The Isle of Wight council leader and Isle of Wight MP have come under fire for their plans to pitch the Isle of Wight being used as a ‘potential pilot for testing a community’ for Coronavirus (Covid-19).
As revealed by OnTheWight on Tuesday (read highlights and listen to podcast) Conservative Isle of Wight council leader, Dave Stewart is pitching the Isle of Wight as a test-bed for Coronavirus testing.
Critchley: “Islanders are not guinea pigs”
Island Labour have hit out, saying they, “strongly oppose any early end to the lockdown which takes risks with Islanders’ lives and health”, adding that the high proportion of elderly residents in high-risk groups “makes this proposal all the more troubling”.
Island Labour Chair, Julian Critchley, said:
“I hope this story is media nonsense, because it would be deeply concerning if Dave Stewart and Bob Seely were willing to take risks with Islanders’ lives, as the story suggests.
“We’ve just had the army finish building two new facilities for virus sufferers. We have temporary refrigerated containers at the cemetery for extra bodies, and Island police are tweeting daily about issuing fines to people for leaving their houses. It is very difficult to square those facts, let alone unofficial accounts of the virus spreading in our care homes, with claims about small infection rates allowing the lockdown to end earlier than elsewhere.
“The only criteria for assessing whether the Island’s lockdown should end is whether it is safe to do so. Not whether it’s convenient for local politicians, or whether the Conservative government think it would be an interesting experiment, in which Islanders would be the unwilling test subjects.
“We would very strongly oppose the ending of the lockdown on the Island before the ending of the national lockdown. Islanders are not guinea pigs.”
Brodie: Dumbfounded by Leader’s comments
Isle of Wight Independent Labour councillor for Newport East, Geoff Brodie, has written to the council leader saying,
“You appear to have lost any sense of being someone who should represent all Islanders in your role as leader of the IW Council.
“When I heard you on Radio 4’s Today programme yesterday morning I was dumbfounded. Since then I have had a good number of residents contacting me asking what on earth you and the MP are doing.
You are each reported as follows;
Bob Seely, the MP for the Isle of Wight, told The Telegraph: “The island is generally liked by social scientists because it is an isolated community. The ferries are now down to an essential service, so you can pretty much track every human being that comes off and on the island.”
Dave Stewart, leader of the Council of Isle of Wight, added: “We have 140,000 people on the Isle of Wight and we are an ideal pilot location for the Government to try out a whole community test.”
“Can I ask on what basis you have decided to call for the Island to be essentially a guinea pig during the current crisis?”
Green Party’s concerns
The Isle of Wight Green party have shared their concerns about the plans to persuade the government the Isle of Wight should be a ‘potential pilot for testing a community’.
Daniel James, Chair of the IW Green Party, told OnTheWight,
“Seely and Stewart have displayed complete insensitivity to Islanders by volunteering us all up for this ill-considered proposal.
“We need greater access to tests, but we are not the government’s guinea-pigs. There must be clear evidence of public support from Islanders before any pilot programme with ‘technology and Apps and things’ (Cllr Stewart) is even considered.
“The Island has a significant population of elderly and vulnerable people, and Coronavirus is a fatal illness with no known cure. The priority must be the health of Islanders living here now, not to focus on a ‘Save our Summer’ campaign to validate using the Island as a bolthole for wealthy people fleeing the mainland.”
Lowthion: Are we merely being used to boost government’s ‘100,000 tests a day’ target
Vix Lowthion, spokesperson for the IW Green Party, continued,
“We must urgently support our NHS to test, trace and isolate all suspected cases of the virus. But any plans for the Island to be used as a pilot scheme of mass community testing must be thoroughly thought through by our MP and Council leader.
“Is the Island population and demographics best placed to pilot the use of smart phone Apps? Do we have enough police to enforce 14 day quarantine for new arrivals? Are we merely being used to boost the government’s promised ‘100,000 tests a day’ target which they are currently failing spectacularly to meet?
“Councillor Stewart has completely omitted to mention needing public backing for his guinea-pig scheme, and we urge him to show evidence of this support and answers to these questions before he forces us to be a test bed for the government.”
At time of writing there were 74 lab-confirmed cases of Coronavirus attributed to the Isle of Wight, with 14 deaths.
Island Labour say the decision to push for the pilot was “supposedly based on small infection rates” but they are aware from contacts in the local health and care services that,
“The current numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases appear to significantly understate infection rates. It is also possible that they understate death rates, as deaths in care homes are not included in Government figures.
“We have been informed of several cases of the virus in care homes.”
Stewart: “No suggestion the Island could come out of lockdown early”
Council leader Dave Stewart said:
“There is no suggestion that the Island could come out of lockdown early.
“Any exit from lockdown needs a well-managed approach with comprehensive monitoring and testing with the ability to reintroduce control measures to ensure that our vulnerable residents are protected to the fullest.
“The Island’s unique status gives it an opportunity to better manage any exit from lockdown than most other areas. This is an opportunity which should not be missed and would provide the stringent safeguards the Island’s community and the Isle of Wight Council would support.
“During these unique and unprecedented times, the council, working with partners in health and the voluntary sector, is working tirelessly to protect and support our Island community.
“Your response has been amazing, but there is no time to relax, we must continue to take personal and collective responsibility to protect ourselves from the virus.”
Stephens: It beggars belief
Cllr Ian Stephens, Leader of the Island Independent Network, told OnTheWight,
“The readiness in accepting the Isle of Wight as a ‘pilot’ area for relaxing the Covid-19 lockdown, as stated by Bob Seely MP and Dave Stewart beggars belief.
“One wonders whether NHS and Social Care advice has been sought and given. What data have we got on all cases of Coronavirus, with reported numbers of cases and deaths across our Island community?
“Surely the health and safety of our residents is the most important factor when making decisions of this magnitude. The NHS service with St Mary’s Hospital need to be considered and their opinion sought.
“I think that in ‘jumping the gun’ prior to any testing being undertaken on the Island, it is at best ill-advised and not thought through. At worst it’s asking that both residents and businesses accept decisions which lack thought and could cost lives and livelihoods.”
Andre: “Pre-emptive at best and reckless at worst”
Cllr Debbie Andre, Leader of the Island Independent Group, has expressed shock at the claims made by Dave Stewart that we could be treated differently from the mainland in the exit strategy for lifting the lockdown.
“This statement, coming from the Conservative Leadership, at a time when we are said to be approaching the peak of the pandemic outbreak in the UK, is pre-emptive at best and reckless at worst.
“Whilst I agree that we need a testing facility here on the Island to safeguard our frontline workers and maximise the workforce available, it’s totally inappropriate, in my opinion, for us to be treated differently when it comes to lifting the lockdown.
“It’s true that, thanks to our terrific community spirit in following Govt advice with self-isolation and social distancing, we have kept cases and fatalities to a minimum, but we have a higher percentage of our Island population who fall into the category of being vulnerable than most other areas of the UK.
“We have to carefully manage the inevitable influx of visitors when the current restrictions are lifted and whilst we want to welcome visitors back to our Island, the safety of our island residents is paramount and has to be our first priority.”
Petition against the plans
An online petition has been created by Ryde councillor, Karen Lucioni, opposing the plans.
“The Island should not be a test bed to leave lock-down earlier than the rest of the U.K. Residents hold their families close to their hearts. Please do not sign us up to this.”
At time of publishing the petition had attracted 190 signatures.
2.55pm 22nd Apr 2020 – Comment added from Dave Stewart
8.10am 23rd Apr 2020 – Comment added from Ian Stephens
9.50am 23rd Apr 2020 – Comment added from Debbie Andre