Wednesday 14 July 2021
Statement pursuant to Rule 10(3) - Strategic direction in relation to the COVID pandemic
Thank you for agreeing to allow me to make a statement to the Assembly on the subject of the Bailiwick's COVID-19 response over the next few months.
It is perhaps important to note firstly that the Bailiwick must recognise that COVID-19 is not going anywhere. The vaccination roll-out has reached a point where those most vulnerable to COVID, such as those in the older age groups and those with other relevant risk factors, have a very high rate of protection. This means that the Authority has felt it is appropriate now to move to the next stage of the Bailiwick blueprint, which outlined that decreasing border and internal restrictions would be aligned to an increasingly vaccinated population.
As you are all aware, the Authority decided that from the 1st July new travel rules would be put in place. This allows fully vaccinated individuals, that is those have had two doses of an approved vaccine at least 14 days before arrival, to enter the Bailiwick from the Common Travel Area with no testing or isolation requirements. It has been almost 2 weeks since this has been introduced, and since the end of the second wave we have had 38 cases, as of yesterday only 15 active cases. 39 people are currently self-isolating as contacts of a positive case, and importantly we are yet to have any hospitalisations. This is an important indication that the vaccine is working.
However, those arriving who are not fully vaccinated will still be subject to the requirements based on the categorisation of countries and regions, as it was previously. The Authority believes that it is simply not proportionate to require fully vaccinated individuals when travelling to and from the Bailiwick to submit to testing or isolation, when the risk that they pose in terms of contracting and transmitting the virus has been dramatically reduced.
This is step one of a three step plan for easing the travel restrictions currently in place for Bailiwick residents. After two weeks or thereabouts of the current arrangements the Authority will review the situation and decide whether to move to step 2. Currently the proposed strategy change would allow for a modification of the testing and isolation requirements for Bailiwick residents who are fully vaccinated and are travelling from outside of the CTA. The current parameters of this proposed change will be reviewed and then determined by the Authority under the advice of Public Health and based upon the risk profile that jurisdictions outside the CTA pose.
It is intended that step 2 will remain in place for a further 4 weeks, taking us up to the point where all of those who are aged over 18 and who are able to be vaccinated will have received both doses and will be approaching or at their second week since the second dose.
At this stage, where the adult population will have received a significant level of protection from COVID-19, the CCA will review the situation again and will consider moving to step 3, which will introduce both testing and isolation-free travel from inside the CTA, and international travel aligned with the UK's traffic light and vaccination certification system. This stepped approach will allow the Authority to fully comprehend the impact of each of the steps before making any decision on opening up further.
At this point it is important to note that the Authority is monitoring, and will continue to do so over the summer months, the situation in the UK and further afield. It should be emphasised that it retains the ability to implement a 'Public Health override' where the situation in a particular region or country deteriorates to the extent that it poses a significant risk to the Bailiwick. An example of this would be the emergence of a new variant of concern which has a greater level of vaccine resistance than the Delta variant. In such circumstances the CCA, with advice from Public Health, would therefore be able to reimpose testing or isolation requirements (targeted if appropriate to those arriving from or via specific regions or countries) to minimise this risk. Thus enabling adoption of a proportionate and timely response intended to minimise unnecessary disruption and interference in people's daily lives and their freedom to travel from and to the Bailiwick.
The Bailiwick's testing strategy will remain a vital component in our efforts to reduce the spread of COVID. Testing will remain in place for travellers who are not fully vaccinated, both on arrival and on either Day 7 or Day 14, depending on the category of the region they have arrived from. This is important as they do not have the same protection against the virus and so present the greatest risk to the islands. Testing is not in place for those who are fully vaccinated. Border testing is simply not seen as the most effective use of our testing capacity. These individuals pose a low risk, they carry a low viral load and they are at low risk of transmitting further.
We are not the same as Jersey, we do not have the same testing strategy. Their approach is to test everyone at the border, regardless of their vaccination status and therefore regardless of the actual level of risk that they pose to the community. Without in any way criticising the Jersey approach their number of cases and numbers of those in self-isolation is much higher.
Instead, testing of symptomatic individuals will continue, as will a comprehensive system of surveillance testing to pick up cases in higher risk areas. This includes for example, healthcare workers and those in education settings, particularly those who are returning to school after the summer holidays who have been outside of the Bailiwick in the previous 14 days. Surge testing will also be used around areas of specific concern. The Authority believes that, on the basis of scientific evidence and advice, this testing strategy will be able to detect positive cases at the place where they pose the greatest risk, representing the most effective use of our testing capacity (which is currently operating at maximum capacity at around 2000 processed per day).
To further bolster our testing strategy, work is underway to develop a sewage testing capacity which will allow for early detection of COVID-19 infections. A Bailiwick-wide capacity for the sequencing of variants of concern is also being developed so that the islands can quickly detect if any variants are present, and appropriate measures can be taken to reduce their impact.
As has already been noted, these changes to the border restrictions would not be possible without the success of our vaccination programme. As of yesterday, 97% of the over 50s, that is those who are most at risk from serious illness and hospitalisation as a result of COVID, have received at least one dose, and 91% have had both. In terms of the overall adult population, 94% of people aged 18 or over have had at least one dose, and 75% have had both.
Vaccinations will continue to be administered over the coming weeks with the goal of having everyone over the age of 18 who is able to be vaccinated to have received both jabs by mid-August. This will be achieved by the continued operation of the Community Vaccination Centre, as well as operating drop-in clinics to ensure that use of the vaccine supply is maximised.
The Authority is also expecting further information to be received from the UK on two additional vaccination matters. Firstly, it is expected that a booster programme will be rolled out in the latter part of the year. Details around who will require a booster and when this can begin are still under discussion by the UK's Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) but the CCA has been briefed on developments and will implement what is required based on guidance received. Secondly a UK decision is also anticipated on the vaccination of children, and again the CCA will keep a close eye on any information on this matter and act accordingly.
Finally, as always it is worth reiterating that everyone has a personal responsibility to try and prevent the spread of the virus, and this will not change over the summer months. Indeed, it is hoped that the warm weather with more time spent outside will naturally help with this. However, actions such as hand washing, good respiratory etiquette and staying at home and getting tested if feeling unwell are things that we can all do that will help to protect the islands.
The CCA has noted and understands the anxieties of the community, however we urge members to focus on the real numbers of cases, the real numbers self-isolating, which two weeks after relaxing our border restrictions, remain low. We have no cases in hospital. Be mindful that social media commentators do not have the full story. And that perpetuating misinformation is bound to be divisive and will add to the fears of those already feeling anxious. The decisions of the CCA continue to be based on scientific evidence, and we are continuously monitoring the situation to ensure that any actions taken are proportionate to the risk posed.