Client Weekly Update – Friday 28 January

Local markets

The Chief Minister, John Le Fondre, in what he said was ‘probably the very last press conference related solely to Covid’, today announced that The Government of Jersey will phase out all Covid restrictions by March, with mandatory mask-wearing and working from home guidance ending at midnight 31 January.

From 31 March, it will no longer be mandatory for anyone with Covid to isolate and businesses will not have to collect contact details from Tuesday 1 February.

He said the Government was dropping restrictions due to the high number of recoveries from Covid and that vaccinations have helped particularly vulnerable groups, with over 88% of over 50s triple vaccinated.

From Monday 7 February, all requirements under the safer travel policy will be suspended, such as filling out a travel form, and also contact tracing will be replaced with voluntary self-notification of contacts. 

PCR testing for positive lateral flow tests will continue however from 31 March the requirement to isolate (for positive cases) will be replaced by self-assessment and symptom checking with the use of LFTs. 

Daily LFT testing will continue for schools, and students will be asked not to attend if they are symptomatic or Covid positive. Contact Tracing will also cease from Monday 7 February.  

Following an update given to the Council of Ministers on Tuesday, the ban on visiting adult wards at Jersey hospital was relaxed last night. Social visiting was also reintroduced on mental health wards.

Two named visitors are now permitted to visit each patient although only one person may visit at a time. As of yesterday, there were 21 islanders with Covid in Hospital and 2,337 known cases on the island.

Visitors must observe the following guidelines:

  • They must not be subject to any self-isolation requirements or have symptoms associated with Covid 19
  • They must strictly adhere to hand hygiene with alcohol gel on entrances to clinical areas and must wear facemasks over the nose at all times
  • Visitors are asked to support all HCS staff as we work collectively to re-introduce visiting safely
  • Regarding visits to patients who are receiving end of life care, this will be considered on an individual basis, as is the current case
  • Staff will be monitoring who visits as details of named visitors will be recorded
  • Regarding visits to mental health wards, the ward should be contacted to make arrangements
  • Everyone is encouraged to take an LFT before they visit the Hospital or any adult mental health wards and anyone with any symptoms of Covid must not visit 

Visiting was temporarily suspended on 12 January following reports that several inpatients in the hospital tested positive for Covid-19 after a very small number of visitors came in with symptoms.

The amount of Covid circulating in the community is decreasing as is community transmission, allowing visiting to be reinstated. 

Minister for Health and Social Services, Deputy Richard Renouf said:

“I and my Council of Ministers’ colleagues, are pleased that visiting has been reinstated following a temporary restriction which we know has been difficult for loved ones and patients. However, the decision to temporarily restrict visiting was taken after serious consideration. The return of visiting is great news for patients and their friends and family. I would ask all visitors to be respectful of staff who are doing all they can for patients under difficult circumstances, and to observe all guidelines which have been put in place”.

Deputy Chief Nurse Claire Thompson said: “We know that having visitors makes a huge difference to our patients.

Meanwhile, the States of Guernsey has announced, in Guernsey Secondary school, pupils and staff, as well as primary school staff, no longer have to wear masks in communal areas.

This follows the relaxation of measures announced by the Civil Contingencies Authority after Covid numbers sharply declined. It agreed to remove the mandatory requirement for face coverings from midnight on Wednesday. 

Nick Hynes, Director of Education, said the advice was to continue to wear masks in “enclosed communal spaces, such as corridors”. He said there was no longer an expectation that parents and carers wear face coverings when attending school grounds for drop-off or collection.

Mixed markets

The FTSE is now down almost 1%, 73 points lower to below the key 7,500 support mark, with banks and industrial stocks adding to the weight of declines in the index.

In US markets, the S&P 500 fell 0.5% Thursday evening, as did the Nasdaq 100 by 1.2%. The Dow Jones Industrial Average showed little change.

European markets are sharply lower today with shares in Germany off the most. The DAX is down 1.67% while France’s CAC 40 is off 1.21% and London’s FTSE 100 is lower by 1.07%.

