Covid-19: Infections appear to be slowing – but lockdown extended to prevent surge in cases

JERSEY will remain in coronavirus lockdown for at least two more weeks, as newly released data showed the risks of moving too early towards normality.

Chief Minister John Le Fondré and Health Minister Richard Renouf confirmed yesterday that current restrictions, imposed on 30 March, will stay in force until at least Monday 11 May.

Schools will also stay closed beyond the Liberation Day weekend, with an indication that the reopening of schools, once it commences, would not see all pupils return on the same date, but in a phased process.

The latest statistical report shows:

  • Since early April, the early indicators of the spread of coronavirus infection (people calling the helpine to report fever, and positive test cases) have generally decreased

  • There appears to be low levels of infection in the community

  • The future epidemic curve that Jersey could experience will depend on the extent and timing of any relaxation measures after the ‘Stay home’ instruction ends

Senator Le Fondré said that work had been taking place on the exit strategy from lockdown and pledged that details would be shared with Islanders before the end of April.

In confirming that the original four weeks’ lockdown would be extended by at least a fortnight, Deputy Renouf said he understood the personal, emotional and mental health impacts that the continuing stay at home instruction was having on Islanders.

‘I will make sure we have a plan to exit – but only when it is safe to do so,’ he said.

One reason for the cautious approach is that swab testing for suspected cases of Covid-19 has been proceeding at a slower than expected pace.

Although States chief executive Charlie Parker outlined a testing capacity of 120 per day from 15 April, fewer than 600 tests were completed in the nine days to yesterday.

The Chief Minister said he believed that swab testing should now be able to reach the level referred to by Mr Parker, while Deputy Renouf revealed that arrangements were also being finalised with a private facility outside the Island which had indicated that it had spare capacity.

Separate antibody testing that is designed to determine whether someone has had Covid-19 and may therefore have immunity was also due to have started. Senator Le Fondré said there had been a ‘fractional delay’ to this process but that it should now commence next week.

On the day that the other Crown Dependencies moved to ease some lockdown restrictions, ministers pointed out that Guernsey and the Isle of Man had imposed tighter restrictions and were now reverting to somewhere close to the Jersey version of lockdown.

‘We are as well prepared as we can possibly be,’ said Senator Le Fondré.

Asked about resuming air and sea links beyond the current ‘lifeline’ level, the Health Minister said: ‘This is our greatest risk, as it might bring in people who would cause a surge in infections.’

The confirmation of lockdown being extended meant Jersey schools will now remain closed until at least the second Monday of May.

‘The Education Minister is working with officials on the details, but I don’t think that everyone will go back on the same day,’ said Senator Le Fondré.

The Health Minister reported good progress in acquiring new ventilators and stocks of personal protective equipment.

‘In the next 48 hours we also expect to take delivery of an additional five invasive ventilators, 20 non-invasive ventilators and 20 oxygen concentrators,’ he said, adding that 20 continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) devices had already arrived.

The Island has 30 days’ stock of each necessary item of PPE, although the Chief Minister admitted this included some face masks that were beyond their original expiry date, as revealed in yesterday’s JEP.

‘There has been testing to make sure that these items pass muster,’ he said. ‘The director general [of Health] has been very clear that this is absolutely standard practice and we are satisfied that its use is appropriate.’

Data released yesterday showed the likelihood of a sharp rise in the curve should lockdown be eased too soon.

It suggests that the spread would begin to increase on about 10 May if lockdown restrictions ended at the end of April, and would peak towards the end of June, with about 800 cases per day.

Both ministers paid tribute to the efforts of most Islanders in observing the lockdown restrictions to flatten the curve and reduce the impact on the healthcare system and said it was important to maintain this commitment.

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