STATEMENT BY MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE DURING THE ELEVENTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
Thursday 12th August, 2021
COVID-19 Update – Navigating Uncharted Waters
Good Day Mister Speaker, I stand before this Honourable House today to share what I think would be some good news relating to our COVID-19 situation here in the Virgin Islands.
Over the last month the BVI has seen some very rough and challenging waters with the impact of a literal COVID-19 wave and surge in this Territory. We have lost loved ones, we have grieved and continue to grieve the loss of our friends, our co-workers, our family, those dear to our hearts.
We have been scared and anxious about what lies ahead, but most of all, we have come together as a community and did what was necessary to curb the spread and reduce the outbreak of the virus in the Territory. In large measures Mister Speaker, we saw our people following quarantine and isolation orders. We saw our people getting vaccinated, social distancing, sanitising and wearing their mask. We saw them being their brother’s keeper and encouraging persons to do the right thing. We saw our people taking this virus seriously and doing their part to turn what was a very dangerous situation, into a more manageable situation. We saw our people working together for the betterment of this entire Territory and I stand here proud of the efforts we have been able to achieve together.
It is because of those collective efforts coupled with the hard work of our public health team, hospital staff and frontline workers, that we can breathe a small sigh of relief.
Mister Speaker, I am pleased to report that the active COVID-19 cases have been reduced to 46 down from the height of 1600 plus active cases at the peak of this surge. There remain thirty-six (36) active cases on Tortola, eight on Virgin Gorda and two on Jost Van Dyke. Seven persons are presently in the hospital and sadly, we have suffered the loss of 36 persons during this active surge. Our death toll from COVID-19 stands at 37 persons, the first of which passed in 2020.
Mister Speaker we speak of the seven person in the hospital. It was down three just the other day. It is up to seven within the last 48 hours. We have to be mindful of what we are doing. I want to again, extend sincere condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased. I know this cannot be an easy experience for any of you, but my prayer is that God will continue to comfort and strengthen all who are grieving at this time. Mister Speaker, I witnessed and I have been in attendance whether virtual or presence to the funerals of some of our dearly departed. A mother putting to rest three of her children, or friends, brothers and sisters; parents burying children, children burying parents.
Mister Speaker, despite the fact that our positive cases have drastically reduced, this is no time for relaxation. We have to keep pressing forward and ensure the steady decline in our active cases now and beyond because we cannot afford another surge.
We cannot afford to lose anyone else to this dreaded disease. We cannot afford the impact on our lives and livelihoods as it has been seen. I remain optimistic that the end is in sight, but I am reminded and must remind everyone that we are not out of the woods. Vigilance only is the keyword.
Our key messaging strategy remains unchanged. We are living in the “new normal” it is no longer business as usual. It is a new regular. It can no longer be, business as usual. COVID-19 is here and we must learn to live with it. When we turn to the international news, the regional news, the world news, COVID-19 is wreaking havoc in communities throughout the world.
As a community we need to continue to police ourselves. We have to stop and curtail the undesirable behaviours that make us vulnerable to this virus.
The onus is on each of us to take a personal and civic responsibility to protect ourselves, our families and our communities. We must continue to be our brother’s keeper. If we see each other slipping, we need to give gentle reminders and words of encouragement, because we have all seen what this virus can do.
Mister Speaker, I want to speak a little bit about this Delta variant that is wreaking havoc all over the world and throughout the region. We are praying that it never visits our shores. But the Delta variant has accelerated the pandemic, it is responsible for more than 80 percent of new COVID-19 cases in the United States according to CDC estimates. The CDC has also labeled Delta as a variant of concern. It is more contagious than the other virus strains and persons who have not been fully vaccinated against COVID are most at risk. The Delta variant could lead to hyperlocal outbreaks. Researchers are still studying its impact, but one thing is clear, vaccination is the best protection against this variant and others.
Mister Speaker, I cannot over emphasise enough that the most important thing that our people can do to protect themselves is to get vaccinated! The evidence in the region and around the world is showing that vaccination helps to provide a layer of protection from this disease.
To date we have 12,433 fully vaccinated persons in the BVI and 4,306 partially vaccinated persons. Our goal is to get to herd immunity and beyond by fully vaccinating at least 22,500 persons. We want to achieve herd immunity to feel more comfortable that our community on a whole will be protected no matter what variant comes our way.
Mister Speaker, while we are encouraging the community to do their civic duty to keep this virus at bay, Government continues to work behind the scenes and infront to keep our people safe.
We continue to encourage persons to get vaccinated today to save their life tomorrow. We are ramping up our rapid testing. We will begin to do regular testing on unvaccinated front line and public service workers soon to ensure services are being delivered to the population safely.
The BVI Health Services Authority is in the process of enhancing and expanding their rapid testing capacity in order to include the public service testing.
Our Social Distancing Task Force will be out doing spot checks on businesses, issuing tickets and enforcing the penalties to those who insist on going contrary to the guidelines set for the safety of us all.
We heard from the Minister for Education on the re-opening of schools. School administrators will ensure adherence to public health safety measures including proper hand hygiene, wearing of masks and social distancing. The aim is and will always be to protect our people, reduce the risk and mitigate against this dreaded disease.
As we gear up for the opening of our schools, I want to take this opportunity to appeal to the parents of children between the ages of 12 to 17, to also get them vaccinated. The opportunity is available through the BVI-USVI Vaccination Bubble Initiative of which I will speak of in my second statement. As far as possible, we want to see a greater uptake of the vaccine even among this vulnerable portion of our population. We will continue our appeal with the USVI to ensure the opportunity is extended even into September if it must, which would assist other persons in being able to take advantage of this opportunity.
The economy cannot remain closed partially or fully Mister Speaker, this will only increase the financial and psychological hardships currently experienced by our people. Everything must be done to return the Virgin Islands to the Virgin Islands we know and love. One where we can operate with some level of assurance and comfort in knowing that we are doing our best to remain safe in this new paradigm shift of living and coping with COVID.
I want to re-iterate Mr. Speaker that the community must continue to follow public health protocols such as wearing your face masks. We must practice frequent hand hygiene. We must maintain physical distance in public spaces, and we must get vaccinated as it is our best tool to reduce the transmission of the virus.
My friends, let us remember this is not just about you individually! This is about your children, your mother and grandmother, your father and grandfather, your uncles, aunts, cousins and your friends. It is about your income and your ability to make a living. It is about this Territory’s economy and our ability to come out of this on the other side more healthy.
Thank you Mister Speaker for giving me this opportunity to address this Honourable House to provide an update on the COVID situation here locally and to continue to solicit the support of the community to arrest the spread of COVID-19 and to mitigate transmission of this virus now and in the future.
The Chief Medical Officer continues to be concerned about the fact that we cannot go back to that behavior which has caused this to be in the state in where it is. Thank you Mister Speaker and may God continue to bless our beautiful Virgin Islands.