Business leaders are calling on the Government to “move on” and make a decision on suspending PCR testing for travellers who are fully vaccinated against covid.
Chief Minister Senator John Le Fondré confirmed earlier this month that Jersey’s border testing regime was under review.
He said the Government had been looking at “differentiating between people who have been double vaccinated and people who haven't been” since summer, and promised announcements “in due course” about a potential variation in requirements.
But Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive Murray Norton says the Government has been deliberating for too long and that businesses are now urgently demanding a decision.
He said that delaying is not only “making Jersey less attractive than it could be by having ease of access for inbound travellers”, but also costing taxpayers dearly.
“Chamber’s got a fairly clear and direct view from its members: it’s time to get on with the next stage of where we are. We’ve certainly moved on from a pandemic and we’re now into a period of recovery, and that period of recovery must include where we go on testing,” he said.
Pictured: Chamber CEO Murray Norton.
“Businesses around the island would like to get some clarity on what the Government’s next steps and thinking is on testing and we think that, as with some other countries, if you are double vaccinated, there appears to be very little in the way of data and evidence to continue with testing for double vaccinated passengers coming in.”
He later added: “There are low numbers of hospitalisations and the understanding from everyone now is that we have a covid situation where people will get covid but that the risk to life is in a very different place.
“…We need clarity as soon as possible. If not forthcoming right now, we’d like to understand what’s holding it back. If the data shows there is a clear and present risk, then we’d like to understand that, but we’re not hearing anything.”
He added that, in Chamber’s view, 12 to 15-year-olds who have received a single dose of covid vaccine should be considered fully vaccinated if any changes to the travel regime are implemented.
If the Government does not wish to remove all border testing for fully vaccinated individuals, Mr Norton said it would be “a step in the right direction” to at least allow such travellers to have a lateral flow test before arrival.
Pictured: Mr Norton said allowing pre-departure lateral flow tests for fully vaccinated individuals would be a "step in the right direction".
Taking a “clear” stance on travel testing requirements for fully vaccinated individuals would not only benefit tourism and hospitality by “assisting the flow of passengers” into the island, according to the Chamber CEO, but will also help ensure there is “critical mass of travelling public” to maintain the island’s connectivity, which has already suffered as a result of the pandemic.
He also said that Chamber felt the time had come to consider charging for tests – something Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham said was “likely” to happen in the “medium to long-term” back in March.
In 2020, £13.23m was spent on border testing, and around £15m was budgeted for this year.
Earlier in the year, Ministers considered a £36 charge for PCR tests at the border to claw back between £7.5m and £10.8m, but the idea was shelved.
“Certainly the cost of testing at this stage is a very large cost and burden to the taxpayer… Those who’ve not been double vaccinated, a question has to be asked, should Jersey taxpayers be paying for that or should those who are not vaccinated?” Mr Norton said.
“It’s ultimately all of our finances,” he added.
Pictured: Under an earlier Ministerial plans, between £7.5m and £10.8m of the anticipated £15m cost for travel testing would have been recovered by charging.
He went on to state that, in his view, any eventual fee would have to “be justified on the basis of what it will cost [to administer the test]”.
A Government spokesperson told Express this morning that the idea of charging for tests remains “a potential policy approach in due course”, but confirmed that there were “no plans to introduce widespread charging in the near future, as the protection of islanders over autumn and winter will require testing to be widely available.”
From Monday (4 October), Guernsey will be scrapping the requirement for both vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers entering the island from the Common Travel Area to have a PCR test on arrival.
Instead, passengers from the UK, Ireland and Jersey will need to buy a £25 pack of five lateral flow tests and test themselves on alternate days for 10 days post-travel.
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