Elimination strategy for Covid-19?

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Former Assistant Health and Economic Development Minister Steve Pallett is one of three States Members suggesting that the government links up with a UK company and tests all Islanders for the virus with a view to achieving ‘Covid-free status’ within six weeks.

The proposal has been considered by experts from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell (STAC) over the past two weeks.

A response is believed to be imminent and, if positive, a proposition could be brought to the States Assembly next month.

Chief Minister John Le Fondré has expressed concern about the cost and feasibility of the plans, but said ministers would consider the matter should STAC be supportive.

Under the scheme, every person in Jersey would take a self-administered test over the course of a week, after which those who tested negative would be issued ‘passports’ allowing them to go outside, while people who tested positive isolated.

A second round of testing would follow four weeks later.

Senator Pallett, along with Senator Kristina Moore and Deputy Steve Luce, asked members of STAC about the possibility of a partnership with Chronomics Ltd, an established provider of mass-testing programmes.

‘I know we looked at elimination last summer, but I think if we’d known then what we know now, then we would have looked at it slightly differently,’ he said.

‘When ideas are put to us as politicians that we feel have some merit and could bring us back towards normal, then it is only right that we bring that to the attention of STAC – they are the medical professionals.’

Many Islanders have developed an appetite to return to a more normal way of life where they could move freely and where businesses could operate, Senator Pallett said.

‘We need to look at how we can bring back some semblance of normality,’ he said. ‘It wouldn’t be cheap and would probably cost several million pounds, but the potential benefit to the economy would make it something that merited a serious review – let’s consider it at least.’

Senator Moore said a similar strategy had been adopted by Abu Dhabi and several Asian nations, whose citizens had responded positively to the prospect of mass testing for the good of the community.

Speaking at this week’s government briefing, Senator Le Fondré said he was awaiting STAC’s verdict, but that his personal view was that there would be some challenges.

‘We are roughly nine weeks away from Easter, at which point we would have roughly 50,000 people vaccinated,’ he said. ‘To change your strategy when you’re getting to the end of it requires careful thought.

‘There, you go into all sorts of problem areas, such as how do you test children? How do you mandate people to be tested? So you would have to look at a law change.

‘There are all sorts of ethical issues about forcing people to have a medical intervention – these are the sort of territories that you have to consider.’

The Chief Minister said that the cost and benefit of a change of strategy would have to be weighed up.

Once STAC has responded to the backbench trio, who have been lobbying other Members for support, it is possible that a proposition could be lodged with the States Assembly.

Proposals for an elimination strategy were lodged by Deputy Jess Perchard last May, but States Members backed a compromise amendment proposed by the Chief Minister.

In the latest update on vaccinations given on Thursday for the period ending last Sunday, Jersey had administered 7,854 doses, or 7.29 for every 100 people.

Vaccination has continued this week, and Health Minister Richard Renouf said that by Monday 70% of over-80s would have received jabs.

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