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Coronavirus: Reassurance offered as disease spreads

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JERSEY is braced and ready if a coronavirus pandemic is declared, the Health Minister has said, as confirmed cases spread across Europe.

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Islanders returning from a range of locations where cases of the disease have been confirmed are being instructed to self-isolate for two weeks – regardless of whether or not they are experiencing flu-like symptoms.

Twelve towns in northern Italy, as well as the whole of Mainland China, Iran and South Korea, have been added to that list.

The Health Department issued the advice after Public Health England altered its stance. The department is also trying to track down scores of passengers who have recently returned from Tenerife after news broke of a lockdown at a hotel on the Spanish island after a guest from the hotel tested positive for the virus, which has killed almost 3,000 people globally.

Health Minister Richard Renouf told the States Assembly yesterday: ‘The Island is very well prepared for any escalation of this issue.’

A total of 137 passengers travelled from the Island on Monday to Tenerife, the JEP has learned, and scores returned to Jersey from the Spanish island on Sunday.

CI Travel Group Ltd offers package deals to hotels in the affected Costa Adeje area, including to the H10 Costa Adeje Palace, which is currently in lockdown.

It is unknown how many, if any, Islanders are staying at that hotel.

A message issued yesterday by CI Travel Group Ltd said: ‘We are aware that a case of coronavirus has been reported at the H10 Costa Adeje Palace Hotel in Tenerife and that currently hotel guests are confined to the hotel and have been placed in quarantine.

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‘We currently have a total of 200 clients in Tenerife and are managing any queries regarding their situation. We are liaising with the Deputy Medical Officer for Health, Dr Ivan Muscat, and taking his advice regarding clients who have recently returned from Tenerife, as well as those due to travel.

‘The Foreign & Commonwealth Office travel advice for the Canary Islands remains unchanged, and FlyDirect’s holiday programme therefore continues to operate as normal.’

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The Health Department said in a statement that anyone with concerns should contact their coronavirus hotline on 445566.

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A spokesperson added that any Islander who had stayed at the affected hotel must self-isolate, whether they felt ill or not.

They added: ‘Anyone who has been in contact with guests who have no symptoms after staying at the affected hotel, needs to take no action. Anyone who has been in contact with guests who do have symptoms after staying at the affected hotel should call the helpline for advice.’

Meanwhile, students at a school in Guernsey were also sent home yesterday after returning from a school trip from northern Italy. One child is being tested for coronavirus as they are said to be presenting similar symptoms.

Businesses are also being told that there is no legal requirement to pay their staff who are not sick but have had to go into quarantine or self-isolate. However, independent arbitration service Acas are urging firms to follow ‘best practice’ and treat time off as sick leave.

A spokesman added: ‘Otherwise there’s a risk the employee will come to work because they want to get paid. They could then spread the virus, if they have it.’

Answering a question from Deputy Mike Higgins about the Island’s readiness for a possible pandemic, Deputy Renouf said: ‘There are officer groups that are regularly meeting to make plans and ensure our preparedness and there are daily meetings within the Hospital with staff directly involved in handling this issue. There are long-term well-established plans to deal with this. For more people who contract this virus it is sufficient if they self-isolate and try to avoid contact with other people. For all of us the best advice is thorough washing of hands as often as we can to prevent the spread.’

The last global pandemic was declared in 2009 following the outbreak of the swine flu virus H1N1.

Deputy Renouf added that the Island was following World Health Organisation guidelines and working closely with Public Health England.

Asked if the worldwide outbreak was having an impact on supplies of medicines coming to the Island, the minister said he was not aware of any pressures on the supply chain.

Elsewhere, Islanders have been frantically trying to buy face masks – in spite of warnings from experts that they offer little in the way of protection. The JEP reported earlier this month that the hospital pharmacy, as well as three others in town, had sold out.

FACTBOX

The areas affected by coronavirus are: Northern Italy, including the areas of Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano and Veneto, mainland China, Iran, South Korea, Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Macau, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Tenerife.

Jack Maguire

By Jack Maguire
author

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