FEARS remain over the possibility of major disruption caused by a surge in cases and people forced to quarantine when schools return next week – despite mandatory Covid isolation periods being cut.
The isolation period for anyone who has tested positive was recently reduced from ten to seven days, bringing Jersey in line with England and enabling hundreds of Islanders to celebrate new year with family and friends.
While the move may help to ease worries about disruption caused by the number of people isolating as infection numbers surge, parents and teaching unions have expressed concern about how schools will be able to operate in January.
Ministers met on Thursday to consider the new recommendations from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell, which had discussed the Island’s position on Wednesday.
The change will allow many of the 1,093 people who tested positive for the virus in the week before Christmas to be released from isolation this week, provided they are fully vaccinated, symptom-free and register negative results from lateral-flow tests on days six and seven.
Health Minister Richard Renouf said: ‘We have taken advice from STAC, and Ivan [Dr Muscat] has confirmed that most people with Omicron – which is far and away the predominant strain here now – are infectious early on and that this is much reduced by day seven.’
Deputy Renouf also confirmed other developments:
– Walk-in vaccinations will be available at Fort Regent for first, second and third doses. Appointments can also be booked at gov.je.
– Staff shortages at the General Hospital have caused around one quarter of the 117 appointments for elective surgery during the first week of January to be cancelled. Deputy Renouf said this move was ‘regrettable’ and that patients would be given priority for new appointments.
The Health Minister said he acknowledged a public interest in how many people had been hospitalised as a result of Covid-19, rather than having the virus detected after being admitted. Currently fewer than half of those in Hospital with the virus were there because of Covid, he said.
Although the current plans for the new school term aim to maintain normal service as much as possible, teaching unions say they are worried about disruption and the impact on staff and pupils.
Mark Oliver, president of the National Education Union’s Jersey branch, said: ‘We were very concerned by the government’s inability to manage the large number of positive cases in schools in the run-up to Christmas, and recognise that staff may be feeling anxious about returning to work, especially with cases rising rapidly in England.
‘Given the significant increase in cases and hospitalisations in Jersey, we remain concerned that the government may not be able to adequately protect staff, pupils or families as we head into 2022.’
Mr Oliver said the local branch of the union was backing calls from the NEU in the UK for PCR tests to be offered to both staff and pupils prior to returning to in-person teaching. Education officials indicated to unions yesterday that PCR tests would be offered to staff, but not students, with lateral-flow tests remaining the recommended option for pupils.
Marina Mauger, of the NASUWT, said she was worried that business as usual would be challenging. She said: ‘Not offering PCR tests to pupils is rather concerning as that’s where we fear the spread will be. We’ve seen a really big spike this week, and a number of teachers have had to spend Christmas in isolation.’
During the final week of the autumn term, 27 teachers and 203 pupils were recorded as new cases of Covid-19.
Deputy Renouf said that it remained the intention to reopen schools on Tuesday as planned.
Mrs Mauger said she feared that head teachers in some schools could face a shortage of available staff and might have to make a judgment call about whether they could operate safely. ‘Things may change on a daily basis. We didn’t expect to face the same situation as last January and, if anything, it’s worse this time around,’ she added.
One father of a teenage pupil at a state secondary school said that the prospect of disruption at short notice was a concern. He said: ‘As parents, neither of us is able to work from home, and our son is going straight into exams as a result of changes to the syllabus so this could have a massive impact.’
Meanwhile, visitor numbers at Jersey General Hospital have been capped as a result of the rise in infections, Health officials have confirmed. Patients will be allowed two named visitors, but only one at a time, with no exceptions for child visitors. Visitors are required to bring a same-day LFT showing a negative result.