Samples will be sent off to UK labs weekly to screen for covid variants in Jersey amid concerns that the South Africa mutation may not respond as effectively to the vaccine.
So far, the Government has received seven negative samples back from a batch of 10 sent off shortly before Christmas to check for the UK variant, which is up to 70% more transmissible.
But the medic leading Jersey’s response to the pandemic, Dr Ivan Muscat, said in response to questions from Express yesterday that the sample size was deemed “too small” to conclude that it was not already present on the island.
He said that health officials will therefore be sending off 10 samples a week for sequencing in UK laboratories to monitor for the UK strain and a new one from South Africa, whose responsiveness to the vaccine is not yet clear.
Pictured: 10 samples will be sent to UK labs to check for new variants each week.
Dr Muscat admitted that there had been a delay in receiving the results from the samples sent before Christmas as work had slowed down over the festive period. He also noted that scientists were coping with a “huge backlog” of viruses to be sequenced from other areas, and that Jersey was in the queue.
Given the lag, Ministers and health officials have therefore adopted a “cautious” exit strategy from 'lockdown lite' based on the assumption that more transmissible variants that may not be as responsive to the vaccine are already present in Jersey.
“We are not sure yet how effective the current vaccine will be against the south african variant,” Dr Muscat said.
“It’s sensible to be more cautious with the South Africa variant than the UK variant until we know more about it.”
The medic said it was one of the reasons the island must be “really careful” with its borders.
Pictured: Dr Muscat urged extreme caution with regards to travel.
Jersey will be able to benefit from a degree of protection provided by the UK’s new travel rules, which have banned direct flights from South Africa. It has also announced that all inbound travellers must obtain a negative covid test conducted within 72 hours of their arrival.
The UK has been treated as a ‘red zone’ by Jersey since early December, meaning all those who pass through must isolate for at least 10 days, undergoing three covid tests.
Dr Muscat noted that the number of positive cases resulting from inbound travel had been “very low” in recent weeks due to a significant drop in visitor numbers, which are set to plummet further after EasyJet and BA slashed their routes to Jersey.
He said the island’s arrivals screening process was identifying around three positive tests per day.
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