Statement by Minister for Health and Social Development
Honourable Carvin Malone
COVID-19 Situation and Response Update
April 5th 2021
I extend greetings to everyone in the Virgin Islands and to those joining us by radio, TV and other social media platforms.
I also wish to extend my best wishes as we continue in observance of the Easter Season. GOD has been JUST and MERCIFUL to us and we MUST NOT take this for granted.
As Minister for Health and Social Development I, Carvin Malone, remain committed to keeping you, the people of the Virgin Islands, fully informed as I update you on where we are with the COVID-19 situation in the Territory. I also wish to update you on recent developments which need to be brought to your attention. I would admit that this has been a very difficult speech to pen, for indeed we stand at the cross-roads.
First I must thank God for His mercies and allowing us to be where we are now in the fight against COVID-19. I must also thank our hard-working Public and Environmental Health teams, our Health Services Authority Teams and all units of Government for their continuous efforts in keeping us safe and GIS and all other mediums for keep us informed. Of course, I must thank you the people of the Virgin Islands for your patience, prayers, and, for the most part, adherence to the health protocols. This is why I said that we are at the crossroads. This Government is committed to protecting the rights of everyone to choose for or to choose against.
We have exhausted huge sums of money to keep us safe and to allow us to have low numbers of positive cases over the last year. We must now decide that we are going to go the extra mile, follow the science, and be vaccinated. This is the only way that the BVI will have a credible chance to restore livelihoods, while saving lives. We are almost there!
Allow me to be real for there are numerous issues that must be clarified.
The COVID-19 virus was declared a GLOBAL PANDEMIC on 11th March 2020. When this Territory recognised and began to battle this pandemic, we also had to battle the feelings of those who professed that:
It was a Bill Gates conspiracy!
It was a 5G conspiracy!
It was a new world order conspiracy!
It was a population control conspiracy!
As a Government and as a people during this COVID-19 era we increased our faith and prayers, we followed the science; we followed the advice of our Health Emergency Operations Centre team; our local Public Health Experts; the Caribbean Public Health Authority (CARPHA); Public Health England and we followed the recommendations of the World Health Organization.
Throughout the region and the world, there were those countries and island nations that scoffed at the recommendations and were determined NOT to follow the science. Their successes and failures are well recorded in history and are there for those intent on research and are not mine to expound.
Here at home, you must recall that there were those who scoffed at this Government’s decisions “to LOCKDOWNS”; “to CURFEWS”; “to QUARANTINE”; “to PCR TEST”; “to STIMULUS PACKAGES” and indeed to every measure implemented. I will confess that after a year’s experience of fighting this virus, and the negativity of some of our leaders, I now have a deeper appreciation for challenges faced by Noah and Moses!
You must also remember or be reminded that, as Minister for Health I proclaimed from the inception of this pandemic, that; if this Territory followed the recommendations and observed the protocols, and if it resulted in minimum positive cases and minimum deaths then, at the end we will battle the very same persons – the very same skeptics who loudly voiced that NONE of what this Government did was required.
It was also professed that if the Territory DID NOT follow the protocols, DID NOT follow the recommendations and if it resulted in large numbers of positive cases and numerous deaths then, at the end we will battle the very same persons – the very same hindsight experts who will THEN SHOUT that this Government is incompetent and lacks leadership qualities because they drop the ball – if you may.
It was admitted back then that – this Government would rather the minimum positives and minimum deaths! And here we are, more than one year later!
As the world continues to grapple with the realities of COVID-19, we too as a jurisdiction and destination have been experiencing our own set of challenges in this New Regular as we live and work with the realities of COVID-19.
As we continue to navigate the challenges, I call on all of us to remain VIGILANT and RESILIENT as we learn and build from our experiences.
Our early assertion that as a Territory, we will only have all the facilities, equipment and supplies that we need if we need NONE of the very same facilities, equipment and supplies that we have. Our quest can only be to keep our cases at a minimum - for cases will emerge. There MUST be a balance of LIVES & LIVELIHOODS. We are almost there!
VIGILANCE cannot be just a buzz word. WE FOLLOWED the Science and WE OBSERVED the protocols. We are almost there!
I will now proceed to give an update on:
- COVID-19 test results,
- The receipt and rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccines,
- The recent Decisions of Cabinet.
In reports from the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital’s certified laboratory, as of today April 5th, of the 178 positive cases diagnosed there was 1 untimely death, 159 cases have recovered and the number of active positive cases in the Territory now stands at 18. This accounts for 14 persons on Tortola, 1 on Anegada, and 3 on marine vessels. Based on the epidemiological summary provided by the Public Health Unit team, 4 of these cases were captured in the arrival Day 0 screening, 7 on their Day 4 screening, and 3 through Travel screening. A concerning reality is that we now have 4 local cases, one of whom is hospitalised, though, for other non-COVID medical conditions.
