Since March 2020, a number of COVID-19 specific public health measures have been in effect in Ascension. These have been designed to prevent COVID-19 from entering the community, and to enable authorities to react swiftly and comprehensively if it did.
In light of significant developments over the last two years, most notably with regard to the level of risk that COVID-19 now poses to vaccinated persons, officials have been working to reassess these protocols and measures. The review, titled Adapting Ascension’s COVID-19 Protocols, is available on the Public Documents section of the AIG website.
As part of this review, a number of criteria for lifting quarantine restrictions have been identified. These are as follows:
Several of these have already been met, and work is underway to address those that remain outstanding.
As a result of this assessment, it is proposed that major adaptions to the public health measures currently in place will be introduced on 31 July. This will see the ending of quarantine requirements for arrivals and the removal of the Response Level Protocol.
In doing so, Ascension will move from a position of working to keep COVID-19 out of the community, to one of managing COVID-19 as an illness that is present and circulates within the community.
Given the extremely high-levels of vaccination across the territory, and the emergence of Omicron as the dominant variant worldwide, authorities are confident that provided the criteria outlined are met, the risk posed to vaccinated individuals by COVID-19 will be very low.
However, by introducing COVID-19 into the community it can be expected that there will be a short but significant wave of infections. As a working island this has the potential to cause significant disruption to organisations and their ability to deliver critical functions.
As such, during the initial transitionary phase to living with COVID-19 in Ascension, individuals will be asked to monitor their own health, and if they suspect they may have symptoms consistent with COVID-19 will be directed to seek a test. Any positive individuals will be expected to isolate until they are no longer infectious, but this will not be enforced by law as it is at present.
This is not intended to prevent transmission of the virus completely, but rather to help slow its spread after the island opens up to ensure that businesses are still able to operate effectively.
Each organisation will be implementing specific workplace adaptions to help facilitate this, and staff are encouraged to speak to their employers about these.
It is recognised that this is a significant change in approach. Members of the public should be assured that this decision follows extensive work from AIG officials and partner organisations, both inside and outside of Ascension, over many months.
Further information, including additional guidance, will be made available on this matter in the coming weeks. AIG will also be organising work place and Town Hall meetings to give further guidance and take any questions.
What is changing?
From 31 July, arrivals to Ascension will no longer be required to quarantine. This will mean that COVID-19 will enter the community at some point and begin circulating like other viruses, such as the common cold.
Why are the protocols changing?
Authorities have considered a number of factors, including risk to individuals, and have assessed that once certain criteria have been met it will no longer be reasonable or proportionate to retain the measures that have been in place over the last two years.
Can’t we just keep things as they are?
Ascension has been very successful in preventing COVID-19 from entering the community. However, it is now one of the only territories in the world that retains such extensive preventative measures. Once the criteria outlined for changes to be made have been met, retaining extensive measures such as quarantine would not be justified. It is also important to make these changes whilst conditions are right. This includes having very high-levels of vaccination across the community and dealing with a known variant in Omicron.
Is it safe to do this?
Officials have worked closely with experts in the UK and organisations on island to assess the risks of making these changes. Ascension is very well positioned to make these adaptions based on our local circumstances. Thanks to vaccines and the emergence of the Omicron variant, COVID-19 does not pose the grave risk to life that it did in March 2020.
Authorities have also been observing what has happened in other territories that have begun opening back up over the last few months, and assessing how these experiences can be translated into an Ascension specific context.
Why aren’t the changes happening until the end of July?
Authorities have identified a number of criteria that need to be met in order to be satisfied that the island can safely open up. Setting the date at the end of July provides authorities and businesses suitable time to ensure these criteria are met. It also means that the large number of people due to travel to St Helena over the peak July school holidays period can be confident that they will not have to quarantine on arrival in St Helena.
Am I at risk?
If you’re vaccinated, you have the best protection currently available. Since vaccination has been introduced, the categories of persons considered to be at high risk of developing a severe COVID-19 illness is very limited, and is very different to those considered to be at risk prior to vaccines becoming available.
However, for unvaccinated persons, COVID-19 can still be a serious illness and therefore everyone is encouraged to book an appointment for vaccination.
What about the air corridor with St Helena?
At present St Helena Government has not announced firm dates for removing quarantine requirements in St Helena. Authorities are aware that removing quarantine before St Helena is likely to close the quarantine free air corridor between Ascension and St Helena. There are two flights departing Ascension in July and quarantine requirements will likely be removed after the second flight has departed. This will allow a significant number of people to travel to St Helena over the peak school holiday period without having to observe quarantine on arrival.