The former Chairman of the Civil Contingencies Authority has criticised his successor's communication of the recent Covid cluster, as he called for changes to the authority's emergency decision-making powers.
Deputy Gavin St Pier questioned the actions of the new Chief Minister - who defeated the incumbent in a presidential battle last month - suggesting that he and his colleagues on the newly-constituted CCA had to "learn lessons" from the way they communicated the recent cluster of coronavirus cases.
The recently deposed Chief Minister has also pressed for the CCA to consider a more "appropriate" decision-making process going forward, given that the emergency regulations were originally only intended to last for 30 days under the Civil Contingencies Law.
"In the most recent cluster of cases, the index case was not clear to the public and as a result the vacuum was filled with rumour that the index case was someone in self-isolation who had allowed someone else to visit them," said Deputy St Pier.
"Now whether this is or is not the case is irrelevant to the point I wish to make, which is really that the authority must fill the vacuum with good communication. I think that, in this case, would either have been confirmation that the facts were correct and that would have served as a platform to underpin the need for the community to adhere to the rules of self-isolation; or to kill the rumour."
Well done for putting out this additional information this afternoon. I’d like to think it was because of the comment I made in the States of Deliberation this morning but it may have been being actioned anyway. Either way, it’s important additional reassurance to the community. https://t.co/ZufH01FoWF pic.twitter.com/iWaku6Wfpc— Gavin St Pier (@gavinstpier) November 4, 2020
Pictured: HSC made a public statement about the recent cluster yesterday afternoon, which Deputy St Pier suggested might be linked to his speech in the States earlier that day.
"I would simply ask that the authority learn the lesson from this particular case and ensure the vacuum is filled, should a similar situation arise in the future."
Following the announcement of the cluster, Public Health Director Dr Nicola Brink made herself available for one-to-one interviews with local media, during which she told Express that the index case was identified through a pre-travel screen.
At a subsequent CCA media briefing, Deputy Ferbrache said that "no one needs to worry - everything is being dealt with", while former HSC President Heidi Soulsby asked people to ignore unfounded rumours issued by "somebody who knows somebody who knows somebody said on social media."
In response to Deputy St Pier's comments in the States, Deputy Soulsby said the authority had communicated as much as they could in the circumstances.
"There have been a variety of leads that Public Health have been following and putting out something when we didn’t know it [for certain] would not solve that problem.
"I am well aware of unhelpful comments on social media; every time we’ve had press conferences I’ve said, as Deputy St Pier has said, please don’t listen to social media, listen to what government has to say, we will tell you when we know and when we have the facts.
"It has been unfortunate - some of the comments online - but we have to be satisfied that that work [identifying the source] is progressing. We are not going to come out and say “It was Joe Bloggs on La Grande Rue who did it", clearly we have to think about those people’s own rights and data protection so we’ve got to work within that sphere as well. It is not as straightforward as saying it was this person and we know where it is from. As much as we can, we will say what the source is."
Deputy Ferbrache, who said his predecessor had given him "due notice" of his questions, avoided getting into a war of words over his criticism.
"Just with the previous authority, which has an excellent record of communication, so will this authority," Deputy Ferbrache said.
Please read. Thanks to excellent work of @DrNicolaBrink @Gsy_Bell and test, track and trace team, cluster has been isolated, source of infection identified and no evidence of community seeding. This has been first big test and I think I’d give them an A*. https://t.co/4y0v99l79k— Heidi Soulsby (@HeidiSoulsby) November 4, 2020
"The intent is to tell people everything that can properly be said. We can’t scotch all rumours. I think people spend time on Twitter and Facebook where they have time to do that, and that permeates and often facilitates misunderstandings and that is completely unhelpful. People should listen to the facts – by all means question the facts, but listen to the facts and make their judgements."
Throughout the pandemic, emergency regulations were often retrospectively backed by the States having been first implemented by the CCA using its emergency powers.
"This extended use of law is almost certainly beyond the scope of our predecessor’s expectations when they prepared the law and approved it," said Deputy St Pier, as he called for the CCA to consider whether 'emergency' powers are still proportionate given that there will likely be an ongoing need for decisions to be made well into the future.
"I think the time has come to put the content of the regulations on a more stable legislative footing, recognising the ongoing need for powers for the foreseeable future.
"That would properly enable this assembly to scrutinise line by line the legislative framework cannot be done quite so effectively with these regulations."