Competent Authority Ministers have agreed new measures in response to the emergence of the COVID-19 variant, Omicron. The recommendations have been made by Public Health in consultation with the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) as part of Jersey’s COVID-19 Winter Strategy.
The new measures to mitigate against Omicron follow travel measures which were introduced last week to align with the UK’s Joint Biosecurity Centre, when ten countries were added to Jersey’s red list. The measures announced today are intended to further strengthen Jersey’s response and to reduce or delay on-Island seeding of the Omicron Variant of Concern.
Enhancements to the Safer Travel Policy
From Friday 3 December, passengers aged 11 and over arriving in Jersey who have travelled outside the Common Travel Area (CTA) in the 10 days before arriving in Jersey, will be required to isolate until they receive a negative PCR test result, regardless of their vaccination status. This measure aligns with the UK’s requirements for arrivals from outside the CTA. It is recommended that they also undertake lateral flow tests daily for 10 days after arrival.
Passengers arriving in Jersey are still able to submit evidence of a negative PCR test taken within 72 hours before travelling to Jersey. This will avoid passengers needing to test and isolate when arriving in the Island.
Following the red list announcement at the end of last week, anyone who arrived in the Island before the ten countries were added to the red list and had been in any of the countries after Friday 12 November, should book a PCR test immediately. This should be followed by a second PCR test five days later, regardless of whether they have already received a negative PCR test result. Islanders are asked to call the Coronavirus helpline on 0800 735 5566 to book their PCR tests.
Ministers will be reviewing the policy in three weeks to ensure the measures are proportionate to the evolving situation.
Contact tracing and COVID-19 sequencing of Omicron positive cases
Genomic sequencing of identified positive cases will be increased, with a particular focus on those cases identified through inbound travel, as well as a selection of cases from within the community.
Ministers have agreed a new contact tracing policy for any cases of Omicron that may be identified in Jersey. Direct contacts of a positive COVID-19 Omicron case must isolate for up to 10 days and undergo enhanced testing, regardless of vaccination status or age. This will re-enforce the combined efforts of all four UK nations to protect residents against the spread of the variant.
This policy will be kept under review as our understanding of Omicron develops.
Guidance for event organisers to encourage Lateral Flow Tests
Ministers have agreed that guidance should be issued to event organisers, asking them to request confirmation of a negative Lateral Flow Test (LFT) from attendees. This excludes hospitality venues such as restaurants and pubs. The guidance will be issued by Public Health over the coming days, as Islanders enter the festive party season.
LFTs are an important tool in identifying COVID-19 in asymptomatic Islanders where the virus may have otherwise gone undetected. The LFT programme’s requirement of repeat testing means that an incubating infection will be detected, rather than potentially being missed by a one-off PCR. Islanders are encouraged to order their free LFT kit online at gov.je/testing
COVID-19 Vaccination Programme expanded to more Islanders
Following yesterday’s announcement from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) extending the list of those now eligible for a COVID-19 booster, the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines will be accelerated, to increase levels of protection across the population over the winter months, and to increase our defence against the Omicron variant.
In addition to the continuation of the current vaccination programme, the expansion of COVID-19 vaccinations includes:
- COVID-19 booster programme extended to all adults aged 18 to 39, with booster given no sooner than three months after their second dose
- the offer of a second dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to all 12-to-15-year-olds no sooner than 12 weeks after their first dose
- the offer of a booster dose (fourth dose) to all severely immunosuppressed individuals no sooner than three months after their three primary doses.
To allow more COVID-19 vaccinations to be administered at Fort Regent, the flu vaccination will no longer be available there from tomorrow. However, Islanders can still receive their flu vaccines from their GP or in a pharmacy.
Details of when the COVID-19 vaccine will be rolled out to the expanded priority groups will follow in due course.
Masks remain strongly recommended
Masks remain strongly recommended for Islanders, particularly in settings where physical distancing is difficult, and Ministers continue to review the position.
