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Health Minister's statement on reopening of non-essential retail outlets

26 January 2021

covid update

The Minister for Health and Social Services has issued the following statement on reopening non-essential retail outlets:

When we announced that non-essential retail and indoor leisure spaces would open tomorrow (Wednesday 27 January), we said we would keep the situation under daily review and delay the reopening if necessary.

I regret to say that, just yesterday, during our review of cases, we discovered a cluster that has caused us enough concern to delay the planned reopening. The cluster has appeared in the supply chain for the retail sector and seems to have spread through staff working in transport and deliveries. This means it could affect multiple sites including non-essential retail outlets. Public health and medical colleagues will spend the next few days testing and tracing all possible contacts. 

This cluster is a result of poor behaviour and a lack of adherence to the most basic of hygiene guidelines, with some staff working while symptomatic. They were found not to be wearing PPE, and now we must trace around 200 possible direct contacts. It is exactly this sort of behaviour that will prevent us from reconnecting our Island community.

Officials, including the Chair of STAC, worked late into the night and presented options to Ministers this morning. We have decided to delay the reopening of all non-essential retail and indoor recreation venues for a minimum of 7 days. Close contact services will then open a week later. 

We will throw the net wide to make sure we are picking up all contacts, and by the end of the week we will have performed all tests necessary to establish our next steps. We have already contact traced many of the potential contacts and will do more as each hour goes by.

That is our system's strength and I thank teams from the helpline, contact tracing and laboratory for working so hard to keep it going. They have mobilised quickly and by Friday we should know exactly where we stand. I will make a further public announcement when we have received and analysed that information.

Deep cleaning takes place regularly in essential stores and mask-wearing and good hygiene means that there is no heightened risk to the public from this cluster. 

We have said we will not be locking down. Our strategy is to control COVID-19 cases and keep figures low enough to maintain our general freedoms, while not placing a strain on our healthcare services. 

We can only maintain these freedoms with your cooperation and close observation of Public Health guidelines. It is clear this is not always happening. You must not go into other people’s houses, you must maintain physical distancing, and you must wear masks where appropriate.

COVID-19 is an awful disease. It has taken Islanders from us who should not have died at this time. It must be taken seriously by everyone. But it is also just one of many challenges we face. We are balancing its harm against many other harms. And while I know people are anxious about COVID-19 cases, as Health and Social Services Minister I care deeply about all the other health harms that a lockdown would bring, many of which would disproportionately affect Islanders on lower incomes.

Our vaccination programme is continuing at pace and is our pathway to greater freedoms. But we must protect it. As such, today's announcement is regrettable but unavoidable.

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