On Monday, the island hit 1,019 known active cases, but chief minister Senator John Le Fondre said it was the island’s comprehensive testing regime that meant there were so many known cases and the new measures were a proportionate balance of risk.
Gatherings of up to 10 people are allowed indoors and outdoors on Christmas Day and Boxing Day, but are not actually being encouraged.
‘Mix as little as possible, this is going to be a quiet Christmas,’ was the message from the chief minister.
All but essential shops must close from 6pm on Christmas Eve and international arrivals transiting through a UK airport will be classed as arriving from a ‘red zone’ so will have to self-isolate for 10 days, with tests on days zero, five and 10.
This ‘circuit break’ is being introduced to try to reduce the number of cases so that the vaccination programme can be rolled out quickly – sick people cannot receive the vaccine. It will continue until 11 January, when the measures will be reviewed.
When asked by a member of the media how many cases would need to be seen to relax the measures on 11 January – or to make the decision to extend them – deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat said it would be ‘foolhardy’ to say a number, but he ‘would certainly like to see a lower number of cases’.
More cases are anticipated over the Christmas period, which is why the essential shops-only rule will continue into January in the hope that it will allow time for case numbers to drop off.
Senator Le Fondre then addressed the Portuguese and Polish communities in the island, recognising that their main Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas Eve. He said he was sorry but perhaps they could celebrate Christmas this year – still on Christmas Eve – but with just the people in their homes. The press conference at which these measures were announced was broadcast on Facebook, with thousands tuning in and several hundred commenting.
Calls for a ‘proper’ lockdown were made, but Senator Le Fondre ‘reassured’ islanders that a lockdown as seen in March would not be happening because it was ‘a difficult time for people’s mental and physical health’.