'Covid cases will come but we have to learn to live responsibly with the virus'

COVID will be around for years to come, and Guernsey has to learn to live responsibly with it, authorities have said as they tried to reassure people that relaxing border restrictions next week was the right move.

Covid-19 press conference panel. Left to right: States chief executive Paul Whitfield, Vice-President of Policy & Resources Deputy Heidi Soulsby, CCA chairman Deputy Peter Ferbrache, director of Public Health Dr Nicola Brink and medical director Dr Peter Rabey. (29696464)
Covid-19 press conference panel. Left to right: States chief executive Paul Whitfield, Vice-President of Policy & Resources Deputy Heidi Soulsby, CCA chairman Deputy Peter Ferbrache, director of Public Health Dr Nicola Brink and medical director Dr Peter Rabey. (29696464)

On Wednesday the Civil Contingencies Authority confirmed that it was opening up a blue travel corridor from 1 July for fully vaccinated individuals from the Common Travel Area to enter the Bailiwick, without the need to self-isolate or be tested.

At today's press conference, chairman of the CCA Deputy Peter Ferbrache said this decision had been thoroughly considered but was confident it was the right move.

'We fully appreciate that some people, naturally, have concerns.

'Our job and paramount concern is to protect the interests of everybody and we've taken that into consideration,' he said.

He was joined by States chief executive Paul Whitfield, vice-president of Policy & Resources Deputy Heidi Soulsby, director of Public Health Dr Nicola Brink and Medical Director Dr Peter Rabey.

'We've got to sadly accept that Covid will be with us for a long time, it will not go away.

'There will be clusters of cases and outbreaks in the Bailiwick, we cannot and will not be able to exclude cases of Covid coming into the community but we have to live responsibly with Covid,' he said, reminding people to be vigilant and report any symptoms they have.'

The steps being taken next week are being taken because the CCA is confident they will work and outbreaks can be coped with.

He reminded people of the cluster of cases found last Autumn that was able to be dealt with without the need for a lockdown.

'None of this is easy, we don't pretend it is. But we wouldn't be sitting here today telling you what our position was if we believed it was not in the best interest of our community. We cannot be in lockdown forever.'

Former president of Health & Social Care and current vice-president of P&R Deputy Heidi Soulsby said the hard restrictions last year [and in January this year] were never meant to be the 'new normal'.

'We've known and have said for a long time now that the vaccination programme would be a game-changer,' she said.

'Saying all that, it's not an easy decision and is one that needs to be made on the best available scientific evidence and expertise.'

Since day one of the pandemic, she said islanders had trusted the CCA, which trusted the experts that have proven themselves to be 'world-class'.

'That is what has got us through this pandemic more successfully than pretty much anywhere else in the world. Nothing has changed.'

She asked islanders to trust the experts again with the new border relaxation policies.

'We make decisions based on the best advice we can get based on the latest, best quality data.'

Recognising that it was comforting that Guernsey has just a handful of cases picked up through travel and no evidence of community seeding, she understood that people wanted that to continue.

'Even if we never relaxed our border restrictions, it would not continue,' she said.

'We really can't keep the virus at bay forever - it will be on the planet for years to come.'

Mitigating risk, rather than eliminating it, is the only option.

'Some [people] think we're moving too early and if they were in charge they'd leave it a few weeks or months. Of course that's easy to see when you're not the one making the decision,' Deputy Soulsby said.

'If we're right, no-one will care, but if we're wrong it's all about "I told you so".'

Opening now, or in a few weeks, or even a few months will not make a difference in what it will look like when Guernsey starts to live responsibly with Covid, she said.

'We are at the stage where we'd be putting off the inevitable for no reason at all.'

Since the beginning of the vaccination programme, it was said that if the roll-out stuck to schedule, the island would be ready to open its borders in some way.

Although children have still not been vaccinated, she said the evidence was clear that the risk of them getting really ill with the virus was 'really low'.

'This is a political decision, as has every other since this started, but this next step has the recommendation of - and consequently the full support of - Dr Brink, the scientific advisory cell and Dr Rabey who are unanimous in saying that the probability of a third lockdown is very low and now is the right time to move forward.'

Calling next Thursday a 'new dawn' for all, she said it was not one where people should be afraid of the light.

Dr Brink also said this was an incredibly difficult decision and moving on would always make some people fearful, but the broader health and well-being of the community needs to be considered, not just the direct risk to the virus.

'The situation in the UK has deteriorated with all of the north of England - bar the Scottish islands - going into the red zone. But what is very interesting is that in this wave in the UK you haven't seen a similar level of hospitalisation as what you saw in December last year and January,' she said.

Almost half of the whole population in Guernsey have had both doses of the vaccine.

71% have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

90% of over-50s have had both doses, as have 61% of over-18s. And 57% of over-16s have had both doses of the vaccine.

In total, more than 78,000 doses of the vaccine have been administered.

'Dose two of the vaccine will prevent 94% of hospitalisations related to the Delta variant,' she said.

Translated into numbers, this means that if there are 100 people, the vaccine will prevent the hospitalisation of 94 of those people. The remaining 6 will have a risk of hospitalisation relating to their age.

'That's important because a lot of our modelling is done to ensure that we don't breach our hospital capacity,' she said.

Talking about recent cases, she said there had been a lot of interest from people about how many of the cases were in vaccinated people.

'In the second wave of infection, we know that at least one fully vaccinated person did become infected [but] they did not transmit to anyone.

'Post second wave we've had 12 cases and we've currently got eight active cases,' she said.

Of the unvaccinated or partially-vaccinated people, eight were detected on their day of arrival.

One partially-vaccinated individual tested positive on day seven of arrival.

From 1 July, those kinds of cases will still be picked up as anyone who is not fully vaccinated two weeks prior to travel will still be tested on arrival.

'When we had some category 2 regions, we had one category 2 case that was negative on arrival and became symptomatic on day four. That person would still be able to travel [from 1 July] as a category 2 traveller but they were in the community potentially infectious between their negative day-of-arrival test and their positive day four test.

'We have to accept that whatever we do [will carry] an element of risk,' she said.

Two cases were picked up in fully-vaccinated people. Both went to the UK and were likely involved in a 'super spreading' event. Both were notified that they were potentially exposed.

One tested positive on their day of arrival and the second person was related to the first and tested negative on the day of arrival but tested positive in follow-up.

This, Dr Brink said, shows there is no simple answer: 'Most of the cases into the Bailiwick after 1 July will fall into partially-vaccinated or unvaccinated categories and there will be no change in how we diagnose those.'

More to follow

Top Stories

More From The Guernsey Press

UK & International News