Booster jabs for all adults by the end of next month

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Care home residents, individuals who are housebound and those considered immunosuppressed are also now eligible for a third dose of the vaccine.

The booster-dose interval for over-40s has been reduced today to three months – down from six – after the second jab.

The rollout for 35- to 39-year-olds will begin on 3 January – with younger age groups following shortly after. The vaccination team is also contacting those considered immunosuppressed to offer them a fourth dose.

The expansion of the programme is a direct result of the rising number of Covid-19 cases in the Island and concerns about the emergence of the Omicron variant.

As of Monday, 28,396 Islanders had registered for free lateral-flow testing kits, 1,466 businesses have signed up for workplace screening and 9,386 students had applied to receive lateral-flow tests through their schools. There are currently 1,363 known active Covid cases in the Island with eight people in hospital. There are 5,660 direct contacts. On 1 December, there were 52 confirmed cases of reported in schools.

Yesterday, all Year 12 students at Hautlieu School were sent home after seven pupils in their year group tested positive for Covid-19. Five cases were identified in other year groups and four teachers in the school contracted the virus.

Despite the disruption, the government has confirmed that PCR testing for direct contacts in school will not be reintroduced.

Pupils will continue to be advised to take a lateral-flow test for ten days rather than a one-off PCR test.

During a government press conference held earlier this week, Chief Minister John Le Fondré said he had received positive anecdotal feedback from parents about the implementation of regular lateral-flow testing for direct contacts.

He added that PCR testing was causing disruption to students’ education.

Last week teaching union NASUWT wrote to Children’s and Education Minister Scott Wickenden calling for a pause on whole-school assemblies and asking for face coverings in all school areas, the reintroduction of PCR testing for close contacts and the cancellation of any non-essential activities.

Wayne Bates, from the NASUWT, said the union was ‘deeply concerned’ about the current lack of mitigation in schools which could result in ‘fast transmission’ of the Omicron variant, should it reach Jersey.

He added: ‘The union is also deeply concerned that staff absences are causing issues in schools which are increasing workloads to unsustainable levels, potentially leading to an epidemic of work-related stress as well as the Covid pandemic.’

A government spokesperson said: ‘We will continue to advise all direct contacts in education settings to take a lateral-flow test for ten days instead of having one PCR test.

‘These new measures were deemed a proportionate response to helping reduce the pressures and, in some instances, anxieties, caused by multiple direct contact-prompted PCR tests for children and adults in nurseries, schools and colleges. This new approach is intended to reduce disruption to teaching and students’ learning and any impact on their mental health.

‘As with all changes in Covid-19 mitigation measures, these arrangements will be kept under review and officials will be meeting regularly with school leaders and trades union representatives to assess the impact.’

They added: ‘Masks remain strongly recommended for Islanders, particularly in settings where physical distancing is difficult. We continue to review this, however, the current position on masks in schools and on buses remains the same.

‘We recognise every school is different and that head teachers understand best the pressures and risks for their individual school. Therefore, each school has the autonomy to step up measures if needed.’

Dr Ivan Muscat, deputy medical officer of health, suggested that regular lateral-flow testing for pupils was more effective than a one-off PCR test.

He said: ‘It’s worth reminding ourselves that a single PCR in the context of the acquisition of infection and picking it up, will, in that period of time, only pick up about 50% of infections because it misses a developing infection and incubating infection.

‘Whereas lateral-flow tests undertaken on a daily basis for ten days will pick up nearly 100% of emergent infections. So in that sense, the system of using lateral-flow tests actually makes it more sensitive than simply using one PCR test.’

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