This December is a very different one to those we are used to. The first year of this new decade has been challenging as we have fought to safeguard our community in the face of the most significant public health threat in a century. Readers will be well aware of the measures we have put in place and the serious and concerted effort we have made to protect livelihoods, access to education, critical services and above all, our public health. Rather than restate the necessity of such measures here, I instead want to express my thanks and gratitude for the way Islanders have reacted in the face of this pandemic.
Our fantastic healthcare staff, within the General Hospital, in local care homes and in private practices, have worked tirelessly to keep us safe and they continue to do so over the holidays when the rest of us are taking time off. As do our blue-light services who have continued their work to keep us safe throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and enforced the healthcare measures in those infrequent instances where there have been breaches.
Our medical experts, including members of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell have been essential in informing our pandemic response as well as continuing their day jobs as healthcare professionals. Like our healthcare staff and blue-light services, they have regularly been required to work long and unsociable hours, often at very short notice. In particular, I would be remiss not to note the exceptional work done by Dr Ivan Muscat MBE and Patrick Armstrong MBE, both of whom have always been available to provide advice and reassurance to ministers, States Members and the public via our regular press conferences.
A vital element of our pandemic response has been our comprehensive test, track and trace programmes and our border testing regime which has received international recognition. For a small Island we should be incredibly proud of this adaptable and extremely hardworking team. From those who set up the border testing so rapidly; the IT and admin staff adapting behind the scenes; those offering advice on our Covid helpline; to the officers who have tirelessly traced direct contacts, I would like to say a heartfelt thank you.
Teachers and school staff have similarly worked to accommodate enhanced healthcare precautions to ensure our children can continue to have access to education. I am grateful for the resolve and patience shown by both staff and students, particularly those in exam years.
In the private sector I have been thoroughly impressed by the innovation and determination of local companies who, despite facing very difficult conditions have, nonetheless, adapted their working practices to accommodate the health guidance whilst also delivering their products and services to customers. Retail staff have worked under significant constraints to help the rest of us shop safely and within the health guidelines. Logistics, warehouse and postal workers have kept goods moving into our Island and ensured not only vital PPE supplies have been efficiently distributed but also basic necessities have continued to be available to Islanders.
On a broader scale, government officers have operated alongside groups such as Jersey Business, the Chamber of Commerce, the IoD, Digital Jersey and others to provide additional support to local companies during this difficult period. I am confident that our support package, which was the largest ever delivered by a Jersey government, will continue to help to alleviate some of the strain faced this year. Digital Jersey was of course also instrumental in the creation of our COVIDAlert app, which now has more than 48,000 downloads.
Our voluntary and charitable sectors have proved vital this year and I am grateful for their work, particularly in reaching out to vulnerable Islanders via the Connect Me initiative. I have been proud to see so many people volunteer to help one another during this pandemic. More than 3,400 Islanders signed up via the Connect Me portal between March and July and helped in more ways than I can mention here. As just one example a co-ordinated effort between the government, Caring Cooks, Meals on Wheels and Age Concern saw roughly 1,200 hot meals delivered to vulnerable Islanders every week.
Finally, I would like to thank all those Islanders who have demonstrated their resolve and their commitment by responsibly following the guidelines and helping us to navigate this pandemic.
This Christmas, I hope you can still reach out and connect, in different and safe ways, with friends, loved ones and anyone you know who is alone.
I appreciate how tired, frustrated and generally exhausted everyone is from coping with this year. However, I believe that together we can come through this, as an Island, and as a community.
I urge everyone to stay safe, continue following the guidance and to help safeguard those more vulnerable than themselves. I wish you all the very best for the New Year.