‘Edging towards’ end of the pandemic

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FALLING case numbers, less severe disease and growing levels of immunity are helping Jersey ‘edge towards’ the end of the pandemic, the deputy medical officer of health has said.

Dr Ivan Muscat believes that the Island is heading in the right direction and that the ‘balance of risks’ approach would soon enable changes to be made to current restrictions.

He spoke as the number of known active cases fell from 3,020 on Friday to 2,402 on Monday and again to 2,359 yesterday.

Covid-19 was classified as a pandemic by the World Health Organisation in March 2020, but could now be closer to becoming endemic, Dr Muscat said.

This would mean the virus was present but was essentially stable and spreading at a relatively slow rate.

Dr Muscat said: ‘Everyone would like Covid to become simply endemic, and we are edging towards endemicity, although what can upset that would be a new variant.

‘Variants can change the nature of the virus, but at the moment we are certainly going in the right direction.’

Rising immunity levels were another significant factor, he said, adding: ‘Western society as a whole is starting to get closer to significant immunity across the population, although there has never been any attempt to let infection run unfettered across the community.

‘People have been protected through the success of the mass vaccination programme and there has been some coincident infection as well – between those two factors there has been a gradual build-up of immunity across much of the population.’

Members of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell, including Dr Muscat, met on Monday to discuss whether current restrictions could be eased.

Dr Muscat said that while the next stage remained ‘policy under review’, meaning he was unable to provide definitive news, Deputy Chief Minister Lyndon Farnham said earlier in the week that he hoped Jersey would be able to follow England in reducing the mandatory isolation period for positive cases from seven to five days.

Assessment of the balance of risks remained the over-riding consideration, Dr Muscat added.

‘If the risk of Covid reduces, then mitigation measures can be reduced proportionately – we will look at easing restrictions wherever we can,’ he said.

In a BBC article, Professor Julian Hiscox, chairman in infection and global health at the University of Liverpool, who sits on the UK’s New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group, said that he expects lockdowns and restrictions on mass gatherings will not return. In the same article, Professor Eleanor Riley, an immunologist at the University of Edinburgh, said: ‘The likely scenario is life won’t look much different to the autumn of 2019, when we all turned up for our flu vaccines.’

The Island’s tally of known active cases has fallen significantly since the Omicron wave peaked at 4,137 on Friday 7 January. Dr Muscat said it was still possible there could be an ‘uptick’ in numbers as a result of factors such as the return of children to schools two weeks ago, but that at the moment the data was going in the right direction.

The number of people in hospital having tested positive for Covid-19 has been between 20 and 30 over the past 12 days. However, Dr Muscat said that in the majority of these cases Covid was not the primary reason for hospitalisation.

The government was continuing to work on providing more detailed information about the reasons for hospitalisation and the vaccination status of patients, he added.

Walk-in vaccination for first, second and third doses remains available at Fort Regent from 11.30am to 6.30pm on weekdays and from 8.30am to 3.30pm at weekends.

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