Covid test lab ‘important for winter virus season’

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And regional risk zones are ‘on the threshold’ of being introduced, meaning travel to certain areas of a country could fall under different restrictions as other areas of the same jurisdiction.

The mobile biosafety lab was unveiled yesterday at the same time as new figures showed the Island’s testing rate was the highest in Europe. The Island’s latest tally of known active cases of Covid-19 rose by one yesterday and now stands at 15.

With 9,400 tests carried out per 100,000 population in the week ending 16 August, Jersey ranked ahead of Luxembourg (5,340) and Denmark (3,718). The UK was Europe’s fifth-highest-ranked territory, testing 1,769 people per 100,000 population.

The European Centre for Disease Control (ECDC) data also showed the Island has the lowest positivity rate for tests, recording a figure of 0.1%. Finland and Latvia – both 0.2% and Cyprus (0.4%) were the only other countries with a rate lower than 0.5%.

Deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat said Jersey’s arrivals and non-travel testing regime was one of the most robust in Europe.

‘We are actively going out searching for the virus in asymptomatic individuals at the border and elsewhere to prevent spread, over and above the continued testing of those with possible symptoms,’ he said.

Dr Muscat said he was delighted to have his first sight yesterday of the new lab, which is situated at the Jersey Aero Club and will be tested ahead of becoming operational, it is hoped, in early-to mid-September.

‘It’s really important that the lab is in place for the winter season, when all respiratory viruses are present and there will be greater pressure to distinguish Covid from non-Covid,’ he said.

The Chief Minister also took the opportunity to inspect the new lab yesterday.

‘It’s really good to see it in the Island,’ said Senator John Le Fondré. ‘It will reduce the waiting time for test results to 12 hours, and could actually be less than that, and will help us to maintain the balance between enabling people to travel and managing risk.’

Jersey’s testing record comes amid a backdrop of rising case numbers in most parts of Europe.

The latest ECDC figures show both Ireland and Greece reporting just over 26 cases per 100,000 population, leading to both countries’ risk status being upgraded to amber by Jersey with effect from tomorrow.

Arriving passengers who have spent time in amber countries are required to self-isolate for at least six days and record two negative test results before being permitted to leave quarantine.

The UK’s infection rate has increased slightly from 20.9 to 21.2, and regional risk assessments for some countries could be introduced as soon as next week.

‘A regional approach is an attractive way of managing the risk situation where some parts of a country are worse affected than others – it has been seriously considered and we are on the threshold of operationalising it,’ Dr Muscat said.

Testing and tracing programme director Rachel Williams said that once it was operational, the new lab, which will be in place for at least three months, would offer significant benefits.

‘It will make us much more sustainable, resilient and offer greater value for money,’ she said. ‘As we move into autumn and winter there is a greater risk of fog, which could significantly affect the ability to get samples to the UK for testing, so we will be protected against that.’

Ms Williams said that work was also being carried out to ensure the current testing regime, which would remain in place until the new lab was fully operational, was working as efficiently as possible.

‘We are constantly looking at results and chasing delayed results while also seeking to advise anyone who may face a longer wait for their result,’ she said. ‘We are also looking at flight times [for the twice-daily dispatch of samples to a lab based in the East Midlands] to ensure they are scheduled at the best times, and the aim is to reduce the average waiting time.’ This is currently 31 hours.

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