Jersey’s STAC committee wasn’t consulted over Christmas gathering rules

Mask on Xmas tree
STAC was not consulted on plans to limit gatherings over Christmas or on the ban on care home visits, ITV News can report. Credit: PA Images

STAC – the body of experts set up to advise ministers how best to manage the pandemic in Jersey – was not consulted on plans to limit gatherings over Christmas or on the ban on care home visits, ITV News can report.

The extraordinary situation, which flies in the face of everything ministers have said about decisions being made based on advice and recommendations from the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell, emerged in a new cache of meeting minutes finally made public today (20 January).

They reveal clear frustration at the situation, with one member saying it brought into question the group’s role.

In an extract from minutes dated 7 December 2020, the Independent Advisor for Epidemiology and Public Health is recorded as saying “the advice around Christmas should have been considered by the Cell before being presented to the Competent Authorities.

"Those measures, together with the closure of the restaurants and pubs, were amongst the most significant interventions taken during the pandemic, so it was important that, as much as possible, they were based on scientific evidence. The decision to introduce those mitigations, without consultation with the Scientific and Technical Advisory Cell, brought into question its role.”

In response, the Director of Strategy and Innovation said, as the decision had been made by ministers, their input was not needed.

Meanwhile, the decision to ban care home visits was described by the chair of STAC as “a significant step to have taken, without members of the Cell having had the opportunity to consider it.”

The move was defended by the Head of Policy as necessary to prevent additional positive cases emerging in care homes just as the Covid-19 vaccination programme was about to begin.

In response Jersey's government says: "Ministers had already made mask-use and contact-tracing legal requirements, and the permitted size of gatherings had been reduced.

"A hospitality circuit-break was agreed following advice from STAC. Then, after a briefing from the interim Director of Public Health Policy, in the presence of the Deputy Medical Officer of Health, (who both attend STAC) Ministers decided it was essential to limit the potential for uncontrolled spread of Covid-19 by limiting gatherings over Christmas and New Year. It is clear that these measures needed to be taken and that they have worked."