The Falkland Islands Government on Friday announced it will be easing some restrictions in its response to the COVID-19 global pandemic. The steps, approved by Executive Council, will over coming days include reopening schools and nurseries, permitting greater social mixing, and allowing non-essential work and activities with some exceptions.
The announcements were done by Chief Executive Barry Rowland and the Falklands Chief Medical Officer, Rebecca Edwards
In summary, the following will occur:
• Schools and nurseries will re-open their doors on 11 May.
• Businesses and FIG will begin to restart non-essential work also on 11 May, and guidance is being finalized to help them do this safely.
• Restrictions around social and physical activities will begin to be relaxed from Wednesday 6 May and FIG guidance will be published on Monday 4 May
• Increasing levels of social contact will be allowed. More information about this will be shared next week through our Socially Connected, Physically Protected guidance.
• People in the high-risk group will receive new guidance from the Chief Medical Officer that could ease restrictions for many of them. Contact with them will start from next week.
The Chief Executive Barry Rowland said the moves were a proportionate and appropriate response to the current COVID-19 situation in the country.
“It’s important to recap what has happened to date. On 20 March 2020 we took action under our Infectious Diseases Plan. We did this because we were not able to test for COVID-19 on the Falkland Islands, UK air links were disrupted, and a number of individuals had symptoms consistent with COVID-19. In the face of potential small clusters emerging in Stanley we took steps to protect the community.
“On 26 March 2020, we took further action. At that time, we had still not received test results from the UK. We had clusters of individuals presenting with symptoms consistent with COVID-19. As a result, we took the decision to close schools and nurseries, and to ask people to reduce all non-essential activities. This was the right thing to do.
“In early April we took stock. The Islands had its first positive COVID-19 case, at Mount Pleasant, but it remained a fact that there had been 131 negative tests by April 7 and no positive cases in Stanley and our hospital had received key supplies of medicines, additional equipment, and additional skilled staff, and was better-placed to respond. At that point we felt restrictions should remain in place until further results were received. That approach saw us move on April 22 to restart the construction sector, as results in Stanley continued to be negative.
“Now we have even greater understanding of the COVID-19 situation here. We have been receiving a steady flow of test results from the UK and have yet to have any positive cases of COVID-19 in Stanley or Camp. Our partners at BFSAI have successfully acted to limit cases at Mount Pleasant.
“As of today, we have now had 388 tests, with only 13 positive cases. Capacity at the KEMH has been further reinforced, the restrictions on travel between Stanley and MPC have proven to be effective and we now have the necessary equipment on island to carry out testing here. This is planned to be operational by next week.
“Our community has responded very well to what we have asked them to do in terms of work and activity restrictions, practicing social distancing, self-isolation, and other public health measures. However, we now feel that easing some restrictions is appropriate, in recognition that such measures have a considerable social, wellbeing, and economic impact.”
Mr. Rowland cautioned however that this was no time for complacency about COVID-19 and the threat it posed, as cases were always a possibility. Government would continue to assess the situation and whether restrictions could be eased further or tightened as circumstances changed.
“We are still asking people to practice social distancing and follow all public health advice. That applies as well to our workplaces and businesses, and in protecting those in our community who are most vulnerable. “
Mr. Rowland said that further detailed guidance would be released over the coming week to assist individuals, households, and workplaces in adjusting to the lifting of restrictions.
Further detail on the changes
Schools and nurseries
Schools and nurseries will re-open and the staff teams have been working hard to make sure that classrooms and open spaces are clean and safe for children to return to. Distance learning support will stay in place for children unable to attend school either through self-isolation or because they are unable to travel in from Camp.
The Year 11 cohort will be authorized as absent from school, with the exception of the completion of a transition program in due course.
Emergency childcare will continue to be provided by the Education Department up to end of Thursday 7 May 2020, to allow a day for planning and preparation for school re-opening on Monday 11 May.
More details will be coming from the Education Department soon.
Non-essential work to be permitted so most people will be able to return safely to the workplace. There are some exclusions to this (public houses, restaurants, cafes and the cinema) but these will be kept under weekly review.
FIG will publish guidance to help employers and their staff to stay safe at work.
High-risk vulnerable group guidance
The Chief Medical Officer is arranging for contact to be made with all those people who are currently self isolating to discuss how they can return to work and socialize. For some the risk will remain too high at the moment but many people will be able to do more things