Jersey’s borders will close “by default” as covid cases in the UK and Europe continue to rise, the Health and External Relations Ministers have said after 25 travellers tested positive over the weekend.
Their comments followed calls from some islanders to close the island to all but essential travel – as it had done during lockdown – after virus case numbers hit 61 last night following a spike of 30 between Friday and Sunday.
25 of the recently identified cases were new arrivals: 15 from green zones, seven from amber and three from red.
The Government said 18 of the group were already isolating when they received their border test results.
Speaking on BBC Radio Jersey this morning, External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst said the spate of border cases wasn’t “a surprise” because “we are surrounded by increasing prevalence in the United Kingdom and right across Europe.”
129,955 negative tests (+3,588)
479 confirmed positive (+30)
397 confirmed recovered (+13)
Average turnaround time for test results received in the last 7 days: 18 hours
Further statistics are published on our website daily: https://t.co/fHGhj0MNED— Government of Jersey (@GovJersey) October 12, 2020
Addressing calls to shut the borders, the Minister described the previous travel permit system during lockdown as a “monstrous infringement of islanders’ rights and liberties”, going on to say: “We don’t need to make a decision as some are perhaps asking for to close the borders; it’s going to happen by default.”
This, he said, would be the consequence of more UK regions turning amber and red under Jersey’s traffic light system, meaning compulsory quarantines of five and 14 days for arrivals from these regions.
As of this morning, green zone arrivals must now also isolate until their first negative test result.
Senator Gorst said it was expected that “virtually the whole of London” – a key link for Jersey – would soon be ranked amber, making it difficult and therefore less likely for visitors and business travellers to come to the island.
Across the UK, as many as 20 million people in the UK could go into an amber or red classification, he said.
Pictured: External Relations Minister Senator Ian Gorst.
This, he predicted, will have a knock-on effect for Jersey’s connectivity.
“What is happening in this situation is that our testing, our tracking, our traffic light system means that, in effect, over the course of the next few days and weeks, the airlines are reducing the number of flights into Jersey,” the Senator said.
“What’s going to happen is by default those regional airlines we’re going to lose connectivity with.”
His comments were echoed by Health Minister Deputy Richard Renouf, who was grilled on the topic of travel during a Scrutiny hearing this morning.
"I heard this morning that many flights are operating at 30% of capacity, which means the airlines are losing money to operate those flights. How long can that continue?" Deputy Renouf said.
Pictured: "Travel will become increasingly more difficult and rarer," the Health Minister said.
"And then we’ve got the situation in the UK where many areas are effectively shut down and people are not able to travel, so whatever travel plans they might have had can no longer be fulfilled.
"So all these things coming together, which are probably going very soon to change what we have experienced around the summer months in terms of travel to the island. Travel will become increasingly more difficult and rarer."
Both Ministers confirmed that the Government was now reassessing the numbers being used to designate regions as green, amber or red in the run-up to half-term, and that an announcement will be made later this week.
The impact of such changes is predicted to intensify the drop in visitor numbers.
Ports of Jersey told Express that, last month, it welcomed less than a third of its usual commercial air passengers through the airport.
Pictured: Passenger numbers have dramatically dropped at the airport and harbour.
“…Up to the end of September 2020, we welcomed 381,209 passengers through Jersey Airport (both arrivals and departures) compared to 1,333,796 at the same period last year – a decrease of 952,587 (-71.4%). This figure is further exacerbated as we enter the winter period, when historically passenger figures reduce as a result of a reduction in services and passenger demand,” a spokesperson said.
“Maritime figures have also taken a significant hit this year, with a total of 78,676 sea passengers up to end of September (compared to 574,922 in 2019), an overall drop of -86% on last year.
“As always, we are working closely with our transport partners who continue to monitor the situation and are following both local and UK Government travel advice.”
Over summer, the Government handed Blue Islands a £10m loan to safeguard the island’s air connectivity.
Express previously asked the Deputy Chief Minister, Senator Lyndon Farnham, whether financial incentives will be offered to easyJet and BA to maintain their links with the island, but he declined to comment, stating that negotiations were still underway.
At a separate press conference, the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, was similarly tight-lipped on bail-out funding for ferry provider Condor, which has had to make "drastic" cuts to cope with the effects of the pandemic.
Pictured: Ministers have declined to comment on any potential financial support for airlines or Condor.
During his interview, Senator Gorst also defended a decision to allow a group of construction workers from Rennes - part of the Ille-et-Vilaine region, which is marked as red - to follow a “differentiated process” and avoid two weeks' isolation in order to work on a local site.
He said that permission was granted on the basis that they would not mix with other islanders, going straight from their charter flight to their accommodation upon arrival and then transporting themselves to and from the building site.
Senator Gorst said that the group also had to stick to a strict set of “rules and requirements” overseen by Dr Ivan Muscat, who is leading Jersey’s response to the pandemic, and that compliance was being monitored “in real time and on a daily basis.”
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