STATEMENT BY PREMIER OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
AND MINISTER FOR FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
24 April, 2020
COVID-UPDATE – BVI OPERATING IN THE ‘NEW REGULAR’
Good evening and God’s Blessings to you, the people of the Virgin Islands.
I do trust that you are doing your best to keep each other safe – as far and as much as possible – by staying at home.
I cannot emphasise how important it is for everyone to take this invisible threat of COVID-19 seriously.
This invisible enemy, COVID-19, is something that we cannot see.
We cannot smell COVID-19. We cannot taste COVID-19. We cannot hear COVID-19 coming.
The only way to know that you have caught COVID-19 is when you feel it inside your body; and by then it is too late to talk about prevention because you may have already passed it on to everyone you have come into contact with, especially your family at home.
This is why it is important to heed the precautions and to practice the safety measures such as washing your hands for 20 seconds, wearing face masks when you are going out in public, sanitising cash, and so on.
This is why we have been using strategies such as the curfews to help to manage the movement of persons and, by doing so, reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread.
May I remind us all that if we had not implemented preventative measures, the then scientific data that was projected over this Territory to have just over 3,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19 would have now been our reality.
Thanks be to God today this is not our reality.
Why you may ask, well for the simple reason that as a people we have been obeying the measures that are being communicated to us daily for all of our safety.
But, there is more that we have to do if we are to survive this COVID-19 reality.
We cannot be rushing in where angels won’t trod.
We must continue to prevent, prevent, prevent - because COVID-19 is not playing around with us and we certainly must not play around with COVID-19.
I have said it before, if you look at what is taking place in other countries even right now, the BVI has been doing pretty good from the inception of this pandemic.
Our collective efforts are steering us along an encouraging path, and we must bear for a little bit more, trust in the guidance of our capable professionals, and do our respective part.
Your cooperation in all of the measures is important so that we can give support to the Public Health Officials. We have to do this so that they can do their work, such as thorough and aggressive contact tracing, to make sure that every possible risk is identified and addressed.
The Minister for Health and Social Development will give you the updates on the current status of COVID-19 results in the BVI.
But let me take this opportunity to thank all of you who have been calling the hotline at 852-7650 to report symptoms. Please keep doing this. Early detection leads to early treatment and the protection of others.
So please if you are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 call the hotline at 852-7650.
Let us continue not taking any chances. Every life is precious.
I thank all of you who are encouraging others to be mature and not to discriminate against persons who are willing to come forward to be tested, those who are on quarantine, or who may have tested positive at some point.
We are all God’s children, and catching COVID-19 is not a crime. It is a threat to one’s life, and all of our lives.
COVID-19 is not discriminating; so, why should we?
Let us be the compassionate people that I know we are capable of being.
Let us continue looking out for each other, and giving support where it is needed even if it is by a kind word, a thought or a Prayer.
Let me say again that we are not out of the woods.
We cannot tell by looking at someone whether they have COVID-19 or not; whether they are carriers or not; or whether they have it but are just not showing symptoms.
So, we have to move wisely. We have to interact differently.
As your Government, we recognise that we have asked you to make a big sacrifice by staying at home.
We saw danger and we moved to block it.
Asking you to stay at home was not an easy decision to make.
But, when it comes to putting lives first, there really can be no compromise.
In all that we have successfully come through and all that we will face ahead, it is important that you know that your Government is always taking into consideration the challenges and the hardship that these measures would impose upon you.
We know it would not be easy and we know you have needs.
That is why we made arrangements to help you to be as comfortable as possible while you are at home and while many of you are unable to work.
We have worked with businesses providing essential services to put in place two systems to ensure that everyone had access to food supply and medication, if needed.
For those who could afford it, the option was, and still is available to call-in or to place orders online with the approved grocery stores of your choice.
For seniors, those who are vulnerable, and those who are needy or in need of some food supplies, we have the Food Need Hotline where you can dial at 852-7688. I repeat, the Food Need Hotline you can dial is 852-7688.
