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Top pandemic medic disagreed with Ministers’ travel relaxations

Top pandemic medic disagreed with Ministers’ travel relaxations

Thursday 21 January 2021

Top pandemic medic disagreed with Ministers’ travel relaxations


The medic leading Jersey’s response to the pandemic said Ministers “should not” have relaxed travel restrictions by re-categorising ‘green’ arrivals.

Dr Ivan Muscat MBE’s comments to his STAC colleagues came just weeks after the Government decided to double the upper threshold for the zone from 25 cases per 100,000 population to 50 cases.

At the time of the announcement, individuals arriving from green zones did not have to isolate while they awaited the result of their border test – though the Government had pledged that mandatory isolation would come into place once test times fell to 12 hours. 

The Government also began to classify the UK by local tier authorities, which led to the creation of more green zones.

STAC meeting minutes from 7 September show how politicians had asked whether travel zones could be reclassified, noting: "Part of the driver for this suggestion was that the introduction of regionalised [Red, Amber, Green] assessments had negatively impacted the hospitality industry and reference had been made to higher thresholds employed in other countries (Germany, for example) when determining the covid-19 risk posed by an area."

Dr Muscat, who is Jersey's Deputy Medical Officer for Health and a Consultant in Communicable Disease Control, was then recorded as having "opined that the local controls appeared to be performing well, when compared with neighbouring jurisdictions where the infection rates were increasing, and did not believe that it would be helpful to make the requested change at this juncture."

Testing_Variant.jpg

Pictured: Green zone arrivals did not have to isolate until receiving a negative covid test result at the time of the announcement.

But changes did eventually come into force.

On 19 October, just days after 62 travellers had tested positive – 28 of whom had travelled from green areas - Dr Muscat expressed discontent with the decision to fellow STAC members.

Having just been told of Ministers’ support for stepping up on-island screening for covid by a Government Policy official, meeting minutes record Dr Muscat as having “stated that it was reassuring to note that Ministers were supportive of enhanced non-arrivals surveillance."

“However," the minutes continue, "he indicated that, in his view, this should have commenced at a much earlier juncture; 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.

“It was not possible to reverse the latter two decisions, but increased non-arrivals surveillance could be implemented and he emphasised the importance of commencing this at the earliest possible time."

Jersey’s travel restrictions have since been significantly tightened, with all new arrivals now classified as 'Red' in response to the level of cases in Jersey and concerns about new, more transmissible covid variants.

redzone.jpg

Pictured: The entire UK is now a red zone.

Those travelling from a red zone must undertake tests on Day 0, 5 and 10, testing negative on all in order to be released from quarantine.

The minutes documenting Dr Muscat's views were among a collection of more than a dozen relating to meetings held between October and December, which were published yesterday.

As reported by Express yesterday, they revealed how the Government did not seek STAC's advice on key covid decisions, including the initial 'three gatherings' festive guidance, which led one member of the group to question its role.

When case numbers began to rise significantly in December, Ministers made a U-turn on that advice, effectively cancelling New Year celebrations and restricting islanders to two indoor meet-ups on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Responding to yesterday's story this morning, the Chief Minister stood by the timing of the decisions taken and the level of consultation with STAC.

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Pictured: The Chief Minister defended the decisions taken and their timing.

"The role of STAC is fundamental to the island’s response to COVID, and the advice and information it provides is carefully considered by Ministers, who weigh up its advice alongside the potential impact of any proposed measures on the community. However, sometimes speed is necessary when responding to a pandemic, and it may not be possible to arrange an extra meeting. Representatives from STAC attend meetings of the Competent Authority Ministers to provide information and take part in discussions," he said.

"When Ministers were briefed by STAC at the start of December, they were informed that there were more cases in hospital and in the community and that the R-rate was 1.6-2.0. It was also clear that, after gently declining for the previous few days, the number of positive cases, and importantly the positivity rates, were rapidly increasing.

"Ministers had already made mask-use and contact-tracing legal requirements, and the permitted size of gatherings had been reduced. A hospitality circuit-break was agreed following advice from STAC. Then, after a briefing from the interim Director of Public Health Policy, in the presence of the Deputy Medical Officer of Health, (who both attend STAC) Ministers decided it was essential to limit the potential for uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 by limiting gatherings over Christmas and New Year.

"It is clear that these measures needed to be taken and that they have worked."

The latest meeting minutes also revealed STAC's many concerns about care homes in the weeks prior to a spike in cases in December.

However, several sets of meeting minutes remain outstanding, with a gap between 7 September and 12 October.

Officials confirmed to Express that STAC met four times between those dates - on 16, 21 and 28 September and 5 October.

The minutes of those meetings "are are being prepared for publication and will be available soon", they said.

Read more Express analysis from the latest collection of STAC minutes…

Government didn’t seek scientific advice on initial Christmas guidance

Scientific advisers raised concerns weeks ahead of care home covid spike

Revealed: Ministers' bid to reopen hospitality in December

“More testing does not mean more people being tested”

Fears over sales crowds contributed to non-essential retail closure

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Comments

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Posted by gordon le claire on
o dear Dr Ivan Muscat MBE disagreeing with some ministers over travel risks looks like he will be next to be replaced like many others who do not just nod and agree with the minister party
Posted by Keith Marsh on
The minutes of those meetings "are are being prepared for publication and will be available soon" ~ this "government" gets more like "Yes Prime Minister" every day; and to use the term "Competent Authority Ministers" seems along way from the truth.
Posted by Jon Jon on
Just over a year and it’s good by Le Fondre and Co,in the next election.
Posted by Peter Richardson on
I am pleased to see than Dr Muscat was sensible in realising that the changes meant we were importing Covid wholesale with the lax classification of risk areas. So much for helping the hospitality sector which was then shut down by the recent lockdown. When will ministers realise that their lax action has been an overall mess for hospitality and that we have a large enough economy and population to sustain hospitality from within the island.
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