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No passenger ferries until border entry proven ‘safe’

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CONDOR’S announcement that passenger ferries could restart next month had not been discussed with ministers and entry procedures should be trialled before the Island reopens its borders, the External Relations Minister has said.

External Relations Minister Ian Gorst

Senator Ian Gorst made the comments during a virtual States sitting yesterday following an announcement by Condor that it could reinstate ferry crossings to and from the Island next month, if restrictions were lifted.

Referring to the ferry firm’s plans, Senator Gorst said: ‘We saw Condor make an announcement yesterday – that was an announcement that was not pre-authorised by ministers – saying that they would like to recommence sailings in June.

‘But that cannot happen until the Scientific, Technical and Advisory Committee have provided the advice that it is safe to do so. And it certainly cannot happen because currently our border controls do not allow it to happen.

‘Those who have been down to the Harbour know that the Elizabeth Terminal is closed and that just cannot happen.’

Earlier this week, Condor announced that they were hopeful they will be able to operate ferries including three return services to St Malo and two between the UK and Jersey. However, inter-island sailings will not start until later in the year. Passenger ferries were suspended in March.

The External Relations Minister moved to reassure States Members that borders would not be reopened until the government’s expert medical advisers said it was safe to do so.

‘Borders cannot and will not be opened unless the STAC provide the medical say-so or advice that having gone through this safe exit strategy it is “safe” to open those borders,’ he said.

‘Ministers and officials have been looking at what safe means. From my part it means robust and rigorous testing and again – we heard the Jersey Medical Officer of Health talking about that on Friday – that is PCR testing and robust tracing.

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‘I think, for my part, it should require some pilot programme. I would not, on my part, just want to move to reopen the borders because we had tracing and testing in place. I think it should be piloted and it should be tested so that the STAC have some good evidence in how it could work if they were to provide any advice to ministers.’

Currently, anyone wishing to leave or enter the Island can only do so if it is for an essential government-approved reason and have obtained authorisation from Customs.

Blue Islands is operating three weekly ‘lifeline’ flights to Southampton but the border rules also apply to privately-operated boats and planes.

But, according to Condor, if given permission, it hopes to operate three return services to St Malo and two between the UK and Jersey. However, it says, inter-island sailings will not start until later in the year.

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However, Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham warned that keeping the borders closed for too long could potentially be disastrous for the Island’s economy and particularly the tourism industry.

‘I would like to stress that by providing this information, I for one am not advocating putting the economy before the safety of Islanders but I understand that we all know the health of Islanders and a strong economy are intrinsically linked.

‘Approximately 77% of the GVA of the tourism – hotels, bars and restaurants – sector is generated by visitors to the Island. That means that only 23% is generated by regular and local use.

‘In the short term, the tourism industry will need certainty over when Jersey will begin to allow overseas visitors into the Island to enable them to plan for the future. The longer the travel restrictions remain, the greater the risk of loss of key tourism assets.

‘A permanent loss or significant reduction in transport links would start to reduce the appeal of the Island as a base for creating, expanding and conducting business and would undermine our wider economic ecosystem.’

Ed Taylor

By Ed Taylor
Journalist

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