Let us know if you did not receive your care package as yet so that we can fix what needs to be fixed.
Please call the Food Need Hotline at 852-7688.
We know that the system is not yet perfect. But we continue to push forward. We are trying. And it is only when you give us your feedback that we can identify the kinks in the system and iron them out immediately.
We apologise for any inconvenience caused along the way, and we will work to get those packages to you. Just bear with us, and help us to help you.
I want to thank the Governor and Deputy Governor for mobilising public officers, all the Members of the Government for their untiring efforts, Members of the House of Assembly, non-profit agencies, volunteer groups and individuals, statutory agencies, private sector, protection agencies, border agencies, delivery companies, supermarkets, pharmacies and so many more, for sparing no effort to ensure that we all continue to get to people in their homes and in every district.
As the Minister of Finance, I said that under my watch no one in this Territory would go hungry during this extended curfew period.
When I said it, I meant it.
We must remember that, with strong Faith in God, what is rooted in the earth of the British Virgin Islands is the blood of our ancestors who built this Territory by coming together.
So, God is in control; for it is only through him that we are all able to overcome differences and work together in one accord for one common goal, which is to ensure that everyone in this Territory has access to food, whether directly with the supermarkets or through the Government initiative.
This was my petition to God, and once again God has showed up, and those who were approved to help - came out.
One of the things I learned growing up was, when we were told to look in the cupboard and see what you could find and fix yourself something to eat, you knew right away that you were on your own.
No one was going to prepare a meal for you; you had to do it for yourself. These are such days and we thank God for ‘rolling with us’.
For, we have been able to take what little we have as Virgin Islanders and feed many. That is why I love the Bible story of the five loaves and two fishes. For the lesson learned is: little is much when God is in it, and God is ever present with us in this Territory.
I want to take this opportunity to clear up something here.
Yesterday morning several persons called or sent WhatsApp messages about a post on Facebook page, in which Matthew 6:1-4 was quoted.
Persons were concerned that the content and the context of the post were directed at Premier and Minister of Finance or at members of my Government.
The quoted scripture says, and I will paraphrase it, in the essence of time.
And I quote: “to be careful not to practice YOUR righteousness in front of others to be seen by them…. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets….so that your giving may be in secret, and then God who sees what is done in secret, will reward YOU.”
Here is what I can tell you about this scripture and you can read it for yourselves.
The scripture, Matthew 6:1-4, refers to the individual’s righteousness, which means you personally telling the world what you have done for others.
I, Andrew Alturo Fahie, I am not giving the people of this Territory money from MY personal pocket.
I am not giving the people of this Territory money from my personal income.
I know that people were concerned with the post, and who posted it and they felt that it was directed at the Government, but I can assure you that that this is not the case at all.
Every penny of the $2M that is being used in the Health Emergency Operations Centre’s Territorial Provisioning Logistical Plan to take care of the people of this Territory is you the People's money—it is from the public’s purse.
So, we all must understand that any penny that the Government of the Virgin Islands spends, it is the people’s money, not personal funds.
Let me also say to you that how the Government spends these public funds, and proving that you the people actively received your care packets, especially in COVID-19 curfew error, is important for two reasons:
One, the Premier and Minister of Finance would be asked publicly in the House of Assembly to account for the use of Government funds for care packages.
Two, the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee could publicly ask the Premier and Minister of Finance to produce not only financial reports, but assurance that people’s tax money is hitting its target.
So that is why I am saying that while I respect one’s freedom of expression, it must be made abundantly clear that the Facebook post Matthew 6:1-4 may not be written in context because the scripture refers to one’s private giving and that is when the scripture as quoted comes into full effect when we personally publicise our private giving.
However, when you are "taking of that of the people" to give away that's a different story.
I love the Bible. It is an excellent reference point for how we must live.
Let us remember if you give to those in need from your personal pocket do not broadcast it for you do not want to miss your blessing.
As we continue to get the care packages to people, I want to once again thank everyone for being community-minded. And helping us to be accountable with the people’s money.
