How the UK government’s failure to take the coronavirus seriously has put Jersey lives at risk

Ollie Taylor
Nine by Five Media
Published in
6 min readApr 3, 2020


Jersey’s General Hospital Image source: Wikimedia

Recent news reports have shed some light on the UK government’s approach to the coronavirus, revealing that not only has it failed to act appropriately to the threat of the virus but that it also wilfully misled the public by downplaying its severity. This has no doubt influenced our own government’s response to the virus and arguably put Jersey lives at greater risk.

A day after the city of Wuhan in China went into full lockdown, an article published in The Lancet from Chinese doctors on 24 January confirmed deaths were ‘rising quickly’ in the city. The UK Chief Medical Officer for England’s response to this information was to state that the threat was low and that the UK was well prepared for what may come.

It wasn’t until 30 January, on the day that the UK changed its risk assessment from low to moderate for the coronavirus and the World Health Organisation declared it an international health emergency, that the Jersey government issued its first press release on coronavirus, eight days after the UK’s.

The advice being for Islanders to take measures to prevent its spread and for anyone showing symptoms after having been to China to self-isolate for 14 days, but not other household members. The government waited nearly two months before bringing in that measure on 28 March.

As Journalist Phil Miller, writing on the UK government’s failure to act for two months, put it: ‘by the 29 February the UK had its first infection and still Prime Minister Boris Johnson failed to convey the severity of the crisis’ simply telling people to ‘wash their hands and sing happy birthday’.

A few days later Johnson went on prime-time TV to push a theory of how the government might deal with it, saying that ‘perhaps you could take it on the chin, take it all in one go and allow the disease, as it were, to move through the population without taking as many draconian measures’. Following this, the government continued to allow large gatherings and stopped the testing of those with mild symptoms against WHO advice.

On 3 March Jersey’s deputy medical officer of health, Dr Ivan Muscat, said: ‘Islanders should not be alarmed. There is no need at this stage to avoid or cancel large gatherings, and our advice remains the same: follow good hand hygiene and self-isolate if you have been to one of the countries particularly affected, even if you have no symptoms.’

Jersey’s Emergencies Council ‘finally’ met, as one Deputy put it, on 12 March after two Islanders had already been confirmed as infected and by 17 March all travellers to Jersey needed to self-isolate for 14 days except, inexplicably, those arriving from the UK, despite the number of confirmed cases being updated just three days later to all arrivals.

On 22 March, a Sunday Times report revealed where the ‘take it on the chin’ theory may have originated. Boris Johnson’s chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, had attended a private engagement where, according to those present, said ‘herd immunity, protect the economy and if that means some pensioners die, too bad’. Number 10 issued a statement denying that the comments had been made.

Adding further weight to this, Investigative journalist Nafeez Ahmed in a series of reports revealed how inputs from other groups on SAGE, the Virus Threats Advisory Group, ended up ‘consistently watering down scientific calls for more urgent social distancing action’ and that the report’s recommendations ‘showed no explicit concern with saving the maximum number of lives’ and that it mentioned the need to ‘balance public health goals with the desire to protect “economic” and “business” priorities’.

Support for herd immunity was further pushed by a PR agency tied to the Ministry of Defence and government ‘Nudge Unit’ by using an Oxford report that had not been peer-reviewed and ignored external data from other countries like Italy that contradicted its findings, yet it was widely reported by the media including in the Financial Times.

Five days after Guernsey, Jersey went into full lockdown on Monday with the Chief Minister stating in a press conference statement, that was leaked hours earlier, that most Islanders ‘will need to contract the virus over the next few months’ as that is ‘how we build immunity’ alarmingly telling the public that ‘there is no other choice’. As local journalist, Gary Burgess, put it, ‘herd immunity and slowing spread while accepting most will get virus remains policy’ but Jersey’s Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré later denied it as a policy strategy in a Twitter Q&A.

The UK government is currently failing to meet its own virus testing targets of 10,000 a day being as much as 3,000 short. However, journalist Robert Peston has reported that manufacturers of testing kits have not been asked by the government to produce more and that there’s been ‘no attempt to find out if there was a supply problem’.

On Sunday, Deputy Kirsten Morel tweeted as ‘a fact’ that Islanders were phoning the helpline with full symptoms and being told they have the virus but were unable to be tested. The Jersey government has repeatedly stated that we are dependent on the UK for testing, with Senator John Le Fondré confirming last week that they were relying on a laboratory in London which has been one of the worst-hit areas in the UK.

Deputy Morel continued: ‘I know for sure that the Island is being harmed by our inability to test’. He stated that he could no longer ‘stay silent’ and ‘toe the line’, inferring that the government’s line was to avoid discussion over this lack of testing possibly as the WHO has consistently stated this is one of the most effective methods to combat the virus.

Gtech, a UK company that produces much-needed ventilators, was also inexplicably told by the UK government not to produce any a week after getting the go-ahead. Jersey currently has ten ventilators on order. Is it sourcing them from the UK?

Our government has also made clear its decisions are being influenced by the UK. In a Twitter Q&A with the Chief Minister on Tuesday, Senator John Le Fondré confirmed to me that they have been working with ‘UK government department and agencies throughout our response’ but with decisions ‘tailored’ to our circumstances, also confirming that the science was still evolving and they were ‘talking to experts in the UK’.

Jersey has used the aforementioned SAGE impact modelling for its own planning and decision-making. When Senator Le Fondré was asked to publish its workings in full, he refused, saying ‘there are no plans to make it public’. The Lancet has also made its own demand to the UK government to release the workings behind the modelling due to the drastic differences in approach compared to other countries.

Jersey is also currently reliant obtaining its personal protective equipment (PPE) from the NHS which, despite assurances from the UK government, is considered ‘wholly unprepared for this pandemic’ according to Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet. Calling it a ‘national scandal’ the gravity of which ‘has yet to be understood’. Jersey’s Health Minister has acknowledged the difficulty in securing PPE equipment but also said it ‘is the responsibility of individual organisationsto obtain the equipment after several local care homes said they currently did not have enough protection.

The failure of the UK’s approach is starkly revealed in the statistics. At the time of writing, according to, Germany’s confirmed cases are over three times the number compared to the UK but with less than half the deaths. The UK’s Prime Minister and Health Secretary have now tested positive for the coronavirus.

It has become increasingly clear that the UK government has not only put its own people and country at risk but also the lives of those living in the Channel Islands who it is obligated to provide security for.

Jersey’s own advice and approach have been widely criticised as confusing and too slow to act. The government avoided stricter measures earlier and, instead, staggered them despite the inability to adequately test for the virus and having to make decisions with a significant lack of crucial information.

Real action now seems to be being taken, but as the numbers continue to climb for both Jersey and the UK the worst is likely still ahead of us and the impacts of these decisions will no doubt be felt for years to come.



Ollie Taylor
Nine by Five Media

Jersey (UK) Evening Post columnist and founder of Nine by Five Media. Always looking for the local angle. Views are all mine and not that of any employer.