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Commercial PCR lab closure 'could pose festive travel problem'

Commercial PCR lab closure 'could pose festive travel problem'

Tuesday 09 November 2021

Commercial PCR lab closure 'could pose festive travel problem'

Tuesday 09 November 2021

Commercial PCR testing looks set to run into difficulties over the Christmas period, with Jersey’s airport-based lab due to close at the end of this month.

As Express reported last week, the Government is due to open a new covid test processing lab in the hospital this week ahead of the Open Cell lab’s closure on 1 December.

But it declined to comment on whether its new in-house laboratory would process commercial tests for islanders who need proof of a negative PCR test for travel purposes.

Express understands that discussions are underway as to whether this might be possible, but the Government is yet to make a firm decision.

If it decides against doing so, commercial test providers may have to send tests to the UK for processing, meaning that the turnaround time could be significantly pushed up due to the lack of couriers to deliver tests to the UK over the Christmas bank holidays, as most carrier companies shut for the period.


Pictured: Stephen Robinson, Practice Manager at 7 David Place Medical Practice, said that communication with the private practices was needed from the Government.

Covid Testing Manager at 7 David Place, which offers travel testing in association with FlyDirect holidays, told Express yesterday that the surgery was seeking urgent clarity from Government on the matter.

He said that his concern was "we're 20 days away [Open Cell leaving] and we've heard nothing" in regards to what the future arrangements for private practices will be and whether they will have access to testing labs on-island.

He cast doubt over being able to test at Christmas, as it would be compounded by driver issues in the UK.

This would mean people who need a PCR test within a certain timeframe to use to get into another country may not get it at the right time for their departure.

"If we do a test on a Wednesday it may not get to them until Thursday afternoon, and then we wouldn’t get a result on Friday," he said.

He said that if the pharmacy "have to use the UK, there'll be effectively no testing from probably from 22 December through to January."

He added that: "If the Government were going to provide a similar service that has been provided by Open Cell, then it should be a fairly smooth transition," but that there needed to be communication.

"There’s been no assurances given to us, which in a way is quite disappointing to us, because we have been able to provide a service to the travelling public that the government hasn’t been able to do," he said, highlighting people travelling to funerals and repatriation.

He later reiterated that communication was key: "Engage with the private service providers so that we can give the public assurances about testing.

"Engage with us if there’s opportunity to work with them, or if it’s something that they’re going to be wanting to take in house themselves, then let us know so we can not be spending a lot of work for stuff we’re never going to be able to service."

Reid's Pharmacy's Rob Reid said it was "not surprising" that the Open Cell lab was shutting, given the decision to stop PCR testing of fully vaccinated arrivals at the border, which resulted in an 80% drop in test volumes, but acknowledged that it could cause a "problem".


Pictured: The Open Cell lab was brought to the island in August 2020.

To get around this, he said that, following Open Cell's departure on 1 December, Reids will resume doing what it had been prior to the deal with OpenCell, and use a UK lab to process its PCR tests, most of which are for travel.

"We’ll still carry on because we’re experienced in doing that, because we only started using the Jersey lab in January," he explained.

Mr Reid said that the pharmacy should "manage to cope" with the result only be delayed "by about six hours or so", should there be no disruption.

However, he noted that there would be "circumstances that we can’t control" like fog and other poor weather, adding that he thought Christmas "will be a problem" for festive travellers as the bank holidays will mean couriers will not be delivering tests to the UK.

Express contacted the Government and Open Cell last week for comment on the Open Cell departure and future of commercial testing, but has not received a response, though a Government spokesperson confirmed their own hospital lab was not currently be processing commercial tests.

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Posted by Michael Blampied on
I sincerely hope that the Jersey Government steps up to the plate here and undertakes a seamless transfer of the testing from Open Cell thus retaining the capability on island. I suspect many islanders, my family included, will be hoping to have a first vacation in 2 years before and over the Christmas period and beyond. As many countries require evidence of a negative test taken 48/72 hours prior to arrival, the additional delay that will ensue if testing has to go to the mainland has the potential for seriously adverse ramifications. We already face the logistic setback of having to transit through London before connecting to the majority of holiday destinations. The 48/72 hour window shrinks significantly as a result of such time delays. The cost of testing for a family of four is in excess of £500 so the least one should be able to expect is a reasonable turnaround time.
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