Ministers pressed ahead with a plan to allow the British and Irish Lions to bypass normal quarantine rules and travel from South Africa for a Jersey holiday, despite warnings from their scientific advisers that it would set a “dangerous travel precedent”, it has emerged.
After being refused permission to fly straight home and avoid quarantine by the UK Government, members of the rugby squad are arriving in the island today for rest and relaxation following their final match in their tour against the Springboks in Cape Town on Saturday.
South Africa is currently on the UK's ‘banned list’, which Jersey follows. Regardless of vaccination status, travellers that have visited any jurisdiction on the list must isolate for 10 days and be tested on Day 0, 5 and 10.
However, Ministers have allowed the Lions to observe a less strict regime, as they toured as a ‘bubble’ for almost six weeks and have agreed to daily PCR testing for their first 10 days on the island. Those who are fully vaccinated will only isolate until their first negative result.
Those who are not fully vaccinated will have to isolate for longer, but only for five days rather than 10.
Planning for the trip started as the Lions completed their 10-day training camp in Jersey in mid-June, with recently released minutes of the Government’s Scientific Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) recording their “primary motivation” as being “to minimise the isolation requirements faced by the party on its return to the United Kingdom”, where a 10-day stay in a quarantine hotel at a cost of £2,285 per person would be necessary.
Pictured: The Lions have agreed to daily PCR tests.
STAC were only told about the idea for the first time on 28 June, when they were given a presentation by Policy Principal James Lynch on allowing the Lions - a group of around 80, including staff - to be treated as ‘Green’ arrivals.
Minutes show that the advisory team responded with “unease” and “enquired whether or not there had been communication with the UK Government about this concept.”
STAC also “questioned whether there was a risk of Jersey being regarded as a ‘back door’ to the UK."
They went on to identify South Africa – where the vaccine-evasive Beta variant of covid was first identified – as a “notable and considerable risk”.
Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Ivan Muscat MBE (pictured top, centre) stated that his “very strong recollection” was that the Cell had “always maintained significant concerns across the board when there was the potential for the [Beta] variant of covid-19 to enter the island” and that “the extant travel policy should not be undermined”.
Pictured: The Beta variant of covid - first identified in South Africa - can resist the vaccine due to a mutation in its spike protein.
He went on to note that STAC may set “a dangerous travel precedent if it acceded to the terms of the proposal”, but said that it was ultimately down to Ministers “to draw separate conclusions should they so wish.”
The Guardian reported on the holiday last week, saying that some Ireland-based players will return home to quarantine before coming to Jersey. Ministers only publicly confirmed the Lions' holiday to Jersey on Friday afternoon.
The squad's June trip to Jersey also saw them take part in numerous community activities.
A grant of £175,000 - £100,000 of which came from Visit Jersey’s budget and £75,000 from the Government – covered their on-island expenses. That included £5,764 given to Strive to cover the cost of nitrogen needed for the cryotherapy chamber used by the Lions.
Pictured: STAC, which expressed "unease" about the Lions plan, said it was for Competent Authority Ministers to have the final say.
This time round, however, the Lions will be here simply for a holiday, which the Government said would be funded by the team.
Economic Development Minister Senator Lyndon Farnham - one of the Ministers who had the final say on the Lions trip - described it as “fitting that the Lions started their campaign in Jersey and will draw it to a close here as well" and said their return to Jersey would "once again raise our international profile as a visitor destination."
He added: “The training camp was a period of intense preparation, when they had limited time to enjoy the Island. This time, coaches and players will reunite with their families and will be able to properly see what the island has to offer.
“The squad will be welcomed as individual guests who are here to recuperate, with very limited work commitments. No formal community events will be arranged while they are here, and the cost of the visit is being met by the Lions.”
The Lions’ Managing Director Ben Calveley commented: “We are very grateful to the Jersey Government for allowing us to return to the Island. We very much enjoyed the 10-day training camp in June and look forward to experiencing everything the island has to offer now the Castle Lager Lions Series has concluded.”
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election next June ....!