The Chief Min has said the genomic testing provided by the Liverpool lab could not be replicated on island and the results make no difference to how the island manages its aim to eliminate Covid-19 from our community. This is despite clear support from backbench MHKs for using Dr Rachel Glover’s offer of genomic testing on island.
HQ was grilled by Julie Edge on the subject during the first Tynwald sitting of 2021, which is being held virtually given the current lockdown.
In an urgent question, Ms Edge had asked HQ if he would make a statement on Genomic testing by the Liverpool Laboratory?
The Chief said the island sends its genome tests to Liverpool, which is led by Prof Alistair Darby, as it is led by ‘internationally recognised experts’.
He added: ‘Using Liverpool for our genomic sequencing not only gives us access to the highest quality laboratory technical service, but also to world class exports in interpreting the results. It would not be possible to replicate this level of quality from a local stand alone service.’
The intended turnaround time for sequencing from the Liverpool lab is five working days, however the Chief had to admit this has not always been achieved, including when the Liverpool lab closed for a public holiday. But the gov is working on establishing better links with the Liverpool lab.
However, he said there is ‘no need’ for an urgent turnaround as it makes ‘no difference’ to the island’s elimination strategy.
When pushed further by Ms Edge who asked why the island wasn’t following the World Health Organisation’s recommendation that countries should work to improve genomic sequencing, HQ said the island is and uses Liverpool to do this.
When Ms Edge asked why the Manx lab (AKA Dr Rachel Glover) wasn’t being used, he said it isn’t an officially approved lab and repeated his insistence that ‘it is not possible to replicate that level of service, level of quality from a local standalone service’.
When asked by Chris Thomas MHK what standards apply, why the island’s lab doesn’t meet those stands and that the genome testing is used to also help with tracing the virus, the Chief Min said ‘it does tell you the info Mr Thomas mentioned’ but that ‘our team has said that the new variant is no different from the current variants’ severity of the disease etc and that’s why it would make no different to the procedures we’re going through’.
He added: ‘You have to have significant standards in these laboratories, I’m not saying that our own lab on the island doesn’t have good standards but you have to have an approved centre and local standalone centres would not qualify for the national gathering, you have to be part of the approved list and any laboratory we have on the Isle of Man is not part of that list.’
Speaking to Gef, Ms Edge said: ‘The CM couldn’t answer when I asked could Manx lab run alongside Lpool and get more timely info to help with pandemic and do a local testing regime here to support our island’s decision process and the WHO recommendations on Friday.’
HQ also confirmed to Tynwald that no cases of the South African or Brazilian variants have been identified on the island.
After months of the testing strategy being debated in Tynwald and the press conferences, it seems that when it comes to on island genome testing, there are still more questions than answers