Asian markets finished mixed as of the most recent closing prices. The Nikkei 225 gained 2.09%, while the Hang Seng led the Shanghai Composite lower. They fell 1.05% and 0.97% respectively.

Investors fail to block Greencore bonuses

Investors in Greencore, a convenience food producer that supplies UK retailers such as Marks & Spencer, narrowly failed to prevent the company from paying out hundreds of thousands of pounds in executive bonuses on Thursday, following outrage over the company’s failure to refund any of the nearly £30 million in government assistance it received during the pandemic.

At the company’s annual general meeting, 46% of shareholders voted against the Dublin-based company’s plan to award directors with bonus shares.

Despite receiving only 54% of the vote, the firm, which also counts Sainsbury’s and the Co-op among its UK clients, said it would proceed with the scheme.

Most companies that received government furlough monies and remained profitable, reimbursed the Treasury before awarding incentives to employees and directors.

Greencore, on the other hand, has joined a long list of companies, including WH Smith, JD Sports, and Homebase, that have held onto money from one or more government pandemic relief initiatives.

Glass Lewis and ISS, two shareholder advisory firms, advised investors to consider rejecting Greencore’s remuneration report.

Both advisers have expressed worries about the “appropriacy” of the FTSE 250 firm’s bonus payments, considering its reliance on funding from the government furlough scheme, which subsidized employee salaries with state funds during the Covid epidemic.

Concerns over national insurance hike

The Treasury is growing increasingly concerned that Boris Johnson is planning to remove the national insurance increase in a desperate bid to appease rightwing Tory MPs as he fights to hold onto his job.

The Guardian is aware that Rishi Sunak has privately told MPs that the tax increase must go ahead as planned, with one frontbencher who has met him recently suggesting that the chancellor’s position may become unsustainable if Johnson moves to override him.

Treasury aides insist the embattled prime minister has not yet discussed the possibility of cancelling or delaying the £12 billion tax increase, with Johnson claiming “there’s been no discussion at any level”.

However, in a speech in Wales on Thursday, the prime minister refused to commit to the 1.25% point increase in national insurance payments (NICs), which will be dubbed a “health and social care fee.”

Johnson stated that finding the funds was “absolutely vital,” adding, “We have to fund the Covid backlogs, we have to fix social care. Every penny will go to that end.”

However, when pressed to clarify expressly that the hike will take place as planned, he refused to do so.

UK travel industry boom

Travel businesses are reporting a rebound in bookings, with EasyJet and Saga forecasting a summer rise as the impact of Omicron on consumer confidence fades and the government’s decision to suspend testing and travel restrictions returns capacity to pre-pandemic levels.

Beach bookings are in great demand, according to EasyJet, which said it would have nearly a third more capacity flying to coastal destinations this summer than it did in 2019, with Greece and Turkey leading the charge.

Overall, EasyJet CEO Johan Lundgren predicted that flight capacity would be at pre-pandemic levels in the fourth quarter.

He reported that since the government relaxed travel restrictions, booking volumes have skyrocketed. “For the first time since 2020, the United Kingdom leads in bookings vs the rest of Europe.”

In response to an EU request that member states ease restrictions, Lundgren stated, “We believe testing for travel across our network should soon become a thing of the past.”

While the final three months of last year showed a remarkable increase over 2020 – EasyJet operated 85.6 million flights compared to 23.4 million – the company missed its target as Christmas travel plans were interrupted once again due to the impact of Omicron.

Jersey’s economic recovery back on track

Jersey’s economic recovery from the pandemic is ‘far ahead of schedule,’ according to the Treasury Minister, and the government has done ‘as much as it can’ to help businesses get through the difficult winter months.

Deputy Susie Pinel made the remarks during a session of the Corporate Services Scrutiny Panel yesterday, saying that recent indicators, such as hotel and holiday bookings, suggested the economy was on the mend following the downturn caused by Covid-19.

After the government’s support for struggling businesses was withdrawn, panel member Deputy Steve Ahier questioned Pinel about what policies she planned to implement to promote “customer confidence and stimulate increased economic activity.”

She responded, saying “I think that’s already started, actually. The economic recovery is well ahead of its game. Hoteliers are saying that they’re fully booked”.