In an impassioned plea to the Bailiwick, Deputy St Pier, the chairman of the Civil Contingencies Authority, said he was mindful of the toll emergency measures could take on people’s mental health.
There are currently 20 people who have tested positive for coronavirus, all of whom have a clear travel history from affected regions, with no evidence yet of spread within the community.
‘I dread our first Covid-19 related death, which I know will happen. But right now I fear that the risk is far greater that it will actually come from somebody taking their own life,’ he said.
He said that mandated two-week self-isolation periods, the closing of schools and other significant changes to everyday life had already taken a toll on islanders.
‘We’ve all clearly had to adapt at great speed to the loss of personal rights, which would have been inconceivable only two weeks ago.
‘The whole community is anxious, fearful even, and that is completely understandable. I absolutely regard it as part of my job to help calm nerves.
‘We all have people we love whom we are worried about and sadly before this pandemic has run its course, we will all know somebody who has been touched by grief.’
He said that if the island entered lockdown now, it could last for two weeks, or three months, or even longer and that indeterminate period could have a serious effect on the mental health and welfare of the community.
Prime minister Boris Johnson last night ordered the UK into lockdown with a ban on gatherings of more than two people saying, 'You must stay at home'.
Earlier in the day, Deputy St Pier warned of the consequences of restrictions. ‘We have already understandably seen an increase in mental health issues in the last few weeks,’ he said.
‘Perversely, social distancing risks substantial social isolation and all that follows in terms of increased alcohol and drug dependency, depression and anxiety resulting in more suicide, self-harming, domestic violence and divorce.
‘Social isolation will damage us all and potentially create a longer term social problem to add to our more immediate public health and economic problems.’
Director of Public Health Dr Nicola Brink said measures to reduce these dire consequences were being considered, including exercise apps including yoga and social media messaging.
A workforce has also been set up to liaise with local charities and other groups to help combat the challenges posed by self-isolation.
Despite the risks he had outlined, Deputy St Pier said a lockdown was still possible if the situation worsens.
For the time being, he advised people to go about their ‘new normal’ lives.
‘If you can, get out, enjoy the spring and get some air. It is OK to smile, laugh and play.
‘Be kind to yourself as much to others. I know you will, but support each other.
‘Ignore rumours, ignore the Facebook and Twitter experts, ignore what is happening outside the Bailiwick, trust gov.gg as your source of facts, trust our experts in Public Health and trust us, we’ve got this.
‘Don’t panic, keep calm, stay strong, wash your hands and observe good social distancing.
‘As we prepare to head into this dark scary tunnel it might be hard to believe right now, but I promise you we will get through this together.’