End of Covid restrictions delayed by a further month amid case surge fears

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THE final lifting of Covid restrictions – whereby even those who test positive no longer need to isolate – has been delayed by a month until the end of April.

Jersey was due to remove all Covid-related restrictions at the end of March but following advice from senior health officials, ministers have agreed to the delay.

Both the UK and Guernsey have seen a sharp rise in cases since lifting restrictions with Guernsey this week bringing back mask-wearing in schools to tackle the surge of transmissions.

A combination of the identification of the more transmissible BA.2 sub-variant of Omicron, as well as Jersey’s phased de-escalation from Covid-19, has led to infection rates and hospitalisations increasing in Jersey.

Deputy Medical Officer of Health Dr Ivan Muscat, said: ‘The decision to extend the mandatory isolation requirement will allow our spring booster component of the Vaccination Programme to make significant inroads towards completion of vaccinating those who are most at risk of being very unwell with Covid. This extra month will also better permit those who have not yet completed their vaccination schedule to do so – in particular, it is very important that those over 50 who have not had their second or third doses to do so as soon as possible.

‘Although reducing risk through vaccination is the mainstay of our battle against Covid, the extra month will also allow for the further maturation of our anti-viral programme for at-risk Islanders. This too will have a beneficial impact on severe infection and hospital admissions.’

The isolation benefit will continue for Islanders who are not able to work due to the requirement to isolate at home.

Dr Muscat added: ‘We are seeing the increase of infection rates due to the new more transmissible BA.2 variant coinciding with our measured de-escalation. This unforeseen highly transmissible variant – which is now the predominant strain in both Jersey, the UK and many other jurisdictions – is not more virulent but does require a modification to the planned rate of de-escalation to ensure that we remain in control of events. We must ensure we do not have a spike in severe disease which could cause not only more admissions but also a significant attrition of our workforce – both within health care settings and outside.

‘It is vital that people continue to understand that we still need to retain sensible precautions whilst enjoying our freedoms, particularly when visiting higher risk settings like the hospital, schools and care homes. I would like to remind all Islanders to take sensible precautions before visiting healthcare settings. This includes taking an LFT test before leaving home and wearing a mask in these higher risk environments.’

Ministers have said they will continue to monitor Covid case rates over the coming weeks and have reminded Islanders that Covid continues to pose a threat.

Health Minister Richard Renouf said: ‘As we enter our new post-emergency phase of the pandemic and start learning to live with Covid-19, it is important that our response remains proportionate. We do not wish to impose unnecessary legal restrictions on Islanders without a valid reason for doing so, but with infection levels remaining high it is prudent to extend the isolation requirement for an additional month.

‘Cases of Covid-19 have continued to rise in many jurisdictions as legal requirements have been removed, and ministers continue to remain cautious about Jersey’s position. Covid-19 remains an unpredictable virus, so the extension will allow ministers to form a better understanding of the data in the context of de-escalation both locally and globally. The extension will also bring us closer to the arrival of warmer weather, which will see more people start to gather outside and allow ventilation and fresh air into their homes.

‘I would like to thank all Islanders for doing the right thing which has allowed us to get to this stage where isolation remains our only legal requirement. However, I would also like to issue a strong reminder to all Islanders that we are not post-Covid; we are post-emergency. This is an important distinction to be aware of. It means Covid-19 still poses a threat to our way of lives, so it is vital that Islanders continue to follow public health guidance, especially keeping up to date with their vaccination schedule, as it is truly the best protection from the virus.’

Full coverage in Saturday’s JEP.

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