Official reassurance after surge in Covid-19 cases

THE government has moved to reassure Islanders about the spread of Covid-19 in the wake of confirmed cases affecting two schools and the Fire and Rescue Service.

Dr Ivan Muscat                                                           Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29412557)
Dr Ivan Muscat Picture: ROB CURRIE. (29412557)

A sharp rise in the Island’s tally of known active cases, which has trebled during the past fortnight, has sparked fears that coronavirus is now present in the community, rather than stemming exclusively from arriving passengers and their contacts.

It was confirmed yesterday that a positive case had been identified at St Saviour’s Primary School, leading to one class ‘bubble’ being sent home.

The case was the second involving a primary school this week, after a class at St Michael’s Prep was sent home on Monday as a result of a positive test for a pupil. (Full story: Page 2.)

Dr Ivan Muscat, deputy medical officer of health, admitted that community transmission was likely, but added that Jersey remained in a strong position to limit the spread.

‘As we go further into the winter months we acknowledge that Covid cases will rise,’ he said. ‘Community transmission is to be expected, but we are determined to not just respond to this but actively survey for asymptomatic infection to prevent onward transmission from a group that would not otherwise be seen.

‘We are constantly reviewing the number of cases and our public-health policy and measures to ensure that restrictions are proportionate, evidenced and balanced.

‘Our strategy remains to identity and contain isolated cases, prevent and delay spread through robust contact tracing and enforcement, employed alongside public-health measures such as physical distancing, hand washing and wearing masks.’

With the exception of the affected class, St Saviour’s School was open yesterday following deep-cleaning work on Wednesday night.

Education Minister Tracey Vallois thanked staff at the school and parents, who she said had reacted calmly to the news.

‘I would like to reassure parents that St Saviour’s School followed the correct procedures as soon as the positive case was identified,’ she said.

‘The contact tracing and infection control teams worked closely with the school in order to support and protect pupils, staff and the community.’

It was not confirmed whether the positive case at St Saviour’s involved a pupil or member of staff. All children from the class bubble have been sent work to carry out at home and, subject to parental or carer consent, will undergo testing after five and eight days.

Meanwhile, the Fire and Rescue Service put contingency arrangements into place this week after a firefighter tested positive for Covid-19 and ten staff were required to isolate.

Chief Fire Officer Paul Brown said that the service had a long-standing policy covering any case of an outbreak that cut the number of available staff.

‘We are set up to manage this sort of event and our first priority is to make sure there’s no disruption to the service we provide the Island at all times,’ he said.

Mr Brown said he hoped that the issue, which had affected around 10% of his staff, would be resolved by the middle of next week. He praised his staff for stepping up when required, and the ‘very responsive’ support from public-health and contact tracing officials.

Meanwhile it has been confirmed that a total of 82 foreign workers have been granted exemptions from self-isolation rules during the past three weeks.

The exemptions were made to Jersey-based companies in order that they could utilise the skills of workers in specialist construction or engineering projects.

Health Minister Richard Renouf was asked about the matter during a Scrutiny hearing earlier this week.

A government spokesperson said applications for exemption were subject to strict conditions.

Applicants were required to outline suitable risk mitigations in place in the workplace, with the workers affected required to isolate until they received a negative result for their arrival test, after which they must return to isolation at their designated place of accommodation at any point when they were not working.

A new contact tracing app that is part of the Island’s measures to combat the spread of the virus was approaching 20,000 downloads yesterday evening, less than 48 hours after being launched.

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