At the briefing, held just hours after a letter from the Scrutiny Liaison Committee, headed by Senator Kristina Moore, was published condemning the government for ‘mismanagement’ of the crisis, Senator John Le Fondré said that further restrictive measures might be needed if case numbers continued to rise, but that the response to date had been proportionate.
Health Minister Richard Renouf accused Senator Moore of abusing her position as the Island’s chief scrutineer for ‘personal political gain’. In the letter, Senator Moore (pictured left) accused the Chief Minister of poor communication and issuing unclear advice about household mixing over the festive period.
But yesterday, Senator Le Fondré dismissed Senator Moore’s comments, saying that he focused on ‘substance and facts’ and not ‘politics’.
‘Let’s face it. Some politicians are going to want to make great political spiel out of it [the pandemic] and what we do is we deal with substance. We are trying to make the best decisions for the Island as a whole and are not listening to those who just shout loudest,’ he said.
‘At varying times in the States last week we had two sets of questions – one which was around more shutdown and one which was about opening up. That is the exact dilemma that we keep having to do everyday, day in, day out.
‘Our job is to lead the teams that take us through that process. There is not a rule book on this. There is not a map – this is completely new.’
Meanwhile, Deputy Renouf also responded to Senator Moore’s letter, accusing her of ‘denigrating’ her role within the Scrutiny system.
‘John [Le Fondré], you and I have both served in Scrutiny and what upsets me about the unnecessary letter is that the Scrutiny role is being used to make purely personal political gain and that is a risk to the Island. We need a scrutiny process that is objective, that looks at evidence and makes findings and recommendations accordingly.
‘The Scrutiny role is not to act as an opposition. Others can do that and that is important, but it is not part of Scrutiny.’
During the press conference, Senator Le Fondré confirmed that non-essential shops and services are to close after 6pm on Christmas Eve and that outdoor gatherings will be limited to ten, down from a maximum of 20.
It was also confirmed that 2,000 Islanders had received their first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine so far and that 3,000 more doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine had arrived in Jersey yesterday.
However, it was also revealed that as of Thursday [23 December] there were currently 31 patients diagnosed with Covid-19 in healthcare settings – four of whom were in the intensive care unit – and that the Island currently had a 14-day infection rate of 933 per 100,000 of population.
More than 40 countries have recently closed their borders to arrivals from the UK after a more contagious strain of Covid-19 was detected in southern England. Yesterday it was acknowledged that the Island’s infection rate had increased due in part to the Island’s travel links with the UK.
Despite this, Senator Le Fondré said that he was still confident in the Island’s border-testing and self-isolation systems.
‘We have had the border testing in place for a long time. It is far more stringent than a number of other jurisdictions and we have been monitoring and making sure that people who come in from red zones, for example, are followed up and are tested appropriately. The quarantine period still applies and provided that works well – which has been our understanding – then those border tests will have worked,’ he said.
‘What we are saying is that because of the connectivity we have and because no one knew about this [new strain] back in September and October, there is a likelihood that this has got on the Island.’
He added: ‘Everybody started shouting to close everything down two days ago, but that would have been the completely wrong decision. What we have done is increase everything [in the UK] up to red [level] which means that people will have to self-isolate for that period of time [at least ten days].’
Responding to a question about local restrictions, he added that if cases continued to rise ‘the brakes could be put on harder’ but there needed to be a balance between additional restrictions and the effect they had on people’s lives.
‘Do not forget, what we keep saying is that it is about balance of harm – the lives and the livelihoods side – and we know that every time we implement more restrictive measures there are consequences elsewhere. That balance is what we have to deal with.’