Ministers urged to ease Covid measures

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BUSINESS leaders are urging the government to ease Covid-19 restrictions as cases continue to fall and hopes are raised that the Omicron wave has peaked.

Following confirmation that England’s ‘Plan B’ restrictions will cease next week, and similar moves planned in jurisdictions including Scotland and Guernsey, retail and hospitality figures are calling for ministers in Jersey to follow suit.

Murray Norton, chief executive of Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said the work-from-home guidance brought in at the start of January had significantly affected businesses.

Referring to the guidance, Mr Norton said: ‘This is something we have reminded government about throughout the past month so they can better understand the support needed.

‘I believe they share our sense of urgency to move to a return to normal trading conditions as quickly as it is deemed safe to do so. We hope this is something we are moving close to.’

Known active case numbers in the Island stood at 2,308 yesterday, having peaked at 4,137 on Friday 7 January.

Town centre manager Connor Burgher agreed that the retail and hospitality sectors were keen to see restrictions eased.

‘We know that the measures have been there for a reason, in line with medical advice, but we have seen an effect on footfall,’ he said.

Mr Burgher added that many retailers had said that December trading had seen a lower footfall but higher average spends, with customers looking to buy goods rather than browse. However, he said January was proving tougher for the sector.

‘The hope is for a good spring and summer which are restriction-free, not just to help retailers but to allow us to stage big events,’ he said.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced yesterday that existing Plan B restrictions in England would expire on 26 January. Covid passports will no longer be required to enter nightclubs and large events, and the legal requirement to wear facemasks will cease.

Having recently reduced the mandatory isolation requirement for positive Covid cases to five full days, Mr Johnson said the intention was to remove this requirement entirely before the end of the winter. England’s current regulations expire on 24 March, but MPs could be asked to support a shift to an earlier date.

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Tuesday that most Covid restrictions north of the border would be dropped from Monday 24 January, the same date on which Guernsey will lower mandatory isolation to five full days, ease border requirements and lift work-from-home guidance.

Senator Lyndon Farnham, Jersey’s Deputy Chief Minister, said this week that he hoped the isolation period for those with Covid could be shortened, while Dr Ivan Muscat, deputy medical officer of health, said falling case numbers, less severe disease and growing levels of immunity were helping the Island to ‘edge towards’ the end of the pandemic.

Gavin Reid, managing director of Randalls, said that while the hospitality sector was not directly affected by some measures, such as the wearing of masks, January had been a tough month.

‘It’s been more difficult than a normal January, and December’s trading was also down on usual levels,’ he said. ‘Even though facemasks aren’t required in hospitality, the law for other places causes nervousness among some customers.’

Mr Reid said his business had also been badly affected by staff absence, with around 5% of Randalls’ total workforce reporting that they were unable to work on a single day earlier this month.

David Warr, managing director of Cooper & Co, said that his company’s staffing costs had increased significantly as efforts to keep venues open had to be increased.

He said it was disappointing that such costs were not covered by government support, which instead focused on turnover figures.

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