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Testing pilot needs ‘more sustainable solution’ to work

News | Published:

LOGISTICAL problems have emerged with the seven-day testing pilot for opening up the island’s borders.

Picture By Peter Frankland. 14-07-20 Scrutiny hearing with Health & Social Care at Castel Douzaine Rooms. (28465927)

When it was first announced, the idea of testing incoming travellers after seven days of quarantine and letting them skip the remaining seven days if they tested negative, was presented as a low-risk compromise, although it did come with the caveat that it needed to be ‘stress-tested’.

There was some surprise at last Friday’s States press conference when the authorities suddenly sounded lukewarm about the pilot before the testing had even started, and announced that it was unlikely to be repeated or extended before 1 September.

During yesterday’s public hearing into the handling of the pandemic, further information was revealed about some of the challenges the pilot had posed.

The hearing was organised by the Scrutiny Management Committee.

Committee member Deputy Jennifer Merrett asked why the pilot idea had apparently been abandoned, regardless of data.

Dr Nicola Brink, the Director of Public Health, said that the system needed ‘scaling up’ and a ‘more sustainable solution’ required proper mapping out.

Part of the issue is down to numbers and capacity. It is considered unfeasible to cap testing at 250 per day when there could be 1,000 travellers per day.

One of the ways it could be up-scaled is by pooling samples together, with four different samples in one well, and this idea is being investigated.

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Another complication with the seven-day pilot is that travellers who are not Guernsey citizens are more difficult to process.

A further problem is that the staff in the testing laboratory have been working flat out for months and Dr Brink said they needed some downtime.

The watchwords of Dr Brink’s campaign against coronavirus remain caution, meticulous planning and thorough analysis of the data.

‘We want to get it right for phase six.’

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SMC non-States member Advocate Peter Harwood asked Dr Brink what data she was looking at in regards to moving to reopening the borders for phase six.

Dr Brink prefaced her answer by explaining that, although the island was classed as Covid-free, there remained Covid activity in all the surrounding jurisdictions.

‘Sixteen people have lost their lives, and none of them had travelled. They all had the infection brought to them.’

Dr Brink said she was examining the weekly data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics which attempts to establish the community prevalence of Covid-19 outside of care homes and hospitals.

‘At one in 5,000 or less we could potentially cope, but we need to know that track and trace can cope, so we’re modelling lots of different scenarios and it requires great detail, and we need to check it all aligns with the pilot data.’

Helen Bowditch

By Helen Bowditch
News reporter

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