I know that recipients appreciated the packages, as they have expressed. But I know that there are some who are still waiting to receive theirs. We will get to you.
Cabinet has agreed that registration for the Territorial Food Provisioning Programme would be extended until Saturday, 25th April until 7:00 p.m. with requests to be completed in the subsequent days and that public are reminded that reconciling would be undertaken to identify and prevent any double requests.
So, fear not. Panic not. Because we serve a GREAT, BIG GOD who is with us.
We are now preparing to move forward with a restricted and gradual internal reopening of the BVI.
One thing we must be mindful of is that until the world is safe from COVID-19, everyone everywhere will have to make adjustments for public health and safety.
There will be rules, protocols and guidelines – new ways of doing things – that will define a new regular for life and business in the 21st century. These will become the regular way of doing business.
The reality is, we now have to adapt in order to live in this New Regular.
What this ‘New Regular’ will ultimately look like is still a work in progress because, with COVID-19, the world – and this includes the BVI – has been struck by lightning.
Business, recreation, almost every aspect of life has been knocked down and shut down. And when things start to reopen, it will be like learning to walk again, but with new legs and on new terrain.
I am saying this to you now because you have to prepare yourself. Life will never be the same.
We have to prepare ourselves, especially if we want to resume activities sooner rather than later.
This is why we are being so careful with the decisions we make and why it is important that you abide by and support the decisions made by Cabinet.
These decisions are meant to help us to clear a path for staying safe and for resuming activities in the sooner rather than the later.
Cabinet, in special meetings on 22 April, 23 April and 24 April, made some very important decisions to help the Territory with the way forward.
I am pleased to let you know that the reopening in a phased manner will now process and proceed, but bear in mind it will precede with and process extreme caution because we are not out of the woods.
Cabinet is allowing the current Curfew Order to be lifted from Monday April 27 6:01 a.m. to 1:00 P.M. daily for the next 14 days.
This means that businesses will operate between the hours of 6:00 a.m to 1:00 p.m. daily to ensure that the employees will get home by the curfew. This also means that businesses should ensure that their opening hours give allowance for their staff to report and leave work within the hours of the imposed Curfew.
I want to emphasise here that businesses would be allowed to operate between the hours of 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m., for the next 14 days and this includes the port at Port Purcell to allow the receipt of shipment of cargo and other supplies.
Crucial to the rebooting of our economy are our imports and here is where the BVI Ports Authority and HM Customs play a key role.
I am advised that there are a lot of goods at the port waiting for the past 21 days to be cleared. We need to get those goods cleared and off the port so that it can be distributed and can reach the end users who are in need of it.
HM Customs will put the requisite measures and resources in place so that the process can be expedite to get these goods cleared, off the port and into the hands of the people who need it.
As Minister of Finance, I will be meeting with the Acting Director of the Ports Authority and the Acting Director of HM Customs very shortly to ensure that all the processes are in place and functional, and we will be making spot visit as well.
Let me say upfront, during this phase of the reopening strategy, the borders of the British Virgin Islands will remain closed so no one can travel into the Territory during this time.
I repeat during this phase re-opening strategy, our borders remain closed.
Private and commercial boats (except ferries and freight) are prohibited from moving within the Territory waters (except when authorised for essential supplies and by Cabinet).
When the borders do open up, for an initial period, only persons deemed to belong to the Territory and persons with resident status will be allowed entry, but with strict conditions.
At that time, such entry will only be allowed at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, subject to a pre-approval of passenger information seven (7) days in advance of travel, among other measures.
Cabinet will be meeting to discuss this and a more detailed announcement will be made shortly.
As we open up internally, I want us to start adapting to the ‘New Regular’ era.
The BVI internal economy went flat for the last month due to urgent measures that had to be implemented in order to attempt to avoid the community spreading of COVID-19 in the BVI.
It is not business as usual when we open up.
It is a ‘new regular’ where we all have to live and work with COVID-19.
In this ‘new regular’ era of reopening, businesses that would be allowed to operate must be determined from solely an economic standpoint.
