The gov hopes that island life will be able to carry on as normal throughout the winter, but it is prepared to step in if the Covid situation puts significant strain on vital services.

Today sees the publication of the Winter 2021 Framework, which sets out where the gov is seeking to go up until March 2022. 

Set out over three levels, the response sets out things we all need to do, things we may need to do and things that we must be prepared to do. While the gov says it does not want to return legal interventions, it will do so if needed. This is taking the form of the ‘swiss cheese’ approach.

Level One

The base response for the strategy is what the gov says ‘we all need to do’. This is outlined as our collective response to minimise risk, keeping cases within manageable levels and protecting the most vulnerable. 

For all of us all this includes a recommendation to get vaccinated and following the ‘hands, face, space, fresh air’ (you’ve got that song in your head again haven’t you?) mantra which we’ve grown accustomed to. 

The gov also wants to carry on taking lateral flow tests, which will continue to be free. According to the framework, 90% of cases in the last three months have been initially confirmed through the use of LFTs. 

Face coverings will play an ‘important role’ over the winter to prevent transmission, but people should seek to be in well ventilated spaces, which the gov says is ‘vitally important’. 

The gov says: ‘To help continue with normal Island life as far as possible it will increasingly be that targeted interventions may be needed in specific locations, venues, workplaces or schools. Advice and directions will be provided directly by Public Health and may include some aspects of Level 2 in a particular setting – such as working from home.’

For businesses, this means: ‘Encouraging staff to self-test regularly and to stay at home if they are unwell, respecting  and encouraging customers to take mitigations and encourage good hygiene practices and provide sanitisation stations, C02 monitors and good ventilation and be aware of the situation within your workplace’.

Level Two

If winter pressures increase the risk to our health and care provision, we should expect to see a strengthening towards more robust advice. 

For people, this means being expected to wear face coverings when indoors, increasing self-testing and there may be a revisiting of the broader testing strategy. This may also mean asking for ‘unnecessary household mixing’ to be reduced and asking people to be extra vigilant against Covid. 

For businesses, this means working from home may be requested wherever possible to reduce transmission in the workplace, supporting customers and employees to maximise testing opportunities and also increasing vigilance.

However, the gov warns: ‘Although level 2 is described as a specific level, as any situation develops there may be a need for a more flexible and targeted response which includes elements of each level. The aim remains to avoid the need for widespread legal interventions unless absolutely necessary.’

A Return of Restrictions

The third level, which the gov says it hopes not to have to implement, would see a full outbreak plan implemented which may include the full range of measures we’ve seen in the last 20 months. 

These measures may include, mandating face coverings, working from home as a legal requirement, social distancing being reintroduced and limits on gatherings and limits on gatherings, as well as applying restrictions to certain activities and businesses. 

The gov says: ‘While hoping to avoid the need to introduce further legal interventions, realistically, we must be prepared that if the pressures on our health and care provision or other critical services look set to be overwhelmed, or Island life appears severely threatened, we may be required to intervene.’

There are three considerations which may see us end up in level three. These are the health and care services being in danger of being overwhelmed, a new variant of concern threatens vaccine efficacy or that there is a significant level of disruption to the island’s economic and social infrastructure. 

Planning Assumptions

The framework includes six main principles that will be kept in mind: 

1). The pressure on the health and care system will remain the principal driver behind any decision to escalate status and response.
2). We should try to maintain other aspects of island life, society and the economy as normal as possible – our children’s education must be maintained as a priority.
3). We should continue to promote and deliver the vaccination programme as a priority.
4). Clear and relevant communications remain crucial in helping everyone understand the risks and how to mitigate against them.
5). We should be prepared to provide early intervention where we see specific issues and risks.
6). We should try to avoid the use of legal restrictions and island wide interventions other than when the indications are that the health and care services are in danger of being overwhelmed, a new variant of concern threatens the vaccine efficacy or there is a significant level of disruption to our island’s economic and social infrastructure.

Decision Making

CoMin says that its overall Covid response will be monitored daily, with the National Covid Response Group working with the chair of the Emergency Advisory Group for improved decision making. 

This group will monitor the position regularly with info including on borders, education, data on cases numbers/ trajectory and the status of our health and care system, economic indicators and community measures. They will also need to monitor UK and international developments.

The flu season will also have an impact, as will other respiratory illnesses, and the impact they have on the health and care system. Ultimately, we all know the risks by now and all have our own part to play in ensuring the island gets through the winter as best we can and with as few restrictions as necessary. 

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