Testing milestone hit – but for how long will it be free?

JERSEY has now carried out more than 100,000 Covid-19 tests – but the Treasury Minister has said passengers may be charged for testing in the future.

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Since borders reopened on 3 July, the number of PCR tests carried out has risen from 15,000 to more than 100,000 – a milestone that the Health Minister, Richard Renouf, has marked by praising the testing regime now in place. Of those, more than 71,500 have been tests for incoming passengers. Last week it was revealed that the testing since the reopening of borders had, up to the end of August, cost the public purse £4.832 million.

Chief Minister John Le Fondré said the figure covered on-Island testing as well as arrivals and included the cost of clinical staff, test processing and transport.

The government has refused to release the cost of an individual test, saying it is commercially sensitive because the laboratory price is agreed in a contract with a private sector provider.

However, based on the total cost of testing so far, and the number of tests since July, it has been an average of £57 per test.

During a Scrutiny panel hearing, Treasury Minister Susie Pinel admitted that with the Island facing a deficit next year due to the financial response to the pandemic, the government would ‘have to decide whether we start charging passengers for that [testing]’.

Welcoming yesterday’s milestone of 100,000 tests, Deputy Renouf said: ‘When we introduced the Safe Travel Period on 3 July we wanted to enable Islanders to visit friends and family after a long isolation, and allow visitors to be welcomed here again. We also wanted to keep Islanders safe from an increase in Covid infections. So we introduced a border-testing programme for all arriving passengers and a robust tracking system for the contacts of anyone who tested positive for Covid.

‘This system has now been running for nearly 2½ months, and in that time we have gone from 15,000 to more than 100,000 PCR tests. We have been testing arriving passengers, people with possible Covid symptoms, healthcare staff working in frontline roles and anyone being admitted to hospital. And now we have just 11 known active cases and no community transmission of the virus.

‘This is a testament to the policy we put in place, to the people operating the tests and tracing, and – most of all – to Islanders and visitors who have been abiding by the rules we have put in place to protect us all. This has been a difficult and sometimes confusing time, as we have to respond to changes in virus activity as they happen. But I am proud of the systems we have put in place that have allowed our Island to continue functioning, while also protecting the health of our residents.’

He added: ‘We are not through this pandemic yet and there may well be more difficult decisions to come. But our testing programme will continue and our on-Island testing lab will improve it further by reducing the turnaround time for test results.’

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