Scientific advice cell to update ministers on Covid and schools

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With some evidence said to indicate that young people spread the recently discovered new strain of coronavirus more readily, Senator Kristina Moore raised the issue in the States during a Covid question time as part of Sunday’s special sitting to discuss the Brexit deal.

The start of the school term on 4 January has already been delayed by two days to allow schools and teachers time to prepare for any revised Covid measures. In England, Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove said the government hoped the staggered reopening of schools would go ahead in January as planned, with further discussions due this week.

Earlier this month, the government there said exam-year students would go back to school as normal after the Christmas holidays, but the majority of the rest of secondary school pupils would start the term online to allow head teachers to roll out mass testing of children and staff.

Questioning Education Minister Tracey Vallois on the start of the new school term in Jersey, Senator Moore said: ‘Given the early indications in relation to the new variant are that it does pass and transmit differently among younger people, is the minister considering a staggered start to the school term or a vaccination programme for both teachers and at least secondary-school students?’

Senator Vallois was unable to respond due to technical issues, so her Assistant Minister, Deputy Jeremy Maçon, spoke on her behalf.

He said: ‘We are due to have an update in the week coming. We are awaiting the advice back from STAC [the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell].

‘The only thing that I would add is that Members will be aware of the legislation that we have to operate under Covid must be necessary and proportionate if you want to extend it into the schools.

‘It also has to receive the endorsement of the Health Minister. Policy is under constant review.’

Senator Moore pointed out that absence rates had been more than 20% in secondary schools during the last week of term before the Christmas holidays.

She added: ‘Would the Assistant Minister commit to giving serious thought to implementing a testing programme to give families, children and teachers the reassurance that they need in order for the school term to recommence in January?’

Deputy Maçon said that the matter would be ‘absolutely considered’ and taken forward to STAC for advice.

Later, Deputy Louise Doublet asked for clarification from Health Minister Richard Renouf on whether pregnant and breastfeeding mothers would be allowed access to Covid-19 vaccinations.

‘I want to ask the Health Minister whether he was aware of the recent controversy around whether the vaccine will be offered to pregnant and breastfeeding women?’ she said.

‘In many jurisdictions around the world, this is being offered on a case-by-case basis for risk assessment with the woman’s doctor, but the NHS is not offering it at all.

‘Could I ask that the minister takes this under full consideration and does not simply follow the NHS approach please?’

Deputy Renouf said that he would pick the matter up with Deputy Doublet and would be happy to receive any information she had on the issue.

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