Jersey's Deputy Chief Minister has confirmed that the government's top medical advisors did voice concerns about allowing the British and Irish Lions to holiday in Jersey after their recent tour of South Africa - but at a later meeting they agreed to support the plan, because of the mitigations put in place. The official minutes of that second meeting have not yet been released.
Senator Lyndon Farnham said the plan was supported by the Scientific, Technical and Advisory Cell (STAC) on 12 July.
In an email sent to States Members yesterday, the Minister for Economic Development said the decision taken by the Competent Authorities Ministers to allow the holiday had therefore been based “upon guidance from Public Health and STAC."
Pictured: Deputy John Young, the Environment Minister, said the Lions' Jersey holiday was a “blatant breach of UK rules".
His email followed a backlash from the Environment Minister, Deputy John Young, who said he had been “shocked” to learn the British and Irish Lions had been allowed to bypass normal quarantine rules and travel from South Africa to Jersey for a holiday, which he described as a “blatant breach of UK rules”.
The team had previously asked the UK Government to be allowed to fly straight home and avoid quarantine, but this was refused as South Africa is currently on the UK's ‘banned list’.
Jersey Ministers eventually 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 not fully vaccinated however have to isolate, but only for five days rather than 10.
The tests are being funded through Government, as with all other arrivals and all follow-up tests which are required for public health purposes, Senator Farnham said.
The Lions trip was first mentioned during a STAC meeting on 28 June, the minutes of which revealed the advisory team had 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”.
Pictured: Acting Medical Officer of Health Dr Ivan Muscat MBE, said the Cell had always maintained "significant concerns" about the potential for the Beta variant to enter the island.
But according to Senator Farnham, two weeks after this meeting, the “rightly cautious approach” which had been adopted, changed.
“On 12 July, STAC again discussed the Lions’ return and, as a result of that meeting (the minutes of which have not yet been published), Public Health and STAC were able to advise the Competent Authority Ministers (CAM) that the return of the Lions to Jersey could be supported, subject to a number of mitigations,” he said. “The decision taken by (CAM) was therefore based upon guidance from Public Health and STAC.”
He said that the following points had been considered before the decision was made.
In response to questions from Deputy Mary Le Hegarat, sent on behalf of the Scrutiny Liaison Committee, Senator Farnham said the Lions’ party, which includes 53 people, had been granted “an exemption with mitigations” but that no policy had been changed.
“Any individual, team or group can apply for exemption which can be granted depending upon their circumstances. This has been policy throughout the pandemic,” he said.
He added it was “extremely unlikely” the Lions would bring in the South African variant given their scrutiny both in South Africa and in Jersey and the fact the delta variant had “very largely” replaced the South African variant in South Africa.
“If the South African variant, as with any other variant, is noted every measure to contain this with isolation and surge testing and surge vaccination will be made,” he said. “The source will need to be established given that the South African variant can be introduced via other countries including Europe.”
Senator Farnham confirmed that should any of the 53 in the touring party test positive, they will have to go in isolation for 10 days and their direct contacts “tested and isolated pending sequencing of the index case”.
I totally agree with @MackenzieJersey It is wrong that Islanders are treated differently. Aware of Islanders leaving having to isolate for ten days when leaving hospital. It’s the @GOVUK who should be making exceptions not @GovJersey https://t.co/ykgdVRDsfo— Andy Jehan ???????? (@AndyJehan) August 9, 2021
Following the release of the STAC minutes, several politicians shared their disagreement with the decision to grant the Lions an exemption from quarantine.
The Constable of St. John, Andy Jehan, agreed with the Managing Director of CI Travel, Robert Mackenzie, who said it was “unacceptable” to give the players and staff different treatment when islanders had had to isolate for 10 days after returning from ‘red list’ countries.
Mr Jehan said the decision was wrong and suggesting it should be up to the UK Government to make exceptions, not Jersey’s.
Senator Sam Mézec said the news had been particularly disappointing as it had came on the same day that organisers of the Weekender had announced the event had to be cancelled.
“Because of failures from the Government and us getting a third wave, we are having to put up with losing some of our summer months and yet they are carving out exemptions when convenient for them, which is indefensible,” Senator Mézec said.
“It confirms what we have known for a few months, we are now living under restrictions that have been made based on political decisions and not health advice, which is not a nice place to be when many of us are losing out on opportunities having not been able to have normality for a year and a half, meanwhile this group of people are being given exemptions. It’s not a good way of uniting the community.”
Pictured: Senator Mézec said decisions were now being based on economic reasons rather than health advice.
He added that some Ministers had been “over-zealous” in asking for restrictions to be lifted, decisions which he said had proved “counter-productive” as they had led to more delays.
“They pushed to open up when we were not ready for it, they pushed for the relaxations of the borders,” the Senator said. “These are the people we have to thank for opening up being delayed and us having a third wave and losing out on a summer of normality.”
Deputy Rob Ward, the Chair of the Safer Travel Guidelines Review Panel, said the exemption “actively created different rules for different groups”. “A very poor decision that sums up the disjointed nature of our current Government’s decision-making and its habit of ignoring medical advice.”
Deputy Inna Gardiner, who also sits on the Panel, said the Government’s consistent message of individual responsibility and “we are all in this together” implied a certain equality and not celebrities getting “special treatment”.
“I am not surprised the Lions took the opportunity to come back to Jersey,” she said. “I welcome them and hope they visit us when we do not have a pandemic.
“With all the trauma of family separation and travel disruption I must ask why this service was not available to anyone else up to now and why we are unable to offer more testing in our community whilst offering for all squad people testing daily for 10 days.
“Why are we not offering the same to our own community? Can this service be made available to other travellers in the future? If there is equality it should be available for everybody.”
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