Senator Lyndon Farnham – speaking after news that the new strain had prompted an escalation of restrictions in England – commented that the Island was currently well positioned and said there were no plans to reintroduce PCR testing at the border.
He made the comments prior to the discovery of a case of Omicron in Guernsey.
He said: ‘We’ll keep the situation with Omicron under constant review, but we want to maintain as many “business as usual” elements to our lives while still remaining vigilant.
‘The continuation of the pandemic is unsettling, but we hope Islanders will be reassured by the measures we have taken and continue to take.’
Following an urgent ministerial meeting held late on Wednesday evening, Chief Minister John Le Fondré confirmed that there would be no further restrictions in Jersey, in contrast to the situation in the UK.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Wednesday that facemasks would once again be a legal requirement in England, reimposed work-from-home guidance and set out a need for Covid passports for attending nightclubs and large events – bringing the country into line with much of what other UK nations had already been doing for several weeks.
While there is no change in Jersey, Islanders making festive plans to go to France now face the prospect of a potentially costly pre-departure Covid test – regardless of their vaccination status – following a recent change in policy prompted by the spread of Omicron.
Senator Farnham said: ‘It’s probably inevitable that Omicron will reach Jersey. We just need to make sure we are prepared.’
PCR testing for all arriving passengers would not be reintroduced, he added, saying that Jersey’s border policy continued to provide a good level of protection by requiring PCR tests for those not fully vaccinated, as well as for anyone arriving from outside the Common Travel Area of the UK, Ireland and the Crown Dependencies.
Senator Le Fondré said that the ‘no change’ decision had been informed by the Island’s current hospital capacity and a steady decrease in the number of active cases in recent days.
The latest figures showed that 14 Islanders were in the General Hospital with Covid-19. The JEP asked the government about which age brackets were represented in this group, whether the patients concerned had been vaccinated and whether Covid had caused their admission, but was told this information could not be provided.
A spokesperson said that there was a ‘disclosure risk’ in providing indications of patients’ ages, and that the Jersey sample was not large enough to give a reliable picture regarding vaccine efficacy.
Meanwhile, Islanders with festive travel plans beyond the UK face logistical hurdles, with recent changes having left those who intend to travel over the forthcoming holiday period scanning websites and calling test providers in order to establish what action is required for both their outbound and return journeys.
From 4 December, those arriving in France from areas classed as amber, such as Jersey and the UK, have been required to produce evidence of a negative test result from a supervised PCR or lateral-flow test.
Pre-travel testing is available in Jersey via a range of private providers, with prices of approximately £50 for an antigen or lateral-flow test and £140 for PCR tests. In some cases supplements are charged for tests on weekends and/or public holidays.
Everyone returning to Jersey via the UK from outside the Common Travel Area is required to take a test in the two days before starting their journey. This can be a PCR or lateral-flow test.
Passengers from outside the Common Travel Area who are transiting through to Jersey are not required to take a test on arrival in the UK, but will be tested on arrival in Jersey, and required to isolate until they receive a negative result.
Separate arrangements apply to anyone who has spent time in countries on the UK’s ‘red list’ during the ten days before they arrive there, with a mandatory requirement for ten days’ quarantine in an accredited UK hotel.
Travel to the UK from Jersey does not entail a need for testing. However, those travelling to Ireland need to take a test before their journey, with different requirements depending on their vaccination status and the type of test they choose.