Lions could have been Covid risk, STAC notes show

MEDICAL experts raised concerns that the British and Irish Lions rugby team could introduce a new variant of Covid into Jersey on their return to the Island, government minutes have shown.

The British and Irish Lions came back to the Island in August after a pre-tour visit in June
The British and Irish Lions came back to the Island in August after a pre-tour visit in June

The Lions came back to Jersey in August after the final match of their tour in South Africa, with the Island providing a ‘rest and relaxation’ base for the squad. This followed a Jersey training camp in June before the tour.

At a 12 July meeting, the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell, which advises government on Covid policy, said there was a ‘small’ and unquantifiable risk that the team could introduce the South African Beta variant.

This strain is more resistant to vaccines than others, including the dominant Delta variant.

All arrivals to the UK from South Africa, a red-list country, were required to enter a quarantine hotel for a minimum of ten days, with limited exceptions for critical workers.

The minutes stated: ‘The BIL [British and Irish Lions] proposal would therefore require a variation from the Government of Jersey alignment policy, by affording a green variation to UK red-list passengers.’

Medical director Patrick Armstrong, who chairs the cell, asked acting director general for the economy, Richard Corrigan, whether there had been any discussions with UK colleagues ‘as to whether this proposal could be seen (by the UK) as a covert means for travellers to return to the UK without having to adhere to the relevant guidelines in place’.

Mr Corrigan responded that ‘such discussions had not taken place’ and added that External Relations Minister Ian Gorst was ‘wholly supportive of the proposal’. He also added that it was his intention to ‘work around the communications aspect on this proposal ahead of time and to emphasise the mitigation that was being put in place to assist the players and their support team’.

Lions squad members and staff undertook daily PCR tests on their return to the Island and, according to the minutes, they would be tested during the team’s last three days in South Africa, were in a ‘bio-secure bubble’ in the Western Cape and would be accommodated in ‘a maximum’ of three hotels in Jersey.

The July minutes also highlighted an ‘astonishing amount of viral illness’ presenting at Jersey’s General Hospital, including norovirus, according to Dr Matt Doyle, clinical lead for primary care.

‘The presentation of those same symptoms were creating quite some pressure in general practice, as well.

‘Dr Doyle further stated the need to make colleagues aware that there was significant pressure on maintaining staffing levels in the Hospital at the present time,’ the minutes stated.

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