Wednesday 18 March 2020
Global Coronavirus Situation
Thank you for allowing me to give another update to the Assembly on the Bailiwick's continuing response to the global coronavirus situation.
Since my last statement to members on 2 March - just over two weeks ago - the global situation regarding COVID-19 has escalated at an unprecedented pace. A pandemic has been declared by the World Health Organisation. There have been over 198,000 confirmed cases worldwide - the majority being outside of Mainland China. There have been over 7900 deaths with multiple hotspots identified globally.
Locally we have tested 185 islanders with one positive case to date (confirmed on 9 March). We are awaiting results on 58 cases. The Public Health England laboratory continues to support our testing programme but are having to manage an increase in demand for testing generally. The Committee for Health & Social Care has reprioritised its Estates programme in order to set up a Category III laboratory in our Pathology Department and has ordered the necessary equipment to process COVID-19 testing on Island. This facility will be delivered, commissioned and ready for use within 7 weeks.
Dr Nicola Brink and her team in Public Health Services continue to provide exceptional, evidence based, advice as the situation evolves. As Deputy St Pier has already advised you, the command and control of this dynamic situation has now been escalated to include the Civil Contingencies Authority, the Strategic Coordinating Group and the Tactical Coordinating Group. This means we have very robust decision making processes to support our response to COVID-19.
Sir, we continue to be supported by teams across the Bailiwick. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all States of Guernsey staff working on this, the Joint Emergency Services Control Centre who facilitated the coronavirus helpline in their disaster recovery suite at the fire station, the St John Emergency Ambulance Service team for their incredible support in manning the helpline, our colleagues at the Medical Specialist Group, Primary Care and the third sector who are working with us to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on Island. I would also like to thank the community for their help so far in sharing the information that is being issued by the States of Guernsey Communications team. We need them to continue with this good work in spreading the facts and debunking the myths that are spread on social media. We all have a personal responsibility to keep people well informed about the situation and not generate fear or anxiety.
Our communications continue to focus on public awareness and information as well as providing specific guidance as required. This week we have issued news releases and guidance around events, school trips, States meetings moving location and stricter border controls being implemented. I would be grateful if members could continue to familiarise themselves with this information. We are updating the community at an unprecedented rate and as States members we also have a responsibility to reassure the community.
And just to highlight that, today the Director of Public Health will be issuing a clear policy directive to schools under the Sante Publique legislation setting out measures required to be taken to prevent the spread of infection. This includes the cancellation of assemblies, non-essential meetings, direct contact activities such as contact sports and group eating in canteens. In addition schools are being told to, amongst other things, examine business continuity plans and how they will work in the event of staff shortages and to prepare for the possibility of school closures and how educational services could be delivered remotely. An enhanced cleaning policy is also to be brought in with immediate effect including twice daily cleaning and at least daily decontamination of surfaces.
I would like to emphasise that the Director of Public Health is not advising the need to close schools at the moment. It must be understood that closures are highly disruptive and would seriously impact the availability of key workers. The cautious actions we have taken in terms of travel and the fact that we have had only one positive case and no evidence of community seeding means there is no reason to close schools now. Whilst I understand this is happening in Jersey, we are not Jersey, we are not the UK. We will continue to make decisions that are appropriate for Guernsey.
Sir, I would now like to turn to the measures that HSC are putting in place to manage any escalations of this rapidly changing situation. Every effort is being made to minimise disruption to service users, to support our staff and ensure that we are as prepared as possible.
We recognise that we have to have the ability to cope with spikes in demand arising from COVID-19 and this means creating flexibility in ward and clinician capacity. To support this, as of next Monday, scheduled elective surgery will be postponed. Those islanders requiring urgent and critical care will not be affected, but islanders whose planned treatment is not time critical are being contacted to advise them that their scheduled treatment will not be going ahead as planned. I appreciate that those islanders affected will be disappointed, but this is a necessary move in the unprecedented circumstances. Postponing elective surgery will provide time to provide specific COVID-19 training to staff and in particular to quickly increase our clinical resilience in respect of critical care provision. The current decision to postpone treatment is limited to next week in order to allow this training to take place. After which, it will be kept under constant review.
HSC recognises that the ability for families and friends to visit loved ones within the hospital is important. Visitors are asked to ensure that they make sure they wash their hands and use the hand sanitizers available at every ward entrance. If possible, we would ask that visitors use technology options if possible for some of their contact with patients and make sure that they do not visit if they are unwell or otherwise asked to self-isolate as a result of following advice from Public Health Services.
From Thursday of this week we will also be implementing changes in the Gloucester Room restaurant at the PEH. Hot and cold food options will continue but there will be restrictions on the number of dishes available. Food will be available as takeaway rather than eat in for the foreseeable future. For those who have to eat in, seating options will be reduced to enable social distancing.
Staff who are professionally registered but not currently working in a clinical setting (such as colleagues working within governance or in a teaching/lecturing capacity) may be asked to support front line services. This response may also include recently retired healthcare professionals and will also involve additional agency staff in due course, as and when necessary. We may also need to reconfigure wards to manage COVID-19 patients separately from other patients if this becomes necessary to do so.
HSC appreciates the support of the community and all of its staff in managing the response to this incredibly dynamic situation. I apologise for disruption that managing this situation may cause but hope that members and the community understand that these are not measures we implement lightly. Our position may change again in the coming weeks and months and we will continue to provide public messaging as and when required.
Sir, we are witnessing a global pandemic which is escalating in a way that has not been seen before. Members can be reassured that our staff are trained to response to emerging and unpredictable events. We need to take the community with us on this journey. The website www.gov.gg/coronavirus continues to be updated daily, we have social media messaging on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and are holding two media briefings a week which are now being live-streamed via Facebook.
Sir, I will continue to provide members with updates as and when required as this ever-evolving situation continues.