Deputy Scott Wickenden admitted that there could be a perceived unfairness in forcing young Islanders into isolation while adult direct contacts were not required to. However, he said that there was a rationale behind the regulations surrounding the return of schools following the summer break and that keeping teachers and students in the classroom was his priority.
His comments came during yesterday’s States sitting, when he was asked why unvaccinated adults could go to a nightclub but students who were direct contacts could not go to school.
Parent Chris Jenkins, whose daughter is a Year 11 student at JCG and was sent home at the end of last week after being identified as a direct contact, criticised the current requirements and said it was a ‘massive frustration’ that the isolation requirements were disrupting pupils’ learning.
Under the current Covid-19 guidance for schools, pupils identified as direct contacts of Covid-19 cases must return home and cannot re-enter school until they receive a negative PCR test result.
Rules surrounding pupils who were identified as direct contacts were eased earlier this year before the end of the summer term. However, there were more than 350 confirmed cases of Covid among pupils and staff in education settings after the end of the half-term holiday, which finished on 4 June.
This led to the government reintroducing rules on direct contacts for the start of the new term last week.
Deputy Wickenden said: ‘Nobody is legally required to go to a nightclub, but you are legally required to go to school and we need to make them safe.
‘I cannot afford to lose teachers, because that means we lose more year groups, which means even more children have to be at home and without a proper education. If I lose even more teachers, then I have to shut down schools.’
He added: ‘Though the restrictions seem unfair when you look at nightclubs and adults versus children and schools, there is a rationale behind making sure all children and teachers are safe and that their educational outcomes are put first.’
Deputy Wickenden also revealed that there were currently 53 students and three members of staff off school with Covid-19.
Marina Mauger, representative of the NASUWT, said schools could not afford another outbreak of Covid-19, similar to the one at the end of the summer term, which occurred at the same time as the rules surrounding direct contacts in schools were eased
Mrs Mauger said: ‘I would rather it be a few isolated incidents in schools, instead of having to close them all together because there is an outbreak of Covid which has not been kept under control.’
She added: ‘The PCR testing process is really efficient and people tend to get their test results back in no longer than 24 hours, so students are out of school for as little time as possible.
‘When the rules on direct contacts were lightened at the end of the summer term the numbers went through the roof in schools and we cannot let that happen again.’
Mr Jenkins said that there ‘needs to be a better way to handle potential cases’ and queried why lateral-flow tests could not be used to keep children in school.
He said: ‘Why don’t they make direct contacts take a lateral-flow test in school and then if they are negative they can continue their day as normal?
‘The problem is not the two days off school from being identified as a direct contact, it is the fact that it is a never-ending process whereby kids are spending multiple days off school because they are constantly being identified as direct contacts of various Covid cases.
‘Kids need to be in school, especially during a crucial year when they are doing GCSEs and other exams. My daughter was so upset when she had to go home from school the other day.’
Meanwhile, a recommendation by the UK health chiefs to offer 12–15-year-olds one dose of a Covid vaccine is due to be considered by officials in Jersey this week, the government has confirmed.
Details of the Island’s winter strategy for dealing with Covid were due to be released this week, with Chief Minister John Le Fondré saying that it was to include how booster vaccinations might be rolled out and public guidance reducing the risk of transmitting Covid.
In England, as part of its winter Covid strategy, the country’s Vaccines Minister has confirmed that children in the country aged between 12 and 15 will begin being offered a dose of the Pfizer jab from the beginning of next week.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Jersey’s government said: ‘We are aware of the advice that the chief medical officers in the UK have issued to their ministers and secretaries of state on the universal vaccination of 12–15-year-olds. Relevant authorities in Jersey will be meeting this week to consider this advice and a further update will be given shortly.’