Christmas holiday plans for hundreds of Islanders have been thrown into chaos after France announced yesterday that British tourists including those from Jersey, will be banned from entering the country from 11 pm tonight. Hauliers as well as French nationals, their spouses and children are not affected by the new rules. Only those who have ‘compelling reasons’ will be able to travel into the country.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the French government said: ‘In the UK government’s own words, the UK is facing a “tidal wave” of the Omicron variant in the coming days.’ It added: ‘In response to the extremely rapid spread of the Omicron variant in the UK, the government is reinstating compelling reasons for travel to and from the UK [British Isles], and strengthening the requirement for testing on departure and arrival.’
The news came as it was confirmed that the first cases of the Omicron variant had been identified in a number of cases in Jersey.
The government says that, as the number of confirmed cases of Omicron so far is small, the exact number cannot be disclosed to ‘protect confidentiality’ Deputy medical officer of health, Dr Ivan Muscat, said: ‘We have said for some time that we have expected the Omicron variant to be on-Island, and following the recent sequencing of approximately 10% of positive PCR tests, we have identified a small number of Omicron positive samples. Direct contacts have been contacted and told to isolate for ten days from the point of exposure to the positive case, with additional testing during the isolation period. I can confirm that the individuals are well and are following all the relevant guidance. Their welfare is being monitored by the Covid Safe team, who maintain in contact with all positive cases and direct contacts.
However, It was also confirmed that anyone testing positive for the new variant and their direct contacts would be subject to more stringent test & trace protocols including being banned from taking daily exercise.
In the UK, 88,000 cases were reported in the last 24 hours and in Jersey, there were 1,161 known cases with 9 islanders currently in hospital.
Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, said: “We know that the Omicron variant is more transmissible than other strains and that cases are doubling every two to three days in the UK. If this rate is replicated in Jersey, we would reach an infection peak much higher than experienced last winter and this is why we need to take action to ensure we preserve our current position and the progress we have made thus far.
“As an Islander, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your family over the winter is get vaccinated. I personally urge all eligible Islanders to book their vaccines with the utmost priority; this is the best defence we have against COVID-19 and particularly the Omicron variant”.
“We want to ensure that all Islanders can enjoy the Christmas period safely, and we must safeguard the resilience of our healthcare services. Therefore, from today, all Islanders aged 18 and over can book their booster dose. The current estimates are that the booster increases vaccine efficacy against Omicron infection to between 70 to 75%. It is vital if three months or more have passed since you had your second dose, you go and get your booster jab. I would like to repeat my thanks to all Islanders for their continued diligence and cooperation. By taking these steps we can continue to minimise the spread of COVID-19 in Jersey while allowing Islanders the freedom to celebrate the festive season without disproportionate restrictions on their lives.”
Competent Authority Ministers (CAM) met earlier this week to agree on new recommendations following potential emerging risks the Island faces as a result of the Omicron variant. The recommendations follow advice from Public Health in consultation with the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC).
As a result, the following measures will be introduced in Jersey:
From Tuesday 4 January 2022
- Masks will become mandatory again in indoor public settings. Ministers recognise there are certain activities where masks cannot be worn, including exercising, eating, drinking, singing and acts of worship, and Public Health will provide detailed guidance before the law comes into effect.
- Working from home will be recommended for businesses wherever a business deems this possible. When work in offices or other workplaces is necessary, physical distancing and good ventilation should be used wherever practicable.
- Businesses will be recommended to utilize the option to work from home, as part of keeping staff safe. Ministers recognise that there are circumstances where work in offices or other workplaces can continue safely, and where that can be achieved, physical distancing, testing, masks and good ventilation is encouraged.
- For the purposes of the Safer Travel Policy, the definition of Fully Vaccinated will also be updated, in light of evidence that two doses of the vaccine offer reduced protection against the new variant. From this date, passengers will be required to have received the full schedule of doses available to them. This means passengers aged 18 and over will need to have received two initial doses plus a third booster dose two weeks before they travel. Passengers aged 12 to 18 will need to have received two doses of the vaccine two weeks before they travel.
- Passengers will no longer be able to use evidence of previous COVID infection to avoid the requirement to be tested on arrival in Jersey.
- Passengers who do not meet the Fully Vaccinated status will need to take a free PCR test on arrival and will have to isolate until they receive a negative test result. The turnaround time of PCR tests results is currently around 8 hours.
