Winter Covid wave is likely, says public health director

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Island parents have feared a return of the chaos which struck at the end of the last school year as the Delta variant surged through primary and secondary schools and forced thousands into isolation.

And fears have been compounded by a dramatic increase in infections in Scotland, which saw case rates rise threefold for 16–17-year-olds and fivefold for 18–19-year-olds in the days after classes returned in mid-August.

The rise has also been fuelled by a general easing of Covid restrictions.

However, public health director Professor Peter Bradley said that despite Jersey’s schools reopening next week, and most restrictions coming to an end last month, he ‘remained optimistic’ that the Island would not find itself in a similar situation to that of Scotland. ‘We need to be guided by the information we have in front of us and we have tried to phase things slightly more than Scotland – perhaps that’s a bit more like England.

‘So I remain optimistic that we are not going to find ourselves in the Scottish situation, but we do need to be aware of the possibility,’ he said.

However, he said that health officials were anticipating another Covid wave in the coming months.

He said: ‘Recent events have shown that it’s very hard to predict numbers. What we are seeing is that the majority of people who are infected are getting much milder disease, and also the impact of vaccination – if you’re vaccinated you are about 25 times less likely to end up in hospital.

‘I am expecting there to be another wave of some sort during the winter months. As well as that, we may see some other winter viruses – for example a resurgence of flu – as they have not been circulating as normal during the last 18 months.’

He added: ‘So we’d really like to see people get vaccinated and we are hoping we will soon get the announcement for the Covid booster programme and flu vaccination programme.’

Last month Jersey’s government unveiled a return-to-school plan, aimed at mitigating the problems experienced during the summer term – when hundreds of children had to isolate after being identified as direct contacts of Covid cases.

The measures included increased levels of both lateral-flow (LFT) and PCR testing, with all teachers and other staff being offered the latter before going back to school.

Dr Ivan Muscat, deputy medical officer of health, said: ‘This term, regular LFTs will be rolled out to all secondary school pupils, who will be asked to test twice a week instead of once a week, with PCR confirmation of any positive LFT results. Direct contacts within schools will receive PCR testing and, if negative results are returned, heightened monitoring will be in place.’

He added that over a third of 16- and 17-year-olds had now received their first jab.

JCG principal Carl Howarth said: ‘The guidance we have been given by the government is both clear and sensible. It is important that we take advantage of the opportunities to get tested before returning to school.’

Tim Balston, former secretary of the National Eduction Union’s Jersey branch, said he ‘wouldn’t be surprised’ if there was a surge in Covid infections when students returned to the classroom.

He said: ‘I think it is safe to say that an increase in cases could happen within those age groups – we will have to wait and see what the numbers are like, but hopefully it will just be a small bump. From a union point of view our members are working with young people on a daily basis, so there is some anxiety there.’

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