Government, Press Release, Travel and Shipping
The public are requested to note that as of today, Friday 02 July, following an extremely successful COVID-19 vaccination campaign, and in consultation with experts from Public Health England, new protocols have been put in place for the compulsory isolation of persons arriving at Ascension.
The isolation protocols for each category of arrival are as follows:
|Category of arrival
|Vaccinated households of four or less persons
|Unvaccinated, and mixed, households or bubbles of four or less persons
Vaccinated bubbles of six or less persons
|Unvaccinated, and mixed, bubbles of more than four persons
These measures have been informed by the most up to date scientific understanding available and, in reflection of Ascension’s unique circumstances, are tailored to specific local conditions.
It should be noted that the air travel corridor between Ascension and St Helena remains in place. As such, the above conditions would only need to be observed by arrivals to Ascension from St Helena in the event of a positive COVID-19 test result being returned from the Titan crew or passengers from the UK, who are tested on arrival.
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, AIG has implemented proportionate measures to prevent persons arriving from areas affected by COVID-19 from introducing COVID-19 into the community. Previously, all arrivals to Ascension were required to observe a period of compulsory isolation, or restrictions short of compulsory isolation, that lasted between 12 and 14 days.
Changes to the compulsory isolation model
Ascension completed its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Friday 28 May. As a result, as of 02 July 2021, authorities estimate that 88% of the eligible population of Ascension is fully vaccinated. Full vaccination is determined to be a full course, usually two doses, of a vaccine approved by the UK, USA or EU. Consequently, authorities have been able to reassess the measures in place and, reflecting the substantial change in circumstances widespread vaccination has brought, consider what new measures are now appropriate.
In light of the extensive rate of vaccination amongst the community, the ability to readily deploy testing and revised scientific advice with regard to COVID-19 and the impact of widespread full vaccination, revised compulsory isolation protocols have been implemented.
As full vaccination reduces the ability of an individual to infect others when compared to an unvaccinated person, and also offers a high-level of personal protection against developing a severe COVID-19 illness, the adaptions introduced aim to leverage the territory’s extensive level of vaccination against COVID-19.
Given this, it is now possible to differentiate between vaccinated individuals and groups, and unvaccinated individuals and groups, in the arrivals process.
As vaccinated persons are less likely to become infectious to others even when infected with COVID-19, an adapted compulsory isolation process can be applied to this category of individuals which provides similar levels of confidence to observing a full 14 day period of compulsory isolation for those who are unvaccinated.
Although AIG has been advised that with the current level of vaccination amongst the community compulsory isolation lengths could have been reduced even further for certain categories of arrivals, authorities have chosen to proceed in a conservative way and will continue to reassess the protocol and procedures in place.
AIG are now working with authorities in the UK to ensure that an ongoing program of vaccination can take place to ensure that the territory is able to maintain its very high level of vaccination.
The revised Policy on the Compulsory Isolation of Arrivals from Affected Areas can be found here.
The public are reminded that anyone determined by the Senior Medical Officer as posing a risk of introducing COVID-19 infection to the island community will be required to isolate on arrival. Failure to abide by that direction may lead to prosecution under the Public Health (Coronavirus)(Temporary Provisions) Regulations, 2020.
Changes to the COVID-19 Response Level Protocol
In addition to adapting the compulsory isolation protocols in light of new advice from Public Health England, AIG has also adapted and reinforced the COVID-19 Response Level Protocol. As members of the public will be aware, the COVID-19 Response Level Protocol provides the framework for authorities to deploy the reactive public health measures needed to manage the virus as and when it presents itself in Ascension.
In addition to the previous three response level, Level 2 ORANGE has also now been introduced. This new level serves to highlight to the public when a positive case has been identified in an individual observing compulsory isolation, or restrictions short of compulsory isolation, measures. As it will be expected that the virus has been contained by proactive isolation measures to only amongst those observing compulsory isolation, no further action for the wider public will need to be taken.
As such, Level 3 RED will only be entered into if an individual within the community tests positive for COVID-19 and authorities are able to trace the origin of the infection, such as from a recent arrival, and isolate any potential contacts of that individual. As a positive case will have been identified within the community it is important that the public health measures advised under Level 3 RED are adhered to so that any as yet unidentified infection has only limited opportunities to be passed on to others.
As before, the response level will only be raised to Level 4 BLACK in a situation where an individual within the community tests positive for COVID-19 and authorities are unable to trace the origin of the infection. As it will be expected that community transmission is taking place it will be necessary to implement strict and drastic public health measures to ensure that the chain of virus transmission is broken.
Following extensive discussions with expert colleagues in Public Health England, AIG are confident that taken in combination, these revised measures continue to effectively manage the threat posed to the community by COVID-19.
How has AIG been able to make these adaptions?
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic AIG has been fortunate to have constant access to experts from Public Health England and a dedicated taskforce within Public Health England set up to support the Overseas Territories through this health crisis. This liaison has provided AIG with the opportunity to seek advice and guidance from some of the most highly qualified individuals in the world, with access to the most up to date scientific understanding available. This advice has informed the approach taken by AIG to date, with ongoing refinement also informed by the advice and evidence provided by these colleagues.
Thanks to extremely widespread full vaccination within the community, currently 88%, and the robust COVID-19 Response Level Protocol, experts in Public Health England have advised that AIG is able to move to the new regime for the isolation of arrivals with confidence.
Has AIGs approach to managing the threat posed by COVID-19 changed?
Throughout the pandemic the two key principles of Ascension’s COVID-19 strategy are that:
The compulsory isolation of arrivals remains a key pillar of this approach. AIG, and experts in Public Health England, are confident that the combination of the new measures for managing arrivals to the island and the revised COVID-19 Response Level Protocol enable AIG to continue to deliver on the two key principles which underpin the territory’s wider COVID-19 strategy.
I’m vaccinated but someone in my group is not, how long will I have to isolate for?
For the purposes of categorisation, for any group of individuals isolating together, all individuals within that group must be fully vaccinated for that group to be considered “vaccinated”. As such, if there is an unvaccinated individual within the group, including unvaccinated children, all persons isolating together will assume “unvaccinated” status for the purposes of observing compulsory isolation.
I’m vaccinated but my children are not. What category will we be in?
Whilst it is extremely rare for children to develop a severe COVID-19 related illness, as they are likely to be unvaccinated they can still act as a source of infection to others. As such, when they are observing compulsory isolation in a group with others, such as with parents or guardians, the wider group will be considered as “unvaccinated”. Authorities have determined this to be a suitably precautionary measure whilst understanding in this area develops.
Why have the COVID-19 Response Levels been changed?
The COVID-19 Response Level Protocol was designed at the beginning of the pandemic before officials knew how effective measures introduced for the compulsory isolation of arrivals were likely to be, and before there was widespread vaccination within the community.
The changes made to the response levels reflect a better understanding of what kind of COVID-19 we are likely to see on the island, and therefore what public health measures are most appropriate for each level in response.