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PCR testing cycles (FOI)

PCR testing cycles (FOI)

Produced by the Freedom of Information office
Authored by Government of Jersey and published on 22 January 2021.
Prepared internally, no external costs.

Request

A

Could you please provide any correspondence as well as any other documents that the Council of Ministers (COM) received which contain the terms "PCR tests" or "rt-PCR tests" or "thermal cycles" and the terms "accuracy" or "reliability" or "false positives" or "false positive results".

B

You provided in a FOI on 21 December that the number of thermal cycles is 40.

Thermal cycles of PCR tests (FOI)

Can you please confirm:

i) the number of 40 thermal cycles has been constant or whether this number has been changed over the course of the year and if so all the different numbers of cycles applied together with the respective dates.

ii) If the number of cycles was changed during the year, can you please provide all the communications that the COM received and any documentation relating to the decisions made by the COM or any other Government official or civil servant relating to these changes including the rationale for the change.

Response

A

A review of emails addressed to councilofminisers@gov.je was undertaken using the keywords "PCR tests", "rt-PCR tests", "thermal cycles", "accuracy", "reliability", "false positives" and "false positive results".

Please note that where emails including documents exist they did not include the majority of keywords. These emails and documents are exempt under Article 35 (Formulation and development of proposed policies).

Further, it should be noted that the Council of Ministers are included on daily updates in respect of PCR tests carried out, however it was not considered that such emails were relevant to this request as the information contained in these emails is published.

It was estimated that to undertake a review of emails and documents sent to named Members of the Council of Ministers would exceed the 12.5 hours prescribed under the Freedom of Information (Jersey) Law 2011.

B

i) The number of cycles has remained constant at 40.

ii) Not applicable.

Articles applied

Article 10 - Obligation of scheduled public authority to confirm or deny holding information

(1) Subject to paragraph (2), if –

(a) a person makes a request for information to a scheduled public authority; and

(b) the authority does not hold the information,

it must inform the applicant accordingly.

(2) If a person makes a request for information to a scheduled public authority and –

(a) the information is absolutely exempt information or qualified exempt information; or

(b) if the authority does not hold the information, the information would be absolutely exempt information or qualified exempt information if it had held it,

the authority may refuse to inform the applicant whether or not it holds the information if it is satisfied that, in all the circumstances of the case, it is in the public interest to do so.

(3) If a scheduled public authority so refuses –

(a) it shall be taken for the purpose of this Law to have refused to supply the information requested on the ground that it is absolutely exempt information; and

(b) it need not inform the applicant of the specific ground upon which it is refusing the request or, if the authority does not hold the information, the specific ground upon which it would have refused the request had it held the information.

Article 16 - A scheduled public authority may refuse to supply information if cost excessive

(1) A scheduled public authority that has been requested to supply information may refuse to supply the information if it estimates that the cost of doing so would exceed an amount determined in the manner prescribed by Regulations.

Regulation 2 (1) of the Freedom of Information (Costs) (Jersey) Regulations 2014 allows an authority to refuse a request for information where the estimated cost of dealing with the request would exceed the specified amount of the cost limit of £500. This is the estimated cost of one person spending 12.5 working hours in determining whether the department holds the information, locating, retrieving and extracting the information.

Article 35 Formulation and development of policies

Information is qualified exempt information if it relates to the formulation or development of any proposed policy by a public authority.

Public Interest Test

Article 35 is a qualified exemption, which means that a public interest test has to be undertaken to examine the circumstances of the case and decide whether, on balance, the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosing the information.

Although there is a need for transparency, accountability, financial and good decision making by public authorities this information relates to an ongoing situation. The Scheduled Public Authority – and indeed good government, requires Ministers to be provided with full, frank advice from officials about the possible impact of proposed policy, and for Ministers and officials to be able to discuss and test those proposed policies in a comprehensive way.

The following considerations were taken into account:

Public interest considerations favouring disclosure

  • disclosure of the information would support transparency and promote accountability to the general public, providing confirmation that the necessary discussions have taken place

  • disclosure to the public fulfils an educative role about the early stages in policy development and illustrates how the department engages with parties for this purpose

Public interest considerations favouring withholding the information

  • in order to best develop policy, Officers and Ministers need a safe space in which free and frank discussion can take place. The need for this safe space is considered at its greatest during the live stages of a policy. Sharing views is important to ensure that all relevant considerations are taken into account in developing and implementing policy. Disclosure at a time when these views are still being considered would negatively impact the Department’s ability to fully consider the information

  • the need for this safe space is considered at its greatest during the live stages of a policy

  • release of the information at this stage might generate misinformed debate in areas where future options have yet to be finalised. This would affect the ability of officials to consider and develop policy away from external pressures, and to advise Ministers appropriately

  • disclosure of this information may limit the willingness of parties to provide their honest views and feedback in future. This would hamper and harm the policy–making process not only in relation to this subject area but in respect of future policy development across wider Departmental business

Taking into account the various factors, the Scheduled Public Authority decided in favour of withholding the information.

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