Jersey is investigating allowing restriction-free travel in and out of the UK, it has been confirmed – despite the Health Minister previously describing opening the borders as “our greatest risk."
The government had previously hinted that unlocking travel to and from the island would be the final step in its lockdown exit plan – in common with Guernsey – and could come as late as 2021.
But now that position appears to have changed.
Asked about the concept of a ‘travel bubble’ by Express at a press conference last week, the Chief Minister admitted that the move was under consideration by the Scientific, Technical and Advisory Committee (STAC).
Medical Director Patrick Armstrong, who forms part of STAC, said that it had been specifically discussed last Wednesday, noting that some changes to travel may be “out of our control”, as they depend on other jurisdictions.
Pictured: The UK wants to exempt travellers from the Channel Islands and Isle of Man from 14 days of compulsory quarantine when it reopens its travel links.
But, before any decision is made, he said: “We need a lot more information to come to us and a lot more time to look at the practicalities and what it means and the risks that are involved.”
The ‘UK travel bubble’ concept further solidified over the weekend, as the Times reported that the UK – whose covid-19 death toll is now higher than most European countries – will be exempting travellers from the Channel Islands and Isle of Man from having to self-isolate for 14 days after arrival.
However, it remains unclear whether Jersey and Guernsey would be expected to reciprocate the self-isolation exemption in return for free travel.
When Express put the question to the Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, he declined to answer, maintaining that there is “no change” to travel arrangements as Jersey moves down to ‘Level Three’ – so-called ‘Soft Lockdown’ – in the ‘Safe Exit Framework’.
Video: The Chief Minister answered questions from Express about travel at a press conference this morning.
“As of today, there is no difference in travel arrangements, and essentially we are waiting for that piece of work to be brought together and then being brought up to the Ministers. Other than that, at this stage, I can’t make any further comment,” he said.
“Once we have seen that piece of advice and obviously considered it in the light of the medical advice we get, we’ll make some announcements but we are not going to speculate at this stage. There is no change as of today on the travel advice, which basically there is only essential travel coming to the island and for compassionate purposes.”
Asked to address this point, the Chief Minister replied: “We know we are going to have to consider it because at that some point if we do move down to Level Two - we don’t know when that will be yet - we want the factors to consider it. And, don’t forget, it may not be on day one on Level Two – it might be further down the process.
“So, it’s always going to be about our assessment of the first steps we go through, where we are and the impact those steps have been. We are day one of easing into Level Three - focus on that today. There is no change in the travel arrangements."
Pictured: The Chief Minister declined to comment about what travel relationship Jersey and the UK are likely to have in Level Two.
Currently, islanders can only travel via Blue Islands to the mainland with government permission for reasons such as essential work, medical treatment or other compassionate reasons. Routine work or leisure travel remains prohibited.
The UK's consideration of allowing restriction-free travel comes as aviation sector representatives warned that 14-day quarantines as more routine travel reopens - currently expected to occur at the end of this month or early June - would devastate their industry.
Meanwhile, in Jersey, some multi-jurisdiction businesses are anxious for travel to resume so that they can restart normal service and continue to meet clients and stakeholders abroad.
For Deputy Jess Perchard, easing into Level Three lockdown and talk of a travel bubble with the UK when covid-19 still remains active on the island is a source of frustration, particularly as she had raised questions at an early stage.
"The day that States members were told that there was a case of coved-19 in Jersey, I went to a senior Minister to share my views. I said that, in my opinion, we could have zero deaths in Jersey if you handle this the right way," she told Express.
Pictured: Deputy Jess Perchard said she would have liked to see a pan-island travel bubble - if the island first got its covid-19 numbers down to zero.
"Why don't you lockdown the island right now for three weeks whilst we figure out how to shut this down and figure out how to live in a sustainable way and continue to receive imports in a low-risk manner? We could have been a coronavirus-free zone, meaning that we could leave everything open and people could move freely on-island.
"If other islands did the same thing, we could have allowed movement between those places too. This perspective was dismissed as unrealistic. I was told that it's impossible to prevent the spread of the virus and that people would die."
She continued: "New Zealand has had fewer deaths than we have, and that is because front the start, that has been the aim.
"In an exam, if you aim for an 'A' you are more likely to get a 'B' than if you aim for a 'C'. If you aim for zero deaths, you will have fewer deaths than If you don't aim for zero deaths. What is the Government's ambition?"
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