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Chief Minister's Speech on the COVID-19 Winter Strategy

21 October 2021

Good afternoon,

Today I am joined by the Deputy Chief Minister, the Minister for Health and Social Services and the Deputy Medical Officer of Health, Dr Ivan Muscat. We will be outlining the Government's Winter Strategy which includes updates to our Safer Travel Policy and lateral flow testing for Islanders.

First of all, I would like to address and apologise for the Digital COVID Status Certification security flaw identified yesterday evening. Officials have been working through the night with Microsoft to investigate the issue and I would like to thank all of the officers who have been working to resolve this.

I would like to remind Islanders that the COVID Status Certification is a service for Islanders travelling off-Island to countries that use vaccine certificates for domestic use or entry to their borders. It is not used internally in Jersey, or for Islanders returning through our own borders. We will provide a further update as soon as possible on when the service is back up and running.

Our Winter Strategy will focus on safeguarding our public health without unnecessarily disrupting Islanders lives. The Strategy sets out our commitment to Islanders leading up to winter.

This includes continuing the good roll out of our winter vaccination programmes, keeping children and young people in school, keeping businesses open, our critical national infrastructure operating and hospital occupancy at a sustainable level.

We know that the colder weather of the winter period always increases the demand on our healthcare services and that respiratory diseases in particular, can be more prevalent in colder weather.

We continue to maximise the uptake of both the vaccines for COVID-19 and for seasonal flu as we are expecting COVID-19 infection rates to fluctuate over the winter months.

Our already high vaccination uptake means that this winter will be a different challenge to last winter and this is evidenced by the data we are already seeing.

During the second wave of infection in Jersey, over the 2020-21 winter about 4% of all positive cases were hospitalised. In our third wave over summer 2021 with the much more virulent Delta variant, only about 1% of cases were hospitalised.

The difference is our vaccination programme.

Vaccination will also play an important role in managing seasonal flu and building on the success of last year's seasonal flu vaccine, we are once more offering free flu vaccines to all Islanders over the age of 50 and those in at risk flu groups.

We are making very good progress with our COVID-19 Booster programme and we're in the final stages of completing booster doses for care home residents in our Island's residential homes.

Since the vaccination programme launched, we have maintained that vaccination is our best defence again COVID-19, and this message remains over the winter period; the more people who are vaccinated, the sooner we can get back to normality.

I urge all those eligible to get their flu or COVID booster vaccines to take up the offer as soon as they receive it. Doing so will help us to manage winter viruses and minimise the demands on our healthcare service this winter.

Our Winter Strategy will also involve changes to our Safer Travel Policy and the extension of our Lateral Flow Testing programme, and I will ask the Deputy Chief Minister and the Health Minister to outline these changes shortly.

Most importantly, the Winter Strategy places an emphasis on the actions we can all take to make ourselves and those around us safer, to avoid the need for imposed legal restrictions.

If contingency measures are needed, the Strategy sets out a phased response, starting with asking Islanders to practice stronger voluntary measures, such as working from home. Legal restrictions will always be the very last resort and it is something we very much wish to avoid.

We are all familiar with expressions like physical distancing, ventilation and enhanced personal hygiene by now. But these are more than just slogans.

Small, simple steps to promote COVID safe behaviour really can be the difference between spreading COVID or containing it. Meeting friends or loved ones in smaller groups or choosing to meet outside rather than inside. Respecting others physical space or their right to wear a mask if they choose to.

These are practical things which we can all do to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and do our part to keep Jersey safe this winter.

The plans we have announced today are designed to keep us safe this winter without unnecessarily disrupting the lives of Islanders.

The vaccine programme HAS reduced much of the threat posed by COVID-19 and allowed us to take a slightly different approach, but we must recognise that COVID is still dangerous, particularly if you've not been vaccinated. It remains a threat not only to our physical wellbeing but also to disrupt our workplaces and schools, damage our economy or get in the way of our children's education.

This is why the Lateral Flow Testing announced today is so important. As the Health Minister has outlined, it is now easier than ever to access your free Lateral Flow Test kits, which will be delivered to your home, allowing you to take responsibility for your own testing needs and make the right risk-based decisions for you.

So whilst we are reducing the testing at the border in respect of those who are fully vaccinated – what we are replacing this with is an intention to test MORE people on a weekly basis, using LFT's. We do rely on you as Islanders to help us in this cause. If you register, and take the tests, together we can protect the community even more than what we are doing at present. 

Getting tested will not only provide you with peace of mind but also those around you, remember not everyone who has COVID-19 will have symptoms but even if you're vaccinated, you can still pass it on to a colleague, a friend or a loved one.

We all have a part to play in limiting the spread of COVID this Winter and as we have said, there are practical and easy things we can all do to stay alert, get tested, and stay safe.

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