New laws to stop ‘super spreader’ house parties

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Ministers are urging Islanders not to flout the current guidance on the maximum numbers at formal and informal events – and warned that breaches would only lead to further surges of Covid and tougher measures at Christmas.

And Health Minister Richard Renouf said that he hoped to sign off the legal framework, which has already been debated and approved by the States, next week.

He added that household bubbles might be introduced to allow families to get together at Christmas – but Islanders are first being warned not to host house parties and private get-togethers amid a rise in infections.

Deputy Renouf admitted that officials were concerned that the closure of hospitality venues could lead to a rise in the number of private gatherings this weekend. And he warned that doing so could lead to more draconian measures, with a full lockdown still an option if the Island fails to get to grips with the number of Covid cases.

Currently, there are 440 active cases, with record daily increases being seen throughout the week. Updates will now be provided at weekends as well as on weekdays.

And Deputy Renouf said that he hoped to sign off on legal measures which would prevent large gatherings next week. The current guidance is not to attend informal gatherings of more than ten people, although until a ministerial order is signed it is not legally enforceable.

The minister said: ‘We do have concerns and we did recognise when we closed the hospitality venues that there is a risk of people meeting together in private homes. That would be completely contrary to guidance and would be bound to be an opportunity where the virus will spread. The more this happens the more cases will come into hospital.’

Deputy Renouf said it was ‘frustrating’ to think people might risk other Islanders’ health and that the Island ‘cannot kid ourselves’ that the surge in cases is a minor blip.

‘We have a mobile population – a social population,’ he said. ‘That has led to more clusters within the hospitality industry. That is not to say that the premises were operating outside of guidance, but people gather together, which gives an opportunity for the virus to spread. Whatever precautions are put in place, the might help mitigate the risk but they will not eliminate risk.’

He added that the time constraints to bring the hospitality closures and social-distancing measures into force had meant the legal notice on gatherings had ‘come further down the list’ but that was set to change next week.

‘It is important to have some means whereby enforcement officers can clamp down on the most serious cases,’ he said. ‘Presently it is still guidance and we hope people will follow that but we won’t hesitate to use enforcement where it is required.

‘There is undoubted community spread and we must ask the community to clamp down on that and make sure, unfortunately, we don’t mix together as far as we can.’

Concerns have been growing among Islanders about Christmas celebrations, and Deputy Renouf said that while the government was considering introducing household bubbles to allow festivities to take place, that could only happen if guidelines were followed. Further announcements might be made on Monday.

He said: ‘We are hoping that what we have done will enable us to have some get-togethers over Christmas but that is reliant on how people respond.

‘Clearly it will be much quieter than we are used to and we ask Islanders to accept that for the sake of everyone’s health and for the sake of keeping our health services going.’

Deputy Renouf said that latest measures were likely to take two weeks before the effects were seen and said that it would not be a surprise to see further increases in case numbers in the coming days. He did, however, move to reassure Islanders that the government still retained a ‘great degree of control’ due to the track and trace system.

Earlier this week, it was announced that the Pfizer vaccine had been recommended for approval in the UK. Deputy Renouf said the first batches of the vaccine could arrive next week, although no firm date had yet been provided.

‘I am quite positive that we will receive the first batch next week. Everything is ready and lined up. When it arrives in the UK, the process will be put in place for its arrival here.

‘Just because one arrives, though, does not mean we can relax. There is a long road before we can get everyone vaccinated.’

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