From March 1 a negative PCR Covid-19 test will be needed to travel south on the South Atlantic Airbridge (SAA). The SAA, operated by MoD, departs Brize Norton and stops to refuel in Dakar en route to the Falklands. Passengers do not usually leave the aircraft.
On Thursday a Falklands Government (FIG) press statement said, “This is a UK Strategic Command requirement, in order to be able to use Dakar as a weather or technical diversion, as the Republic of Senegal requires that everyone travelling into the country over two years of age, must now have evidence of a negative PCR Covid-19 test.”
The requirement does not affect passengers travelling north on the SAA even though they stop in Dakar.
FIG says this is because “there have been very few occasions in recent years when weather conditions or technical issues on the northbound flight have required a diversion option to be in place and for passengers to leave the plane partway through their journey. However, the southbound flight has seen this situation arise on more than one occasion in recent months.”
In a press conference on February 3, Chief Executive Barry Rowland said: “We are currently looking at the need for tests (for passengers) travelling from north to south. That matter is being considered with the MoD at the moment with a view to bring plans forward by the beginning of March.”
FIG has consistently said Covid-19 tests cannot be made mandatory due to the procedure being invasive. When asked why they can’t make testing mandatory for those in quarantine but impose it on travellers of the SAA Mr Rowland said: “It’s mandatory in the sense that it’s part of a contract. If you’re buying a ticket for a plane you’re not going to be able to buy it if you don’t have a negative test. You don’t need to regulate for that.” Mr Rowland confirmed it was an MoD requirement and will only apply to the SAA. He added FIG “fully supports it because it’s a really good idea.”
Passengers arriving in the Falklands will still have to undertake a 14-day quarantine that is a legal requirement. Everyone in quarantine is encouraged to voluntarily take part in the surveillance swabbing programme and receive a PCR test three times during the two weeks.
UK-based MacAlister Elliot and Partners Ltd. has been appointed to evaluate monitoring and licencing requirements for near-shore aquaculture in the Falklands.
Salmon farming was trialled in the 1980s at Fox Bay and although conditions were found to be favourable, the trials did not progress. A brown trout venture was piloted by local company Fortuna Ltd. in 2013 and continues with its operations today. However, in November 2019 Executive Council approved £193,000 to investigate the creation of a large-scale aquaculture industry, specifically Atlantic salmon. The Executive Council documents state that near-shore salmon farming could be a significant contributor for the Falkland Islands economy.
The decision to pursue investigations came after Danish company Pisco APS proposed salmon farming to FIG in 2017. After several scoping studies completed by Pisco, the Government signed a Letter of Intent with them in November 2018. Pisco then joined with Fortuna Ltd. to create Unity Marine, a locally-based company that proposes to own and operate the salmon-farming industry in the Islands.
Unity Marine believes that the Falklands could support 200,000 tonnes of salmon annually and submitted various studies to the Government in March 2019. The Falkland Islands Government said it didn’t have the in-house capacity to fully assess the proposal and agreed on a budget to hire an independent aquaculture advisor to manage the assessment. Recruitment for the role was unsuccessful last year. Director of Natural Resources Dr Andrea Clausen said: “It became apparent that the broad range of experience and depth of knowledge required was not likely to be delivered in a single recruitment. It was therefore agreed that a different approach would be taken, ensuring that all previously agreed objectives would be met within the approved budget.”
The new approach was the appointment of MacAlister Elliot and Partners (MEP). “The company has been appointed to ensure the Falkland Islands Government has robust information including an evaluation of regulatory, licencing, control, and monitoring requirements for an aquaculture sector,” said Dr Clausen. Recommendations to strengthen and future-proof the Fish Farming Ordinance 2006 could also be included.
MEP previously completed a review of the Falklands Islands finfish fishery in 2020. They describe themselves as 'consultants in sustainable fisheries and aquaculture' and ‘highly experienced in integrated aquaculture techniques deploying these in the Middle East and Australia.' They offer business planning and feasibility studies and recently conducted an audit of UK fish stocks.
The majority of the work will be conducted remotely over the next 12 months. Dr Clausen added: “At this time there is no firm date for when FIG will be in a position to make a decision on whether to pursue large-scale industrial aquaculture.”
It is hoped 1,900 people will receive their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine between February 8 and 12 in a mass vaccination programme. Everyone in the Islands over the age of 50 will be vaccinated in the first round. People under 50 will only be offered the vaccination if they have an underlying health condition or are in an 'at risk' occupation.
3,000 doses of the vaccine arrived in the Falklands on February 1, provided by the UK Government and a further bath of 2,200 vaccines is planned to arrive in a few weeks. The programme is split into nine priority groups beginning with 80-89-year-olds and finishing with the under 50-year-olds in qualifying occupations.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Rebecca Edwards said: "We're not going to give anyone a vaccine if we don't think we can give them a second one. Front-facing occupations who come into contact with people straight off the plane will be prioritised; customs, immigration and hospitality staff. Then we will identify other occupations as we go through, we will work on that in due course to decide the prioritisation of the rest of the vaccination."
Most of the vaccinations will take place in the FIDF Hall in Stanley while a travelling service will visit West Falkland and the outer islands on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday next week. Those living in Camp on East Falkland are asked to drive to Stanley if possible.
The Falkland Islands two-phased approach has been developed by the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. It largely follows the approach recommended by the UK’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI), with minor adjustments to suit local circumstances.
On the delivery of the vaccination, MLA Leona Roberts said: "It is important we put on record our gratitude to the British Government. They committed a number of months ago to support the Overseas Territories and they have come through on that. We always make the point we are part of the British family worldwide and that has been demonstrated here. I would like to put on record my thanks to the MOD for the safe delivery of this and the teams locally who have worked to ensure it got here in one piece".
Approximately 300 people will receive their first dose of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine today, February 8.
The Falkland Islands Defence Force (FIDF) hall will be the location for the programme which will run for five days. The outer Islands and settlements in the Camp will see a travelling service go to them beginning with Bleaker Island on Tuesday. It is hoped everyone over the age of 50 will be vaccinated by Friday. Under 50s who work in qualifying occupations and those who have underlying health conditions will also be vaccinated.
The first age group receiving the jab will be the 80-89 year-olds. Anyone over the age of 90 will not go to the FIDF hall but will be contacted by the Community Support Team with details on the administration of their dose.
The Falkland Islands took delivery of 3,000 doses of the vaccine on Monday, February 1 as part of the UK Government’s commitment to supporting Overseas Territories during the pandemic. The delivery should allow around 1,900 people to get the first of two doses.
Dr Mandy Fry from the King Edward VII Memorial Hospital (KEMH) arranged the programme. She clarified if people leaving the Islands before their second dose would still get the jab: “It depends on whether someone will be eligible for their second dose where they are going to. For example, if a 70 year-old person turned up and were going back to England, it’s reasonable they would get the vaccine there so we would vaccinate them. If you are a young, fit, healthy person here and would be vaccinated by virtue of occupation, but you wouldn’t be eligible where you were going, we wouldn’t give you the first dose. We know partial immunity is worse and so we wouldn’t want to put people in that position.”
The Falkland Islands has had 45 positive Covid-19 cases since April 3, 2020 and zero deaths.