THE government considered charging unvaccinated travellers for their PCR tests at the border, according to recently released minutes from Covid-related meetings.
Members of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell, which offers guidance to the government on Covid policy, first discussed the idea at a meeting on 22 November year.
Testing charges were one of seven additional measures considered as part of the government’s winter coping strategy to combat an expected rise in cases. The list also included a strong recommendation to work from home, mandatory mask wearing, stronger advice on lateral-flow testing, and ‘stronger advice to reduce the frequency of attendance at higher-risk gatherings such as parties and nightclubs’.
Experts were ‘supportive of a proposal to charge unvaccinated adult arrivals for testing undertaken at the border’, director of public health policy Alex Khaldi noted at a meeting at the end of November, ‘although there was opposition to the idea from several stakeholders’, according to the minutes.
The policy was discussed again at a subsequent Competent Authority Ministers meeting, but was not brought forward.
Unvaccinated visitors to Jersey currently have to take a PCR test on arrival and isolate until they receive a negative result. People arriving who are fully vaccinated, meanwhile, are not required to be tested or to isolate – unless they have come from a ‘red list’ country.
The definition of ‘fully vaccinated’ also changed this year, meaning over-18s who have had a booster dose more than two weeks ago qualify, while under-18s require two doses.
STAC members were also informed of the number of patients with ‘long Covid’ in the Island during their meetings last year, with, according to the minutes, the total standing at 248 at the end of November, having risen from 216 at the start of that month. Women aged 40 to 49 were the most affected group.
The records showed that the emergence of the Omicron variant and its rapid spread across the globe was first mentioned at the 29 November meeting, with associate medical director for primary prevention and intervention Dr Adrian Noon signalling his support for the reintroduction of testing for all arrivals, while principal policy officer Clare Newman believed that a ‘key cohort to capture’ were non-Common Travel Area arrivals transiting via the UK to Jersey, who would avoid the recently introduced UK requirement to test and isolate on arrival.
Deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat ‘noted that border testing played a valuable role in detecting incoming cases, so reintroducing it with a review of the situation in three weeks’ time would allow cases in travellers not screened by the UK to be detected’, but he ‘noted that border testing had not prevented the arrival of prevalent variants in the past and the focus should be on vaccination and testing’, the minutes say.
Dr Muscat queried whether Covid status certificates could be used domestically as well as for travel purposes, with independent public health adviser Dr Graham Root supporting the idea, according to the records.
The ‘chaotic’ situation in the Island’s schools at the end of last term was discussed on 22 November, with viral clusters first being reported at the 15 November STAC meeting. Dr Noon labelled the situation ‘chaotic, with children being repeatedly contact traced and tested, having to isolate if they had a cough or a cold and increasing absence rates’.
And Keith Posner, director of policy and planning at the Children, Young People, Education and Skills Department, said there had been ‘significant disruption’ as a result of staff and students being contact traced, with some facing multiple PCR tests in the same week.
The contact-tracing policy was eased following these concerns, with lateral-flow tests now being the recommended option for pupils.