As the Territory opens up, there will be other new business activities and industries that will be created when legislation and policies come into effect.
This will contribute to assuring that the ‘New Regular’ can be sustained to bring about long-term returns and benefits for the people of the BVI. And as the Territory opens more and more assessments will be done to determine the opening of many other businesses in the BVI.
Entrepreneurs will be created through these new measures, and I look forward to seeing those new innovative opportunities that would blossom.
So, what is the new regular, you ask?
This is term that came in my spirit.
For us as a people, life will no longer be the same. And, if we do not intend to follow the new rule to be a part of society, then we must please stay home.
And when we go out, we must be mindful that if we do not practice the new regular such as putting on a mask, standing 6 feet apart, we may take this virus back home to our love ones.
For the businesses, they must be inspected, approved and certified in order to open on Monday. Regulations are being worked on to be approved and implemented.
Businesses will now be obligated to keep the staff and customers safe as much as possible. Therefore, they must provide hand washing stations, hand sanitiser on the entrance, cash passing must me sanitised (sprayed with Alcohol or similar agent) to ensure the health and safety of all.
Business will not be the same unless we get a vaccine or cure.
Simply put, this is the new regular.
So, over the next 14 days only business activities that support the internal rebooting of our Territory’s economy will be allowed to operate.
It is very important that everyone understands that your Government is not doing these things to make business activity difficult.
We are doing these things to make it possible for necessary businesses to be able to operate in the new regular.
Without these precautions, if we try to do things the old way, the risks will be very high. These measures will allow us to manage the risks and allow persons to get their business done in the new regular.
Within the upcoming 14-day period, the Financial Secretary will be assigned the task to assess the performance of the economy in order to determine the progress and health of the internal economy while it is being rebooted.
Rebuilding an economy during a pandemic can be a major economic challenge.
Noting that the British Virgin Islands’ economy went completely flat after almost a month of shut down, with the exception of importation of cargo and business activities generated from essential workers, there was no contribution to the National Flow of Income.
All activities relating to the next 14 days must pledge to support and build the internal economy.
To ensure that this is accomplished, proper measures measuring the economic reboot and rebooting of our economy those proper measures will ensure the forecast of our progress is most important.
The National Flow of income must be given the opportunity to grow or we can have a collapsed economy, which means not enough internal activity to support growth. Therefore, creating a strong business environment is most important at this time, in this new regular.
It is no doubt that the economy is at a fragile state. And, with the uncertainty of the virus, as the possibility of having asymptomatic persons on island, which can cause a tail spin, we have to be very careful, very careful, very careful over the next 14 days as we reopen internal business economy.
As our economy reboots internally, business activity will reopen to suit.
Once we stay the course and work together, things will get better, sooner rather than later.
I, therefore, wish to inform you that Cabinet approved the reopening of the following businesses:
iii. Fishers and Farmers;
vi. Fuel Stations;
vii. Ferries (inter-island transportation only and let me repeat ferries but inter-island transport only;
viii. Buses and Taxis (limited passengers adhering to the social distancing measures in the buses and the taxis);
ix. Construction companies, building and concrete supplies businesses;
xi. Home delivery services;
xii. Insurance, Legal and Financial Services that cannot be carried out remotely;
xiii. Office supplies;
xiv. Automotive parts and repairs;
xv. Manufacturers of hand sanitisers and PPEs;
xvi. Water and ice production and deliveries; and
xvii. Emergency household and business repairs as approved.
Cabinet has instructed the Attorney General’s Chambers to draft an Order to allow limited staff from businesses granted permission to open on Monday April 27 to access their businesses from Friday, April 24 for the purposes of sanitisation, safe distance and hygiene modifications, and to facilitate inspections from the Safe Social Distancing Task Force.
The Deputy Governor’s Office has been working with the Ministry of Health and Social Development to assign Public Officers to a Social Distancing Monitoring Task Force.
This Task Force is important because the new regular will require both the operations of Government and the approved businesses that will come on stream later to be ready in this new business environment.
