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EXPRESS OPINION: The 'push-me-pull-you' of pandemic policy

EXPRESS OPINION: The 'push-me-pull-you' of pandemic policy

Thursday 21 October 2021

EXPRESS OPINION: The 'push-me-pull-you' of pandemic policy


The battle against covid-19 has been fought on many fronts – it’s never been just a medical issue, of illness versus treatment, it has also been a contest over civil liberties, support versus restrictions on the economy and the presentation of information.

Those conflicts are all on show once again in today’s announcement of the Government’s winter strategy.

Essentially, that announcement is there to tell us that PCR testing is being scrapped for those arriving in Jersey with two recognised vaccinations at least a fortnight ago.

So, the headline measure is a relaxation of our current covid precautions.

Unlike in Guernsey, there is also no urgent warning that mask wearing may soon become necessary once again – here, further restrictions will only be put back in place if we reach a really serious position, with the number needing treatment in hospital “significantly” going up, or essential services and infrastructure actually being hit because their staff are ill at home. Ministers have set out 'the line' for the resumption of covid controls, and, at least today, they have pushed it right back. 

In short, we are going to see if we can ride out the winter waves of covid. 

Covid_hospitalisation.jpg

Pictured: the number of people in hospital with covid is a key indicator for further restrictions. 

However, that relaxation in arrivals controls is paired with a call for islanders to become much more frequent users of lateral flow tests – if you are meeting up with people outside your household, or visiting a vulnerable person, or going to a Christmas party for example, the advice is now to do a test first. 

A few months ago, Ministers starting trotting out the now ubiquitous “we need to live with covid” mantra, without actually ever explaining what they mean; effectively, we are now learning that as we go. It’s the perfect political phrase which can mean absolutely anything, depending on the circumstances, while also sounding glibly strong, pseudo-wise, and rather, well, ‘leaderish'.

It's a bit like the political equivalent of crème caramel – apparently hard on the outside, but actually rather soft, insubstantial and sickly sweet once you push past the surface. 

As of today, “living with covid” means very few travel restrictions, but with the onus for covid control now passing from government to individuals to get themselves tested before meeting friends, colleagues and extended family, then declaring a positive result if they get one, confirming it with an official PCR test, and heading into isolation.

Covid_Herd_Immunity.jpg

Pictured: islanders are being encouraged to take more lateral flow tests.

So, today’s announcement is both a relaxation (although never described as such, given the rising case numbers) but also a tightening. 

We can only imagine (until the relevant STAC minutes shed a little light in a few weeks) the tussles which have gone on behind-the-scenes between Ministers and medics - a 'push-me-pull-you' of policy, ‘lines to take’ and ‘messaging’.

As ever, the net result tries to cover all ‘bases’, and keep everyone happy - relax in some places but tighten in others, take risks while also protecting, reassure but warn, provide hope for the “just move on” team, while giving succour to those who have worsening winter worries. 

Depending on your perspective, there is something in there to prove your view that the island is on its way out of the pandemic - and also something to confirm that it looks like being a very difficult winter ahead. How very covid.

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