Client Weekly Update – Friday 7 January

Happy New Year to all!

The government cannot be issuing orders all the time and islanders need to ‘take responsibility’ as part of a greater shift towards living with Covid, The Health Minister has said.

Deputy Richard Renouf said he hoped measures brought in this week, including revised testing procedures for direct contacts and arriving passengers, the return of mandatory mask-wearing and work from home guidance, would enable the island to manage the current Covid wave. 

Fuelled by the Omicron Variant, the total number known active cases were 4,053 having risen from 1,512 on Christmas eve. The highest ever total although hospitalisations remain low in comparison.

The General Hospital currently has 17 patients who have tested positive for COVID and it is estimated 127 staff across Health and Community Services out of 2,485 employees are positive with COVID-19. Although a small number of elective surgeries have been cancelled as a result, the healthcare services remain steady and continue to deliver the full range of essential services. 

Dr Muscat said that “between one third and a half of those in the hospital had been ‘coincidentally’ found to have Covid through testing or after admission, while only a small proportion of those hospitalised as a result of Covid were receiving intensive care treatment”. He added, “It’s too early to say that we are at a peak, as numbers are still going up.” “There are signs of a plateau in numbers in London and I estimate that we are around 2 weeks behind so I’m hoping that the peak isn’t that far away”.

It was reported that staffing levels across the Island’s critical services remain resilient and while there is additional pressure on the services, they are currently in good shape despite the rise in the number of cases. Competent Authority Ministers (CAM) continue to meet regularly, receiving information and updates from Public Health officials and the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC), to ensure the right policies and right response mechanisms remain in place. No further mitigations are currently planned.

As a reminder, on Tuesday 4 January, four changes to the Safer Travel Policy were introduced for passengers arriving in Jersey. The definition of Fully Vaccinated at the border has been amended as follows, aged 12 to 17, two doses of MHRA approved vaccine + two weeks and aged 18 and over, two doses + booster dose of MHRA approved vaccine + two weeks. 

Passengers who are not fully vaccinated can either complete a negative pre-departure PCR test within 72 hours before travel to Jersey or have a free PCR Test on arrival and isolate until a negative result is received (usually within 12 hours). 

This will now also include those who have recently recovered from a COVID infection which will no longer be accepted as an alternative to being fully vaccinated. 

Passengers aged 12 and over will now be required to complete a pre-departure travel form within 48 hours before arriving in Jersey (previously required from passengers aged 11 and over)

The enhanced testing and isolation requirements for those who have travelled outside the Common Travel Area will no longer apply. All passengers will be subject to the same requirements regardless of travel history unless they have visited a UK Red List country.

Deputy Chief Minister, Senator Lyndon Farnham, said: “Although Omicron cases have been continuing to rise in Jersey and globally, our critical national infrastructure remains in a steady position. CAM continue to meet regularly to monitor the situation

“Being fully vaccinated remains the most important defence against COVID-19 and protects all of Jersey’s critical services. Fort Regent’s Vaccination Centre has increased staffing capacity to welcome walk-in appointments every day for all Islanders eligible for a vaccine to go and get their first, second or booster dose without a pre-booked appointment.”

This week, several planned policy changes came into effect, including mandatory mask-wearing in most indoor public places, and the recommendation to work from home where possible. 

On Tuesday, a total of 14,300 students returned to Government of Jersey schools. School attendance on Tuesday was 87% in primary schools, and 72% in secondary schools. A total of 540 students at three schools were taught remotely, due to 116 teaching staff and 115 non-teaching staff being absent from schools.

Senator Farnham added: “Schools and colleges continue to manage staff absence using a range of resources, and I would like to thank all education staff and students for their tremendous efforts in returning to school this week and being prepared to adapt. I would also like to commend the ongoing resilience of our healthcare workers”. 

In recognition of the concerns due to COVID-19, the Department for Children, Young People, Education and Skills have advised schools to take a compassionate approach to attendance on a case-by-case basis.

Given the extraordinary circumstances, schools continue to take a compassionate approach to attendance. Students who test positive for COVID-19 should not attend school and should continue their learning remotely only if they are well enough to do so. 

Group Director of Education, Seán O’Regan, said: “With the increase in COVID-19 cases, we know that there are some parents who will feel concerned about the return to school”.

“As we have done through the pandemic we continue to urge parents to send their children to school, as long as they are asymptomatic and have not tested positive for COVID-19, and do not have any specific medical vulnerability. Not attending school has an impact on children and young people’s learning, health and well-being at critical developmental stages. The greatest negative impact is on the most vulnerable children. With risk mitigation measures in place, schools are safe environments for children”.

Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ivan Muscat, said: “Vaccination protects all Islanders, businesses and critical services. It helps ensure that the General Hospital does not become overwhelmed with patients who have developed serious diseases after catching COVID-19. 

“Vaccination, of course, protects not just yourself but also those around you. Many Islanders may feel that COVID-19 does not threaten them if they have already caught COVID-19 once before, or perhaps feel the risk of severe disease is low due to being healthy or young. While this may be true in some cases, it is not true for all, and it is important to remember that vaccination ensures you are protecting others around you who may require hospital treatment if you pass COVID-19 on to them. Vaccination protects Islanders, frontline staff, businesses, and all the critical services in our Island”.

