But Deputy Richard Renouf said public panic could be more harmful than the virus itself and urged Islanders to stay calm.
‘There is no need to panic. There is more risk from a pandemic of fear than there is a pandemic of coronavirus. There is good planning in place and the best thing people can do is keep washing their hands, keep surfaces clean and take reasonable precautions,’ he said.
States Members were briefed this week on the reasonable worst-case scenario for coronavirus outbreak in Jersey. Under such a circumstance it is estimated there could be between 12 and 50 deaths, up to 250 hospital admissions and as many as 65 people needing treatment in intensive care.
Estimates are based on international models.
In 2009, in the midst of the swine flu pandemic the Island’s then Medical Officer of Health, Dr Rosemary Geller, said that up to 35,000 Islanders could be affected and 140 die. No one died from the virus in Jersey but estimates suggest it killed between 150,000 and 575,000 people around the world. The UK are working on a model that as many as one in five of the workforce could be absent at the height of a coronavirus outbreak.
Asked how the hospitals might cope with such a level of absence at a time when it needed to care for an increased number of patients, Deputy Renouf said: ‘There are very good plans which I have seen that would involve choosing to postpone certain surgeries and all non-essential work so that resources could be concentrated on Covid-19 cases.
‘Clearly that means disruption and people will be delayed. It will be an inconvenience and it might look a bit messy in this reasonable worst-case scenario but it is part of a plan. Keeping people safe, well and alive and offering them care in an emergency is the number one priority.’
He added: ‘We are also looking at that [bringing back retired staff to support] and we are looking at lots of possibilities. It would require the Nursing and Midwifery Council to relax rules allowing recently-retired staff to work. It is something we are looking at.’
Assistant Health Minister Jeremy Maçon tweeted a picture of senior figures including the Health Minister, Chief Minister, emergency planning officer Paul Brown and the Island’s consultant microbiologist Dr Ivan Muscat in front of a presentation delivered to States Members. On the screen behind them was figures relating to a reasonable worst-case scenario for Jersey. Deputy Maçon swiftly deleted the tweet.
The Health Minister continued: ‘We were open and frank with States Members. There is no hiding that there might be fatalities if we move into the pandemic stage. But what was seen in that tweet was a reasonable worst case scenario and it’s right that we have a plan. We are not trying to be alarmist, we don’t want the public to be alarmed by the figure of 50 deaths. If it was an ordinary flu pandemic it would not cause such panic but it’s because people don’t understand the coronavirus and it is new. We will move hell and high water to protect the public.’
At airports around the world and Europe spot checks for travellers temperature are being conducted. Such measures have not been introduced in the UK yet and Deputy Renouf said Jersey would follow the advice of health professionals.
To date, almost 3,500 people have died from coronavirus and there have been almost 100,000 confirmed cases – a death rate of almost 3.5%. Experts suggest that is skewed as not all cases would be reported. In Jersey 50 people have been tested for coronavirus, all negative, and there have been 520 calls to the helpline, 455566.