The Health Minister has denied that Jersey's travel policy was "solely responsible" for reintroducing covid back into Jersey's community, resulting in a significant spike in cases last year.
The comments from Deputy Richard Renouf were penned in response to a November 2020 Scrutiny report on the Government's 'Safer Travel Policy', but only released this week.
Jersey hit zero known covid cases in July, two days before borders reopened with a new arrivals testing policy. Between July and September, case numbers remained relatively low, but began to rise sharply from October. By December, case numbers had topped 1,000, with thousands more islanders being treated as direct contacts and required to quarantine.
While Scrutineers concluded in November that "the Safer Travel Guidelines [had] directly reintroduced covid-19 into the community", Deputy Renouf refuted this.
“While it is inevitable that positive cases will be detected at the border, there is insufficient evidence to conclude that the Safer Travel Policy was solely responsible for a subsequent increase in case notification rates," he responded.
Pictured: In September, the threshold for green regions was changed from having 25 cases per 100,000 to 50.
Further responding to the report, he argued that the rise in covid cases locally was “due to the volume of tests being conducted on arriving passengers leading to an increase in positive cases being detected.
“Whilst it is inevitable that inbound travel has resulted in the introduction of cases to Jersey, the Safer Travel policy has provided a proportionate response to the level of risk through the evidence-based targeting of testing and isolation requirements.”
The Scrutiny Panel, which in an earlier report had suggested the borders reopening had been rushed by Government for economic reasons, concluded their report with a recommendation that all arrivals from green zones isolate until their day 5 test.
But the Health Minister said he did not accept this line of thinking, pointing instead to the Government's then-policy, which required green zone travellers to have three tests, but only have to isolate until the result of their first one comes through.
Two weeks after responding to Scrutiny, the Government took the decision to start treating all new arrivals to Jersey as having come from a 'red zone' - meaning at least 10 days' isolation - in response to the more infectious variants of covid being identified around the world.
The newly-released comments come after STAC minutes released last month showed that Deputy Medical Officer of Health Dr Ivan Muscat MBE disagreed with the Government’s decision in September to change the threshold for 'green zones'.
Pictured: Jersey's top pandemic medic, Dr Ivan Muscat MBE, disagreed with the decision to change the threshold on green regions.
On October 19, just days after 62 travellers had tested positive – 28 of whom had travelled from green areas - Dr Muscat expressed further regret his advice had not been taken up.
According to meeting minutes, he said "that the RAG (Red/Amber/Green) categorisation of areas should have been updated regularly, rather than delayed and that the decision should not have been taken to extend the categorisation of Green up from 25 cases per 100,000 population over the previous two weeks to 50."
At an earlier meeting on 5 October, former Medical Officer of Health Dr Susan Turnbull also criticised the decision, with meeting minutes noting that “the political decision to extend [the green zone threshold] now gave her and colleagues good reason to be very concerned about a potential influx of cases.
“24 hours was not a significant length of time, but anyone who had the virus had the potential to spread it during that period. The issue centred not just on the inconvenience caused to the passenger, but the wider risk to the community.”
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