‘Islanders are not guinea pigs’: Politicians hit back at pitch to use Isle of Wight as Covid-19 testing and mobile tracking pilot (update 3)

Not everyone has reacted positively to the Isle of Wight Conservatives’ pitch for the Island to be a ‘potential pilot for testing a community’ for Coronavirus. A petition has been launched

three guinea pigs sitting on a table

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.”

Infection rates
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.

It reads:

“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.

Article edits
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

Image: Karlijn Prot under CC BY 2.0

Wednesday, 22nd April, 2020 12:05pm


ShortURL: http://wig.ht/2nC4

Filed under: Island-wide, Isle of Wight Council, Isle of Wight News, Top story

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29 Comments on "‘Islanders are not guinea pigs’: Politicians hit back at pitch to use Isle of Wight as Covid-19 testing and mobile tracking pilot (update 3)"

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I am appalled that any politician of any colour would want to track the population for whatever reason. This is an affront to personal liberty, and will lead, inevitably, to even stricter state control.


Dangerous ideas with dangerous consequences, we need a public enquiry and a Island wide petition to stop this.

Benny C
Honestly! ID cards are coming, get over it. They’re ok. Driving licences are already compulsory when at the wheel. Next time you’re stopped and don’t have it, be extra nice to the cops. Tracking already happens in large privately owned buildings where the public can gather. It’s valuable data. Your phone and your Alexa listen in 24 hours a day as those randomly spooky search results often… Read more »

It is not compulsory to carry a driving licence while at the wheel: https://www.gov.uk/stopped-by-police-while-driving-your-rights


Smartphones automatically track movements via GTS & WiFi, including when turned off or on “sleep” or “plane” mode – experiments by WHICH magazine proved this axons ago.

The only way to prevent such, is to physically remove the phone battery however readers will know that smartphones are increasingly sealed units, which disallow battery removal.


Shield pouches are available


This is why my mobile phone is now permanently placed next to my landline phone. Even the old-fashioned (non-smart) mobiles can be tracked. Until recently, I have also paid most of my bills in cash for that reason – however, I currently prefer contactless for obvious reasons.
I don’t see a need in being contactable at all times.

Rhos yr Alarch

A very concerning suggestion, given that the rate of known cases on the Island seems to be on much the same trajectory as it has been for the last few weeks, with no hint of a decline as yet…


No, No, No! This is just so wrong.
People are dying from this virus…what part are these clowns not getting?
More about money than lives…as usual.

It’s a pretty half baked idea if I understand it correctly and also self contradictory. Testing of the IW population if accompanied by contact tracing will reduce the number of covid-19 cases. But lifting retrictions and allowing holiday travel from the mainland will lead to transmission from the mainland. I was looking at Australia’s figures yesterday, they have had only 75 deaths, 25 of these were people… Read more »
Interesting that none of the other local media seem to have chosen not to report at all about this unbelievably dangerous and thoughtless suggestion. There is no democratic mandate for this nonsense that totally ignores any scientific approach whatsoever. “Checking people off the ferry”???? This is exactly the opposite of the idea of social distancing. Testing will only work if the community in which tests are carried… Read more »

Given that IOW County Press rarely if ever, prints ANYTHING from the local Labour party, it’s a little belated to be citing Press Discrimination which has been true of the overly white & right wing IOW for years.

Clare Foges, David Cameron’s ex speech writer – credited with the line that the UK would be at the back of the line for any post-Brexit trade deal with the US – and shortlister for Isle of Wight constituency (she dropped out at the last minute to let in Seely unopposed) argued in The Times this week that Corona is ideal opportunity to introduce compulsory ID cards… Read more »
It’s not going to happen, more chance of IW hosting Love Island this summer (6/1 today apparently) ! Only rational/fair scenario for testing is rolling it out countrywide according to job role. Even then, who decides the hierarchy, who get left til last ? More to the point, it raises the issue of exactly what local democracy on IW looks like these days. Meetings suspended, delegated decisions… Read more »

I’m in favour of access to the expansion of testing, but definitely not tracking or early lifting of the lockdown!

Dave Stewart and Bob Seely should be ashamed to put forward a senseless and highly dangerous idea and should resign immediately as clearly this would compromise the health, safety and welfare of the Islands population. This is purely and simply about boosting the economy and profit above all else it’s an absolute disgrace. The priority of central and local Government is the safety of its citizens both… Read more »
Tin man

The use of the App should remain optional, but if the knock on effect of testing the islands community was a possibility that the island could begin to reopen within itself, then surely it should be considered.

Benny C
Or more broadly if the island could play its part in setting up and testing successful mass screening so that, using the lessons learned, major cities could reopen early and safely to help kick start our totally deflated economy, we will be doing our bit. We need to try everything to stop the economic and social devastation unfolding before us. The recession coming is huge, anyone with… Read more »

Utter rubbish do you want more people to die

Benny C
Of course not Spartacus, collectively we all need to stay safe. I don’t see why anyone would advocate that sort of risk, it seems to have been an assumption made elsewhere. I really want to know if I have had the virus, if I am likely to be immune, or not. The knowledge might alter my behaviours and protect me and others. If that means I have… Read more »

Adhere to social distancing, follow the instructions that’s the best way to stay safe and protect others as well. The problem we have is some people are still ignoring Government instructions, which is total stupidity. We’ve got to help ourselves to help others.


The stakes are too high, more people will die. What’s the matter with you people the transmission of the disease is caused by people contact so no we don’t want to open the Island up. The status quo needs to remain or we will have an increase in infections and subsequent deaths.


There is an assumption that everybody owns a mobile phone. Whilst many spend their days gued to such devices there is a large swathe of the population that doesn’t own one. So that’s not going to work.

Last night TPTV screened the 1962 film of John Wyndhams book ‘The Day of the Triffids’, the book ends with a group of survivors moving to the Isle of Wight where the Solent protects them from the mob of mobile carnivorous plants across the water (I’m sure we’ve all met some!). We cannot be a totally self contained unit and the grotesque idea that all the individual… Read more »

It is insane!

Angela Hewitt

I have sent the petition link to everyone in my address book


The Easter holidays are over! The malcontents are out in full force today. Guinea pig island with a death rate of 0.01%


Mindless comments in the face of adversity


Surely if you think it is a bad idea you can stay in isolation for as long as you wish. And as for the elderly demographic, they are being encouraged to stay home for 12 weeks, or they are in a care home so probably will not be mingling in public anyway.