Senator ‘bewildered’ by border policy

A FORMER minister has said he was ‘bewildered’ by changes that were made during the autumn to Covid country ratings and to reduce the isolation period for arriving passengers.

Senator Sam Mézec. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30127301)
Senator Sam Mézec. Picture: ROB CURRIE. (30127301)

Senator Sam Mézec, who stepped down as Housing and Children’s Minister in November, made his views known after it was revealed that the new arrivals policy had been implemented against the advice of scientific experts.

Newly-published minutes of Scientific and Advisory Cell meetings in September and October showed that some cell members were concerned that their advice had not been heeded by the Competent Authority group of ministers.

Having previously classified regions as ‘amber’ if there were 25 cases per 100,000 people, on 29 September, Jersey raised this threshold to up to 50 cases per 100,000, thereby reducing the required isolation period for a large number of arrivals.

STAC meeting minutes make reference to members having made ministers aware of the ‘significant risk’ this change would pose to the Island, but this advice was not heeded.

Senator Mézec, who was not part of the decision-making group, said Reform Jersey – the party which he leads – had been concerned about the border policy for several months.

‘We opposed the border strategy which was approved by the States back in July,’ he said. ‘We felt that it was wrong to open the borders at that point and that stricter isolation requirements should have been imposed from the start. We were bewildered with the decision to adjust the traffic light system in September.’

Senator Mézec said he believed the reopening of the borders was done for economic, rather than health, reasons.

‘While I respect the expertise of health professionals on health matters, I was extremely concerned that when I challenged the reopening of borders, I was responded to by health officials giving what I considered to be economic advice, which is not their area of expertise. The release of these new STAC minutes shows very clearly that, in September, the health advice was being disregarded, which is at odds with everything the ministers have told us about their approach to the pandemic.’

While he admitted that dissatisfaction with some elements of Jersey’s Covid strategy had played a part in his decision to resign, Senator Mézec said his primary reasons for stepping down related to the Chief Minister’s judgment over government chief executive’s Charlie Parker’s second role, and the failure of the Council of Ministers to deliver on a commitment to reduce income inequality.

Meanwhile the politician who has spent six months demanding that STAC minutes be published has given his reaction to their delayed publication.

Having brought a proposition to the States in July calling for greater transparency about the ongoing Covid-19 work, Deputy Kevin Pamplin is now urging the government to ‘own their decision-making’.

‘STAC is made up of top health professionals and is there for a reason,’ he said. ‘We are in a crisis and the government is going to have to make difficult decisions but they must step up and be accountable for their actions and explain why they have made a choice or why they have gone against advice. As soon as you keep things quiet and put doubt into your decision-making, then you will always get a bite back from the public.’

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