Though not popular we must take note of the challenges being experienced in each of our regional territories and of countries worldwide as our fate is intrinsically tied to each other.
Do NOT allow the words of the doubters to confuse you! What attains in Canada, America, United Kingdom, Italy, South Africa, Brazil, Germany, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, Antigua, Barbados, Puerto Rico, United States Virgin Islands and each originating port to the Territory of the British Virgin Islands must be of interest to each of us.
Each country and each territory MUST determine their own conditions and vulnerabilities. Review for yourselves the rates of positive cases per 100,000 per capita, the death tolls and the measures now being taken in any of the jurisdictions cited or the jurisdiction of your choice. We wish those countries mentioned well but the fact is, every life and every business matters!
While the BVI numbers may not necessarily be alarming to some, based on the realities of the region and the world around us, we must continue to remain vigilant and proactive in our approach with this disease. There exists in our region, new and more aggressive strains; new and more deadly strains of the COVID-19 virus.
Seven (7) of the 18 active cases in the Territory were either returning tourists or cases within our population. Persons occupying common spaces with positive cases were asked to self-isolate for a period of 10 days. Persons in direct contact with positive cases were asked to quarantine to avoid the risk of spreading the virus to unknown and unassuming persons within the Territory. As a result of these facts, active and aggressive contact tracing exercises and COVID-19 testing have commenced on Tortola and Anegada. I am pleased to report that the Public Health Unit and the Community Health Unit of the Hospital Services Authority have been actively engaged in the contact tracing activities. Persons on Tortola with possible exposure are being notified and are expected to be tested on Tuesday, April 6th and Wednesday, April 7th at the Ebenezer Thomas Primary School in Sea Cow’s Bay between the hours of 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon. Additional announcements will be made as the contact tracing activities broadens. The numbers to call will be posted. If you were at any of the activities of which are now well known, we ask you to call. We will give you the numbers tomorrow and we will come down to Ebenezer Thomas Primary School.
To assist the contact tracing teams and to lessen the potential risks of community spread, Cabinet at its Wednesday, 28th March meeting resolved that:
- Crowd sizes for indoor and outdoor establishments be reduced from 200 to 75 persons;
- Crowd sizes for faith-based services; graduations; weddings and funerals be reduced from 200 to 100;
- Written application for crowd sizes for outdoor events of more than 75 persons shall be made to the Minister for approval and;
- Recommended to the National Security Council that the Curfew Order remains in-force from 2:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. This order will expire on the 15th of April.
These measures we approved to allow for the contact tracing to be more effective during the period in question and will be reassessed from time to time.
I wish to remind persons that Government instituted a number of fines and penalties and expanded the categories of officers designated to administer tickets. The following fines remain in effect in the Territory as a deterrent to persons intent on violating health protocols:
- A person who tampers with or damages a geo-fencing device (which we call the bracelet) will pay $2,000.
- A person who visits a quarantined person will pay $5,000.
- A person who contravenes the protocols or guidelines under these regulations will pay $10,000.
- A person who refuses to return a geo-fencing device or approved monitoring device will pay $500.
- A person who provides false information when submitting an application for entry to a designated Public Health Officer enforcing a quarantine order will pay $5,000.
Let me repeat, these fines have been put in place as a deterrent and will be used to ensure compliance. We must each do our part to ensure, not only that we remain law abiding citizens but primarily to keep this Territory as safe as possible.
Since the Social Distancing Taskforce has been activated over 150 tickets or fines have been issued. The message to persons caught violating the provisions of the safety protocols, is simple and resolute – “WE WILL FIND YOU AND WE WILL FINE YOU!”
The Government takes these breaches very seriously because it is costly to lock down! It is costly to businesses. It is costly to lives. All of our hard work and efforts for the last year will not go down the drain.
Let us be clear! It is more than a year since this GLOBAL PANDEMIC has devastated the lives and the livelihoods of individuals, families, businesses and communities locally and worldwide. NONE has been spared – airlines - ferry operators – hotels – worship centres, entertainment centres, promoters, car rentals – schools – day cares – medical facilities – senior citizen programmes – EVERYONE has been affected by this global pandemic!
It is time that we now open up! It is time for us to further allow our approved protocols to take effect. It is time that our lives and our economy be returned to the pre-COVID-19 era; the pre-Irma-and-Maria era. An era we now refer to as the “NEW REGULAR.”