Masks remain mandatory for all Islanders over the age of 12 – unless Islanders are exempt – when using public transport, including in buses and taxis, inside of the bus station and when inside the airport and harbour.
Masks are an effective means of reducing the spread of COVID-19, and they will continue to be strongly recommended in any setting where it is difficult to physically distance or where ventilation is poor. This is especially important over the winter months as the weather gets colder and we spend more time inside.
Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, said: “I would like to reassure Islanders that we do not to date have any confirmed cases of Omicron in Jersey, and our sequencing of positive PCR test results continues to provide a good level of surveillance for variants in our Island. However, as part of our COVID-19 Winter Strategy, which is in place to protect Jersey throughout the winter months, it is prudent to start implementing measures to ensure we have the best possible defence in the face of an evolving situation.
“We have already aligned our red list countries with the UK’s Joint Biosecurity Centre, and as a result we added 10 countries to our red list over the last few days.
“We also continue to mirror the UK Government’s approach and ask that anyone who arrived in Jersey before these countries were added to the Red List and had been in any of the 10 Red List countries after Friday 12 November, should book a PCR test immediately. This should be followed by a second PCR test 5 days later, regardless of whether they have already tested negative.
“To further strengthen these measures, Ministers have agreed a series of additional mitigations, which we are announcing today, these will be kept under regular review over the coming weeks to ensure they are proportionate to the changing situation.
“It’s important to remember that there are also practical steps we can all do to limit our risk and keep those around us safe. Taking regular LFT tests, particularly if going out, enjoying a Christmas party or seeing vulnerable relatives is one of most important things you can do to protect your friends and family. These tests are quick, free and delivered directly to your door.”
Deputy Chief Minister, Senator Lyndon Farnham, said: “We have previously committed to supporting businesses throughout the winter period, with the Visitor Attraction and Events Scheme, the Visitor Accommodation Support Scheme and the Fixed Cost Support Scheme extended to March 2022. The extension of the business support measures will continue to protect livelihoods and ensure that businesses who continue to be the most severely affected by the pandemic receive appropriate support throughout the winter months. These schemes will remain under regular review.”
Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, said: “With the emergence of the new Omicron variant, now also noted in the UK, it is important to ensure that we have the best possible defences in place. Vaccination works to protect against infection, severe disease, and death, and experts around the world believe that our current vaccines will provide protection against the new variant as it has done with previous variants.
“The new JCVI recommendation to expand vaccination is very welcome, and we will be following this advice as part of our vaccination programme. Demand for vaccination in Jersey has recently increased, and the expansion of booster doses to 18 to 39 year olds, as well as offering second doses to 12 to 15 year olds, is a very positive step in increasing our protection.
“Reducing the interval time between second doses and booster doses from six months to three months will allow more Islanders to get their booster dose, which is vital to maximise immune defence in those who are eligible.
“In Jersey, severe disease levels are low, which is largely due to the success of the vaccination programme which now includes the booster rollout. While we always try to boost vaccination uptake, it compares very favourably in comparison to other UK nations.
“Flu vaccination rates are now decreasing at the Fort as we work our way down the age groups. Because of this and the importance of increasing our COVID vaccination rollout flu vaccination will now continue at GP surgeries and pharmacies for those who have not yet received it. By doing this, the Vaccination Centre can focus on administering COVID-19 vaccines at pace, which is important in the Omicron context and as we enter the social festive season.
“It is important that Islanders continue to follow the guidance outlined in the Winter Strategy, which includes getting a PCR test if you have COVID-19 symptoms, isolate when asked, continue with LFT testing programmes, wear a face covering in crowded and poorly ventilated spaces, ventilate rooms, and get your vaccine and boosters as soon as you can.”
If you have questions, please let us know and we will try to get them answered.
And if you haven’t done so already, there is a webinar organsied by the Governemtn and Chamber tomrrow at 11am that may well answer many of your questions.
The link to register is here.