PRESSURE is building on ministers to bring forward Covid restrictions amid fears of a widespread wave of the Omicron virus strain.
As nations introduced tough restrictions after the super-infectious variant began to rip through Europe, Chief Minister John Le Fondré recently announced that mask-wearing and work-from-home guidance would be introduced – but not until 4 January.
Kenny McNeil, chairman of the Jersey branch of the Royal College of Nursing, said it was ‘bizarre’ to wait so long to introduce measures.
His comments come as hospital staff in the UK braced themselves for a surge in admissions brought about by Omicron, with recent statistics revealing that four out of five critical care beds were already occupied.
On reintroducing masks in Jersey, Mr McNeil said: ‘It would not be a major change. It seems bizarre, waiting three weeks to scale up measures slightly.
‘I think we should be doing everything we can to keep it in check at the moment. I do not think it is unreasonable to introduce a mask mandate sooner than the 4 January.’
The first confirmed cases of Omicron were recorded in the Island last week and yesterday there were a total of 1,182 known active Covid cases.
Nations across Europe have brought back restrictions, including a Christmas lockdown in the Netherlands and limits on hospitality in Ireland, while most British travellers have been barred from entering France and Germany.
Deputy Inna Gardiner has called on ministers to be ‘proactive’, rather than ‘reactive’, saying mask-wearing was an example of a measure that could be brought in straightaway.
‘We need to react and do things quickly. Nobody stops shopping if we need to wear masks. I believe that 4 January is too late,’ she said.
Last week, the Chief Minister announced changes to Jersey’s safer travel policy, with only those adults who have had three doses, plus a two-week interval, considered fully-vaccinated and therefore exempt from testing and isolation on arrival from 4 January.
Deputy Gardiner said the ‘only reason’ given to her as to why changes to testing at the border would take that long was a ‘logistical’ one. She suggested that the government could provide lateral-flow testing for arrivals, or that arrivals could be required to show proof of a negative test before arriving in Jersey, as examples of quicker action.
Separately, the Primary Care Body stressed that GPs take guidance from professor of public health Peter Bradley and deputy medical officer for health Dr Ivan Muscat, but the organisation encouraged Islanders to wear masks in enclosed public places, saying that ‘no harm can come’ from it.
Around one in ten positive Covid case results in Jersey are sent to the UK to be sequenced to check for the Omicron variant, according to Dr Muscat, who said the 10% figure was ‘in line with the 10% average which are sequenced in the UK’.
He added: ‘We are working to increase this to 20% per day.
‘Priority is given to sequencing any known contacts of Omicron, and people who test positive after arriving in Jersey. A random selection makes up the rest.’
The Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell, of which Dr Muscat is a member, met yesterday to discuss the current situation.
Meanwhile, Deputy Rob Ward, who chairs the Safer Travel Guidelines Review Panel, has also called on the government to reintroduce mask-wearing and work-from-home guidance sooner.
He said: ‘I think that the problem is no one can understand why they are waiting until 4 January, when it is already on the Island and very contagious.’