The small group of Ministers who have had the final say on island-wide restrictions during throughout pandemic won’t be taking their hands off the controls following ‘Freedom Day’, the Chief Minister has confirmed.
Senator John Le Fondré told Express he anticipated that Competent Authorities Ministers (CAM) would continue to meet and make decisions until covid becomes less significant on a global scale.
Under the law, CAM is an emergency decision-making body made up of the Chief Minister, and Ministers of Health, Home Affairs, Economic Development, External Relations and Infrastructure. The Treasury and Education Ministers are not statutory members, but were invited when the importance of their portfolios in relation to covid-19 measures became apparent.
As Jersey has gained more of a handle on the pandemic in recent months, with a vaccination programme in full swing and low numbers of islanders in hospital with the virus, Chief Scrutineer Senator Kristina Moore said States Members were beginning to "seriously question the merits of [CAM's] continued existence", noting that CAM had "often" made decisions "at the expense of more appropriate deliberations by the full Council of Ministers”.
In Scrutiny’s view, this had led to “inconsistency” in some policy decisions, she said. This included the decision to allow a dinner for more than 500 rugby fans to go ahead, while smaller, private gatherings could not.
Pictured: Senator Kristina Moore recently challenged CAM's authority.
Environment Minister Deputy John Young has also previously expressed frustration that many decisions, such as over travel, had ignored the concerns of the full Council of Ministers, but were being taken by the small group.
Last year, he also demanded answers as to why the team advising government on its covid strategy bypassed politicians in deciding to cut ties with Guernsey, and recently told Express he was frustrated that the Council of Ministers was being frozen out of discussions about direct contact isolation relaxations last month.
Asked by Express yesterday whether he considered the removal of final restrictions scheduled for 15 July – stand-up drinking, nightclubs and unlimited private party guests – an appropriate moment for CAM to step back, the Chief Minister said he felt it would be “too early”, given the global context.
He hinted that it may not be until next year that decision-making processes return to normal – via the States Assembly and full Council of Ministers. However, he stressed that many key decisions had gone to the full Council of Ministers for “endorsement”.
Pictured: The Environment Minister previously questioned CAM's lack of consultation with other Ministers.
“I think we’ve got to focus on coming through where we are now, through summer, preparing for winter, making sure everybody gets their second jab who can take it. That’s about protecting not only yourself but your neighbours, making sure everybody gets their booster shots which we have to deal with and dealing with the flu jabs as well because one of the concerns looking ahead this winter is that there is a suggestion that we may see more flu transmission coming around and we have to prepare for that," Senator Le Fondré said.
“Although hopefully we’re coming through…the island is in a good place, and although people expressed their frustrations over the past few days, we hopefully have addressed in a proportionate way. Putting those aside, we have responded very well to this pandemic and need to keep on doing it. We’re not quite there yet. I’m not too sure if I like the expression ‘Freedom Day’, but Freedom Day on 15 July will be another marker in that progression forward, but we do need to keep an eye on things. And also, actually, finally deciding what other measures might be stepped down in the last few months.”
Those final measures, he explained, would include contact tracing and border testing.
The UK Health Minister had previously pledged not to bring back any restrictions. On his own approach, Senator Le Fondré said: “I think I would like to obviously maintain our forward trajectory but I’ve learnt the pandemic to date does sometimes produce new challenges which you have to address. So if things remain as they are, we’d welcome keeping a forward trajectory but you’ve always got to keep one eye on the potential for great change.”
Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Ivan Muscat has been clear that, despite the relaxations in covid measures, islanders should “keep their guard up” due to the threat of new variants.
STAC minutes released last month showed that covid with the vaccine-resistant mutation had been detected in the island in March.
Senator Le Fondré said he did “not recall” whether it had been detected in the island since, but did not believe it to be the case.
He emphasised that the island was continuing to send samples for sequencing “to give us those early warning signs” of variants of concern entering the community.
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