ISLANDERS have been treated with new antiviral medication to combat Covid-19 for the first time this week, the deputy medical officer of health has confirmed.
Welcoming the arrival of Molnupiravir, Dr Ivan Muscat said the drug had been used to treat patients at home as well as those currently in hospital.
Dr Muscat revealed that a new round of pop-up vaccination clinics was being considered by health officials, and also expressed optimism that Jersey would soon reach the peak of the current Covid wave driven by the Omicron variant.
He said: ‘It’s too early to say if we are at the peak, as numbers are still going up.
‘There are signs of a plateau in numbers in London and I would estimate that we are around two weeks behind so I am hoping that the peak isn’t that far away.’
The number of known cases of Covid-19 in Jersey currently stands at 4,053, having risen from 1,512 since Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, 17 people who have tested positive are currently in hospital.
Dr Muscat said that between one third and one half of those in the Hospital had been ‘coincidentally’ found to have Covid through testing on or after admission, while a small proportion of those hospitalised as a result of Covid were receiving intensive care.
Stocks of Molnupiravir, which was approved by UK regulators in November, have recently arrived in the Island and Dr Muscat said: ‘We are using Molnupiravir where appropriate, and there is also a second antiviral that has been approved and I would hope we would receive later this month.’
Molnupiravir is manufactured by American company Merck, while the other product, Paxlovid, is made by Pfizer and gained UK regulatory approval on 31 December.
In a Freedom of Information response published this week, the government confirmed that out of the Island’s total tally of 89 Covid-related deaths, three of the people who had died before 16 November 2021 had Covid listed as the sole cause on their death certificates.
Dr Muscat said he would expect Covid to be one of several factors contributing to a person’s death, as the virus was typically more severe among those with underlying illness. This explained why those who were most vulnerable were given priority in the vaccination programme, he added.
Vaccination remained a ‘tremendous tool’ for combatting the virus, Dr Muscat said, and he added there would be a continued drive to maximise take-up.
‘There is the option to book appointments at Fort Regent or to walk in. There are dedicated opportunities for children [aged 12 or over] and pregnant women, and we are looking at having more pop-up clinics,’ he said.
Following the Italian government’s announcement yesterday that vaccination would become compulsory for all over-50s, Dr Muscat said that he did not think Jersey would follow this route.
‘Mandatory vaccination is not an immediate option at all. Our uptake in Jersey is very high but we would still urge everyone who is eligible to get a booster, as well as reminding those who are unvaccinated that it isn’t too late to have a first dose,’ he said.
New measures to combat Covid were introduced earlier this week, including stricter conditions for arriving passengers, the return of work-from-home guidance and a legal requirement to wear masks in most indoor public settings.
Ministers confirmed yesterday that no further measures were planned, in spite of the continued rise in cases, with the Island’s infrastructure remaining ‘in a steady position’.
The government estimated that 127 Health Department staff – just over 5% of the total number of employees – were currently positive with Covid-19. A spokesperson said that while this had resulted in the cancellation of 30 elective procedures, the General Hospital was still delivering a ‘full range of essential services’.
A spokesperson for the States of Jersey Police said there were no current plans for officers to carry out dedicated patrols to enforce the mask-wearing rule, as high levels of compliance had been seen previously.
The spokesperson added: ‘We continue to use the four Es (engage, explain, encourage and – as a last resort – enforce) and will be conducting licensed-premises checks as we would do ordinarily but bearing in mind the current legislation.’
Vaccination appointments can be made by visiting gov.je/vaccine and the vaccination centre at Fort Regent is also open for walk-in jabs between 11.30am and 6.30pm on weekdays and from 8.30am to 3.30pm at weekends.