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WATCH: Pressure grows on government over testing

WATCH: Pressure grows on government over testing

Thursday 02 April 2020

WATCH: Pressure grows on government over testing


The Chief Minister has promised an update to islanders on testing today, as questions rapidly mount over why more people aren’t being examined for covid-19 and the island’s delay in setting up its own facility.

It comes as Guernsey’s Chief Minister effectively ruled out pan-island collaboration on testing until further notice.

There has been no update on the number of patients officially confirmed to have the potentially fatal virus in Jersey since Monday (81), with 149 tests pending at the latest count.

Meanwhile, Guernsey has this week got its own facility up and running, having successfully identified a ‘cluster’ of patients within a family and another at a local nursing home facility. Its number of confirmed cases now stands at 91.

Guernsey’s lab can process up to 40 samples a day, but officials said it will be able to increase this “as more reagent, the chemicals needed to run the test, arrives on-island”.

It also retains an agreement with a laboratory in Colindale, which has agreed to process 35 samples daily. 

Jersey’s Chief Minister had previously expressed hopes that the island might be able to share its facilities with Guernsey - but Guernsey’s Chief Minister, Deputy Gavin St. Pier, made it clear last night that this was likely some time away.

He told Express: “We’ve said, on a political level and at the Medical Officer of Health level, that we’re happy to support Jersey to the extent that we can - that’s probably quite an important caveat in the context of access to some of the reagents and so on. 

“Clearly, the priority is going to have to be meeting our own community’s needs, but the lines of communication are very firmly open and will remain open. We will do what we can to help.” 

Guernsey now says it is now making steps forward in antibody testing - a type of test establishing who has had the virus and is now immune. 

It has been described as a “game changer” by leaders across the globe, as it will help establish who is safely able to return to work and contribute to the economy.

guernseycovidtesting.jpg

Pictured: Guernsey can process 40 samples a day at its facility.

"We have been told it is three to four weeks off being available, then we have to procure the products,” Guernsey’s Public Health head, Dr Nicola Brink, said yesterday.

"We are appraising different antibody tests, looking at various suppliers and we want to know their performance, their sensitivity and their specificity."

In a press conference on Monday, Jersey’s Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, said the island was still a few weeks away from setting up its own facility, but did not explain the significant lag behind Guernsey. 

He said that the island was “actively pursuing” securing antibody tests, and that 5,000 testing kits were due to arrive on-island this week, predominantly aimed at checking healthcare professionals. However, it remains unclear how many will be available for testing other symptomatic islanders, and whether more are on order. 

It is also unclear whether - like PPE equipment - Jersey receives a quantity of NHS stock or whether tests and equipment are being procured independently. 

Express has asked for clarification from the government, and has not received a response. 

Video: The Chief Minister has promised islanders will receive an update on testing today.

Until a local facility can be established, Jersey remains reliant on a laboratory based in hard-hit London, where high demand has led to delays of up to five days in processing results.

The delays propelled the decision to put the island into lockdown, with the Health Minister explaining on Sunday night: “When we don’t receive these results, we do not know what effect our measures are having… Without timely results showing us what social distancing is doing to the spread of the infection, there is a risk that the measures are not working as well as they could.  

"And we will not risk lives.”

But, beyond simply keeping up with demand, the UK has been facing its own difficulties with testing.

The UK government had set the target of testing 25,000 people each day, but daily testing numbers still only stood around 8,000 at the end of March.

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Pictured: The UK has fallen short of its testing targets due to lack of resources.

Lack of resources and access to the necessary chemicals has largely been blamed for the difficulties in ramping up testing, as the UK had not stockpiled test kits like South Korea, where mass testing has been undertaken.

Public Health England initially only had access to eight labs. 

This has now been expanded to 40 NHS labs, while private laboratories are now being drafted in to help.

Following criticism of the pace of ramping up testing, Prime Minister Boris Johnson conceded last night that mass testing would “eventually unlock the puzzle of coronavirus”.

Until these issues can be resolved, or Jersey establishes its own testing facility, the difficulties will continue to have a knock-on impact on the island.

This pressure comes on top of increasing calls for the island to change its testing criteria, which predominantly revolves around travel history, contact with known infected persons and risk profile. 

As covid-19 continues to spread in the community, scores of islanders have taken to social media, complaining that they have symptoms of the virus, but have been denied a test to confirm if they have it. 

Others are suggesting that the symptoms considered (dry cough, fever and headache) should be broadened to include loss of taste and smell.  

Scientists at King’s College London this week said this could be one of the best ways of identifying the illness, based on research from 1.8million people who logged their symptoms via an app.

In an unscheduled statement delivered last night, the Chief Minister pledged to update islanders on covid-19 testing today.

Dr Ivan Muscat, who is leading the island's response to the pandemic, is scheduled to provide a press conference at 11:30, which you can watch HERE.

Express's unanswered questions...

Testing kits: 

  • The Chief Minister said on Monday that he was expecting the testing kits to arrive within 48 hours. Have they now arrived? If not, when are they expected? 
  • What supplier is being used? What is the nature of the supply - is Jersey given a quantity of NHS stock or is it procuring its own?
  • Why was a total of 5,000 testing kits ordered and not more? If there are more on order, how many more are there and what is the timeframe for securing these? 
  • The Chief Minister said that the 5,000 test kits will be predominantly aimed at health workers - to clarify, will all be used for testing health professionals or will some be kept for islanders with symptoms? If the latter, what quantity will be kept aside for non-health staff testing? 
  • What is the timeframe on obtaining testing equipment? We were told “a few weeks” previously, is there now a more specific date in mind? 

Antibody testing: 

  • Which provider is being looked at?
  • Has an order yet been placed?
  • Again, is the government looking to get a quantity of NHS stock or is it procuring its own supply independently?

Testing criteria: 

  • Please can you clarify the current criteria for being tested for coronavirus?
  • Has this been updated in light of the fact that there is now significant community spread?
  • One of the key symptoms of coronavirus has now been identified as loss of taste/smell - is this now being considered in the identification of potential cases?
  • Are the numbers of islanders presenting with symptoms to the hotline, but not tested, being logged? If so, what is this number?

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Comments

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Posted by ChantalLe Goff31 on
Can the Express please also ask why only an additional 10 ventilators have been ordered for Jersey. During the press conference the Chief Minister was unsure of the exact number currently on island which was alarming in itself, and Islanders need to know whether 10 more is really enough. I sincerely doubt it is.
Thank you
Posted by Jon Jon on
Unfortunately Guernsey has been on the ball from day one, they have a first class chief minister that we lack in Jersey.This government has followed the Uk route, which we now know was the wrong one to follow.Had Jersey gone down in lockdown a week earlier and if people had self isolated as they should have ,we would probably be in a better position.
Posted by Rik Maguire on
Good questions. I now know 4 people who most likely have the virus, but all have been refused testing. The numbers we're being told seem to be meaningless if this is the case...
Posted by Jon Needham on
It would also be good to know how many people are currently infected - no upate for 48 hours!! Lack of transparency = insecurty.
Posted by Jon Jon on
Jon just go on worldmeters Coronavirus,can see how many cases etc from around world including of course Channel Isles
Posted by Rik Maguire on
Good questions. I now know 4 people who most likely have the virus, but all have been refused testing. The numbers we're being told seem to be meaningless if this is the case...
Posted by Steve Wellum on
How come we are making more mortuary space available but not extra hospital beds?
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