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Statement by the Vice-President, Policy & Resources Committee

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Monday 01 November 2021

From emergency to living responsibly with COVID

Sir,

Members will be aware that the Policy & Resources Committee is mandated to

·        promote and facilitate cross-committee policy development;

·        advise the States on the allocation of policy responsibilities to committees; and

·        develop and implement policies and programmes relating to non-operational matters in an emergency to preserve life, wellbeing and law and order.

As such, the Civil Contingencies Authority has asked the Committee to lead on the preparation of a policy letter to set out recommendations to manage COVID-19 without the exercise of emergency powers.

Every effort is being made to bring this to the Assembly for its Meeting on 15th December. This is three weeks later than had been hoped but essential to ensure meaningful consultation with various stakeholders, including Alderney and Sark. However, with the permission of the Presiding Officer, the Committee believes it is worthwhile updating Members and the public on its progress and in particular the key policy question at the centre of the debate as it understands it.

Sir, there is some political pressure that has been expressed here, in this Assembly, to progress with a new framework as quickly as possible to move away from the use of emergency powers and to regularise the activity necessary to keep the community safe.

Consequently, the Committee has considered options for a new legal framework so the States may manage COVID-19 under the normal mechanisms of government where the general principle of subsidiarity applies.

In doing so, we need to answer the following question:

Do we accept that the new normal, a world with a declared pandemic and unknown timeframe for de-escalation, requires us to manage the potential for highly contagious and potentially deadly disease spreading uncontrolled in our community in order to protect our medical services and preserve life?

The answer is currently yes, and we do this through emergency provisions under the Civil Contingencies Law, 2012, because this pandemic is still judged to meet our legal tests as an emergency. The use of this legislation is under scrutiny by the States as is right and proper in a democracy when the mitigating actions continue to place restrictions on people.

So, the Committee began by looking at how we protect our community from the entry of other highly contagious and sometimes fatal diseases under the normal mechanisms of government.

We manage or restrict, where we can, the entry of possible carriers of disease through the powers the States have given to Committees; in the case of Rabies, for example, it falls to the Committee forthe Environment & Infrastructure to make Orders setting out the quarantine requirements for imported animals from high prevalence countries, for both their monitoring and care, and our protection.

However, to operate in a similar manner with regards COVID-19 is much more challenging as we engage human rights and it is not easily achieved under the current legislative framework outside an emergency. Although the Medical Officer of Health has basic powers to require symptomatic people and their contacts  to self-isolate for a range of diseases,  these do not include powers, for example, to require testing, which allows proper assessment of the risk of infection or, where necessary, impose appropriate preventative measures.

In addition, there is no legislation that confers on any Committee the powers to require travellers entering the Bailiwick to self-isolate if they have spent time in a high-risk area, in terms of prevalence, vaccination rates and variants of concern, prior to their arrival, but who are not symptomatic.

The Policy & Resources Committee is therefore seeking views on

·        firstly, updating the current Public Health Ordinance including extending the powers of the Medical Officer of Health to allow them to impose screening requirements and appropriate precautionary measures where there are reasonable grounds to believe a person is or may be infected with coronavirus, whilst also introducing modern safeguards; and

·        secondly, introducing new primary legislation to confer powers on a States Committee to require travellers to self-isolate on public health grounds on the basis of spending time in a high-risk area, and is seeking views on where those powers should be conferred.

It is asking for the views of:

·        the Committees whose Presidents form the membership of the CCA and the CCA itself;

·        the other Principal Committees of the States;

·        the States of Alderney and the Chief Pleas of Sark; and

·        statutory officials, such as the Medical Officer of Health.

It is also taking further advice from the Law Officers.

While at this point, there is political interest to change the mechanisms relied on thus far, COVID-19 will remain a pandemic until it is declared to be over by the Director General of the World Health Organisation. Therefore, the Committee is also asking consultees for feedback of a more general nature too.

The Assembly needs to make its decision understanding how the operation of the CCA has, and is still, making the Bailiwick safe in a timely manner, in order to understand how to manage the risk in the normal mechanism of government. It will be able to the consider the options to manage the next steps appreciating the experiences of others, and will then be able to decide whether or not the drivers for change have the greater weight than the status quo.

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