The Government has reallocated millions of dollars to build the infrastructure and increase the human resource capacity required to get everyone to this pivotal moment. We have followed the science to get us here! We must now follow the science to reopen our borders; reopen our schools; return to quarantine-free travel, fill our hotel rooms, sail our yachts, and end all curfews.
We are almost there!
Seventy percent (70%) to eighty percent (80%) of us being vaccinated and attaining herd immunity will make the difference; the Territory will reach our ultimate goals at a quicker pace. Our economy can reopen at a quicker and safer pace. Our schools can reopen at a quicker and safer pace. Our livelihoods can be restored at a quicker and safer pace. We must do this together!
The BVI has been fortunate to receive 32,000 doses of the AstraZeneca Vaccine from the United Kingdom and 2,000 doses from the Government of Dominica. The first shipment of the vaccine has a shelf life of early May; the second shipment’s shelf life is early June and the third early July. As at Monday, 5th April, 8,246 first doses have been administered: 6,971 on Tortola; 1118 on Virgin Gorda; 68 on Jost Van Dyke and 89 on Anegada. The monthly statistics reveal that 4,068 units were administered during the month of February; 3,790 during March and so far in April 388 units.
We MUST-NOT let this time pass!
While the second doses for all persons shall be reserved, it is our intention to seek to administer the entire 17,730 doses to all qualified persons. The subcommittee formed to work with the community rollout programme has initiated their work and will be seen throughout the community. Memorandum of Understanding with the local medical providers is ready for signature. So those persons who are intent on making sure that they visit their private practitioners; all four of the businesses that have applied would be given the opportunity to sign this Memorandum of Understanding, and we can begin having the extra assistance necessary to get the 17,000 plus persons vaccinated.
Given the global position of availability of vaccines, it is critical to use what we have and not allow for any spoilage as at some point there will be a shortage of vaccines which will impact our efforts, our safety, our economy, our schools, and our livelihood.
In the future, vaccination will allow for changes in the current entry and travel protocols and requirements in the BVI. This is sooner rather than later; it is in your arms. Just yesterday, the CDC announced that fully vaccinated persons can travel in the US without test or quarantine, so long as they remain masked. While we may not be there as yet, as the world turns we must be willing to make the adjustments as long as they are in the best interest of this Territory that we all love.
I must re-emphasise that we are almost there!
The most common or important question for those with concerns about the vaccine is: What benefits will result from taking the COVID-19 Vaccine as far as risk prevention? World experts have determined that:
- It allows for persons to increase social engagement;
- It limits symptoms and reduce risk to others;
- It allows for less scrutiny for public health protocols like other international countries like Gibraltar who have vaccinated a substantial portion, almost 90% of their population and have now done away with even as less as mask-wearing;
- It reduces the impact of the different variants as persons who have been vaccinated already, will stand a better chance at responding to a booster if need be to address the variants.
Herd immunity, as mentioned before, is when a large part of the population is immune to a specific disease. We have seen it with meningitis and even polio, where if enough people are resistant to the cause of a disease, it has nowhere else to go.
Adults make up 80 percent of our population and if possible, we need the entire 80 percent to get vaccinated so that we can begin to normalise our everyday activities and begin the process of revitalising our economy.
Vaccinations for persons under 18 (that is) children, will not be available until the fall; so it is really up to the adult population to do their part and get vaccinated now.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development is committed to keeping everyone informed and will bring you regular updates. You can also access information on the Territory’s COVID-19 response on Government’s website, that is www.bvi.gov.vg
Everyone should also beware of misinformation on the Coronavirus disease circulating on social media platforms. Always double check the facts before sharing by visiting official websites. www.bvi.gov.vg/novel-coronavirus-info/
Ladies and gentlemen, We are not out of the woods!
Observe all safety protocols – sanitise all surfaces – wash your hands – wear your masks – observe the six feet distance – and get vaccinated by logging on to www.ministryofhealth.gov.vg/vaccines or you can attend any of our nine clinics. We have set up facilities at the Catholic Community Centre, R&R Malone Complex; we have centres at the East End Seventh-Day Adventist Church, Nurse Iris O’Neal Medical Centre in Virgin Gorda, at North Sound with times to be published. At Anegada, at Jost Van Dyke; we also have centres in Carrot Bay Seventh-Day Adventist, at the Cane Garden Bay Baptist Church, and at Jost Van Dyke Clinic. Visit any of these sites. We must get this done as soon as possible.
Thank you for your attention. May GOD continue to bless and protect, we the people of these Virgin Islands! Please remember DON’T PROCRASTINATE --- VACCINATE! Do it for all of us.