and we are urging Islanders to act responsibly and follow the guidance to keep our community safe.

We do have high levels of infections, but hospitalisations remain low. And our vaccines are working.

Instead of using legal force, we are relying on the good sense of islanders to act sensibly to protect themselves, their loved ones and other Islanders.

We are giving you the tools and guidance that fits your needs and your environment. We want people to remain careful – but we have to move to a new way of managing COVID.

People need to be safe but also need to be able to look after loved ones, go to work, and to live their lives. 

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