‘Keep calm and stick to the strategy’, say ministers as the number of active Covid cases hits 811

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During a fractious hour of States questions yesterday, ministers were accused of having lost control of the Island’s response to Covid-19, but responded by saying it was too early to see the effect of recent restrictions.

Education Minister Tracey Vallois said that the overall attendance figure for schools was 45% on Monday, highlighting a contrast between primary settings, where 60% of pupils remained in school, and secondary institutions, where just 26% of pupils attended.

Senator Vallois, who missed last week’s schools’ debate due to illness, was asked by Deputy Montfort Tadier if she thought the decision taken last week – for schools to remain open – had been wrong.

‘The STAC [scientific] advice has been clear in terms of the limited effectiveness of curtailing the spread of the virus by closing schools and increasing evidence of harm by keeping children out of school for long periods,’ she said.

Although she was unable to answer a question from Deputy Trevor Pointon about how many teachers were absent from school at present, Senator Vallois later clarified the position, saying that out of the total States-run school staff of 1,743 – made up of teachers and support staff and excluding Highlands College – 172 staff were isolating, shielding or waiting for a Covid test on Monday, while a further 75 were absent due to sickness and an additional 29 for family reasons.

Asked by Senator Kristina Moore about the Island’s current ‘R-rate’ for the reproduction of coronavirus, Health Minister Richard Renouf said that when last calculated the figure had been in the range of 1.6 to 2.

Senator Moore fired back at Deputy Renouf, saying the figure he had quoted was at least two weeks old.

‘Why does the minister not ask for a more up-to-date figure so that he can base his questions on it?’ she asked.

Deputy Renouf responded that the calculation of the R-rate was ‘complex and required a great deal of officer time’ and was done ‘when necessary’.

During further questioning, the Health Minister said that information he had received from deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat showed that there was no evidence to suggest that a new strain of Covid, circulating in the south of England, was present in Jersey or would cause more serious illness.

Chief Minister John Le Fondré said that the high infection rates remained a factor of the Island’s testing regime.

‘The scale of testing shows how much more visible we are making the virus in Jersey than other jurisdictions,’ he said.

The results of recent measures to combat the spread of Covid-19, such as work-from-home guidance, the return of two-metre distancing and the ‘circuit-breaker’ for hospitality, would not be apparent until this weekend or the start of next week, Senator Le Fondré added.

‘The advice is to keep calm and stick to the strategy we are following,’ he said, mentioning a briefing with public-health officials and Deputy Renouf on Monday evening when the ministers had been advised that there was no need to take further measures at present.

Deputy Mike Higgins criticised the government’s Covid-19 strategy saying: ‘Most Islanders believe the government has lost control of the virus and that the guidelines for Christmas are likely to cause an even greater spike after Christmas, swamping the hospital and affecting the emergency services.’

The Chief Minister rejected this allegation, and also a demand from Deputy Geoff Southern that ministers should hold an emergency meeting to discuss the situation.

Meanwhile, the vaccination programme for residents of care homes has been continuing with 470 Islanders receiving their first jab on Sunday and Monday.

Around 1,000 care-home residents are in the highest priority group for the vaccine, alongside those under the care of Les Amis, with the first wave of vaccination due to be completed by the end of the week.

The government also confirmed that the next batch of 1,950 Covid-19 vaccines arrived yesterday.

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