“Although we are in a different place compared to last winter thanks to vaccination and improved treatments, Islanders must stay up to date with their vaccination schedule and ensure they are regularly testing themselves at home with LFTs in order to reduce the spread of infection as much as possible. LFTs are freely available Island-wide, and everyone is recommended to register onto the home testing programme even if they are already signed up for another programme. By registering on the home testing programme, you can test yourself more frequently at appropriate times such as before leaving home to go to work, the shops, or the gym.” Ministers said there are no plans to introduce any further restrictions”.

Mixed markets

The FTSE 100 Index fell 0.22% to 7,403.3 points today. The FTSE 250 did the same with 0.52% to 23,294.02 points.

European markets were mixed first thing this morning, with the DAX leading the CAC 40 lower. They were down 0.51% and 0.33% respectively.

Last night, The Dow Jones Industrial Average had dropped 171 points or 0.5%. The S&P 500 dipped 0.1%, while the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite fell 0.1%, erasing most of its earlier losses. The index had dropped more than 1% earlier in the session.

Asian markets finished mixed as of the most recent closing prices. The Hang Seng gained 1.74%, while the Shanghai Composite led the Nikkei 225 lower. They fell 0.18% and 0.03% respectively.

Branson to launch first SPAC on European stock exchange

Sir Richard Branson is launching his first European blank check company, as the Virgin Group tycoon continues to seek takeover targets through public market investors.

Virgin Group is preparing detailed plans to list a new special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) in Amsterdam in the next months, according to Sky News.

According to insiders, Sir Richard’s company is working with bankers on a public offering, which could be launched as early as the first quarter of 2022.

Given that Virgin Group is based in the United Kingdom and that British regulators have revised listing regulations to make it simpler to pursue SPAC agreements in London, the news could be regarded as a snub to the London market.

Increase in holiday bookings

Following the announcement earlier this week that COVID-19 pre-departure tests

Are no longer required, the CEO of travel company Jet2 stated there was an instantaneous and substantial increase in bookings.

Bookings increased by 150% earlier this week, according to CEO Steve Heapy, when the government abolished pre-departure tests for travellers arriving in the UK and relaxed post-arrival testing regulations.

His remarks are the latest proof that the travel industry has recovered quickly as a result of the adjustments.

Easyjet announced on Thursday that UK bookings had increased by about 200%, with demand for some locations increasing by 400%.

Pre-departure tests will no longer be available starting at 4 a.m. on Friday, and people testing on arrival will be allowed to choose between a lateral flow test and a more expensive PCR test starting at 4 a.m. on Sunday.

A family of four is estimated to save roughly £300 as a result of the adjustments.

House price growth

Annual house price growth reached a 17-year high in 2021, as the market “defied expectations,” but is expected to fall significantly in the coming year, according to Halifax.

According to the lender, the 9.8% year-over-year gain in December was the highest since July 2007 and the best calendar year growth since 2004.

It’s the latest sign of a booming property market in 2021, as a scarcity of available homes mixed with unusually low mortgage rates pushed up prices.

However, interest rate hikes and broader cost-of-living increases may put a halt to the upward trend.

According to Halifax, the average price of a home currently stands at £276,091, up more than £24,500 from December 2020 – the largest gain in cash terms since March 2003.

The lender said the month-on-month increase in pricing was 1.15%, while the quarter-on-quarter increase of 3.5% was the largest since 2006.

Demands for COVID wage uplift

As the annual “high payday” approaches – although a day later than normal – unions and fair pay advocates are demanding acknowledgement of UK employees’ contribution to the UK during the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the High Pay Centre, the median FTSE 100 chief executive (CEO) would have earned the median UK worker’s yearly wage of £31,285 at 9 a.m. on Friday.

For the first time since its founding a decade ago, the think tank said, its study revealed that CEOs needed to work until the fourth day of the new year to make the same amount of money.

This was due to a 17% drop in CEO salary from £3.25 million the previous year to £2.7 million in 2020.

As the public health emergency took root in 2020 – the last year for which comprehensive compensation data is available – many CEOs adopted temporary salary cuts and cancelled or reduced bonuses.

Unions have joined the think tank in calling for a more equitable approach as household budgets are squeezed by the greatest level of inflation in a decade, which is expected to be pushed further higher by rising energy prices starting in April.

TESCO brand leaves the island

TESCO-branded items will be phased out of Island stores in March, according to the Jersey Consumer Council, exposing the supply chain’s ‘vulnerability.’

Following the announcement by Alliance, a locally owned supermarket chain, that Tesco will discontinue wholesale exports, the council’s chairman, Carl Walker, voiced out.

Instead, Alliance and Waitrose have forged a new collaboration.

Tesco products will no longer be offered at Alliance stores, but more than 1,000 Waitrose items will be available instead, including ready dinners, vegan ranges, frozen products, prepared fruit and vegetables, and store-cupboard necessities.

The St Ouen store will be the first to carry Waitrose merchandise in March, and the stock will subsequently be pushed out across the firm’s three St Helier locations.

Final legal changes made in prep for Brexit

Senator Ian Gorst, the Minister for External Relations, has issued Commencement Orders that will bring into force, at 11 p.m. on December 31, 2020, the final Laws and Regulations necessary to ensure that Jersey is ready for the UK’s exit from the European Union and entry into a new Trade and Cooperation Agreement. You can read more about it here.