Passengers who have travelled outside the UK’s Common Travel Area in the 10 days before arriving in Jersey will need to be tested on arrival and then isolate until they receive a negative result, or they can provide evidence of a negative pre-departure test, regardless of vaccination status.
These are temporary measures that will aim to reduce the spread of transmission, allowing for people to stay well to maximise booster uptake. The measures will remain under continual review and Ministers will reassess in mid-January.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ivan Muscat, said: “Of course, vaccination has been our main defence against COVID-19 throughout the pandemic, and is even more important in light of the Omicron variant. I strongly urge all Islanders aged 18 and over to come forward for their booster dose with the utmost urgency.
“Lateral flow tests (LFTs) also remain extremely important; with more and more Islanders getting vaccinated, illness is less severe if you catch COVID, so, some Islanders might be asymptomatic or only have mild flu-like symptoms. Therefore, by regularly taking LFTs before you visit family and friends, go out for dinner, or go to a party, we can identify positive asymptomatic cases and therefore reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community. If you have not already registered onto a free lateral flow testing programme, visit gov.je/testing and get a free box of tests delivered to your home.”
After starting off a bit shaky this morning, the FTSE 100 is now up 13 points – higher by 0.3%.
European markets are mixed, with the DAX down 0.67% and the CAC 40 down 0.66%.
Wall Street wasn’t looking too fresh first thing this morning. Although futures on the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 27 points, or 0.1%, to 35818, futures on the S&P 500 slipped 0.1%, or 6 points, to 4654, while futures on the NASDAQ 100 also dropped 0.6%, or 94 points, to 15772.
Asian markets finished sharply lower today with shares in Japan leading the region. The Nikkei 225 is down 1.79% while Hong Kong’s Hang Seng is off 1.20% and China’s Shanghai Composite is lower by 1.16%.
Pre-Christmas inflation hike
The Bank of England raised interest rates from 0.% to 0.25% ahead of Christmas, predicting that inflation would reach 6% next year.
With the CPI index of price rises already at a ten-year high, officials have been under pressure to act, but many analysts believed the Bank would hold off owing to concerns over the Omicron variant’s economic impact.
The rate-setting monetary policy committee (MPC) voted 8-1 in favour of the increase, which will result in higher monthly mortgage payments for homeowners with Bank rate-linked loans.
Inflation rose to a higher-than-expected 5.1% in November, putting additional pressure on the Bank to act.
It now anticipates CPI to reach 6% in April, a full percentage point higher than last month’s forecast and a level not seen since the early 1990s.
This is due in part to rising gas and electricity futures prices, which will be taken into consideration when Ofgem announces an expected energy price cap increase in the spring.
Members of the MPC admitted that Omicron “is likely to weigh on near-term activity” as the Bank lowered its fourth-quarter GDP growth prediction from 1% to 0.6% and said the variation will also drag on the economy in the first quarter of next year.
Black Friday boosted retail sales
Retail sales rose by 1.4% in November, rising above their pre-pandemic level due to an increase in sales at clothing stores and computer stores.
Volumes were 7.2% higher last month than February 2020 levels, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics, indicating a bounce back from the lows of the pandemic.
Non-food stores saw sales rise by 2.0%, driven by a 2.9% growth in clothing stores and 2.8% increase in other non-food stores such as computer stores, toy stores and jewellery stores.
Retailers pointed to Black Friday and Christmas shopping for the bump in sales, with clothing stores above pre-coronavirus levels for the first time since the onset of the pandemic.
Fuel sales increased in November by 3.7% following two months of supply disruptions, although this was still some 1.9% below February 2020 levels.
“Retail sales picked up in November, boosted by strong Black Friday and pre-Christmas trading,” said Heather Bovill, deputy director for surveys and economic indicators at the ONS.
“Clothing stores fared particularly well and have exceeded their pre-pandemic level for the first time. Computer, toy, and jewellery retailers also reported robust sales this month.”
Sunak urged to support hospitality
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is facing increasing pressure to provide additional assistance to hospitality businesses that are experiencing large-scale cancellations as a result of the escalating incidence of COVID illnesses.
As the Omicron variant spreads across the UK, top health officials have recommended Britons avoid social interactions with others in the run-up to Christmas.
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, has also advised people to “consider carefully” attending social events in the coming weeks.
These messages, together with the government’s application of Plan B COVID regulations this winter, have sparked fears of a major impact on the hospitality industry at what should be its busiest time of year.
In recent days, many businesses have reported a rash of cancellations, including for Christmas parties.
In the previous two days alone, one London eatery was alleged to have received over 300 cancellations.