I thank the team for moving swiftly into action as just yesterday morning, public officers who are now assigned as compliance officers were trained in social distancing.
This is good because the new Social Distancing Task Force has a lot of work to do before Monday when Government and approved businesses are to be opened.
While we are ramping up testing, coupled with all the other measures such as a Social Distancing Task Force, this task force will help us in the short and long term to get as best a handle as possible on COVID-19 in the BVI.
In the first instance public health will drive the process in which the task force will assist to ensure the following:
- Each business approved by Cabinet to open on Monday must be contacted and inspected prior. This is the "new regular".
- Each business to be open on Monday must have clear demarcation of the 6ft inside and outside the compound. This is the "new regular".
- Each business must have at a minimum either two sanitisation stations or two wash basins where ALL customers must use upon entering and exiting. This is the "new regular".
- It is the responsibility of each business to adapt to the new regular and put your monitoring mechanisms to ensure social distancing.
- There must be sanitisation and proper handling of money.
- Each business will ensure that the appropriate masks are worn by employers and employees to ensure the safety of all. This is the "new regular".
- Each business must understand that if we do not adhere to the measures set, it could result in the requisite authorities closing the business. We are not playing around with COVID-19 for COVID-19 is not playing around with us.
All these measures must be done and approved by public health in conjunction with the Social Distancing Task Force, by and before Monday.
Let me also say here that it is important to note that in the case of public transportation such as ferries, taxis and buses, passenger seating must be staggered to facilitate social distancing. For instance, in case of the taxis, passengers should be in alternate seats - one per row - and at extreme opposite sides of the vehicle.
With respect to the wearing of masks in private vehicles, you need not have the mask on your face if you are alone in your vehicle.
However, if there are more than one person in the vehicle, then masks must be worn by all occupants. And, of course, masks must be worn when exiting the vehicle.
These measures are so important to Cabinet to ensure all of our safety that Cabinet has requested from the Health Emergency Operations Centre an update on Sunday, April 26 of the businesses inspected and issued letters prior to opening on Monday, April 27, 2020.
People of the Virgin Islands we are taking your safety seriously, while rebooting our economy starting internally, in this phased manner
Persons must be clear that it is not business as usual, but rather this is the new regular.
Many other important decisions were made by Cabinet that will benefit the rebooting of our economy as well as ensuring our safety in this COVID-19 era.
We decided that the Premier’s Office and Deputy Governor’s Office, in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Department of Labour, Department of Immigration and Physical Planning (Town and Country Planning) Department to provide joint advice on any necessary changes to business and trade licences, liquor licences and work permits to incorporate safety social distancing and hygiene protocols.
We decided that the service of free water delivery continues for all customers of the Water and Sewerage Department until June 1, 2020. We know that this is a necessity for the people.
Your Government is committed to transparency and accountability.
We believe that we must police ourselves.
That is why Cabinet Ministers led the discussions to ensure that Cabinet decided that the Minister of Finance instructs the Internal Audit Department to conduct a review of the Territorial Provisioning Logistical Plan.
The terms of the audit will be set by the Minister of Finance and the Financial Secretary and will be approved by the Cabinet. Once the Audit is completed independent of the Minister of Finance, it will be ratified by the Auditor General and laid in the House and examined by the Public Accounts Committee.
Remember earlier I said that we were not out of the woods.
At this time, I wish to inform you that Cabinet decided that all schools would remain closed to students, but teachers, in a limited capacity, can access schools for the purposes of providing on-line instructions. The Minister of Education will continue to give update in this vein.
Remember, we are not out of the woods, Cabinet decided to amend the Quarantine Act or the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2020 to deal more effectively with cases of persons who are reasonably suspected of having the Corona virus by virtue of proximity with infected persons or an infected area or otherwise.
As I prepare to close, let me remind us that these decisions by Cabinet are important to keep us all safe and alive.
In addition to the Farming and Fishing initiative, the water delivery to residents initiative, and food supply initiative to those in need, and the new house-to-house garbage collection initiative, I know that everyone is anxious to hear about the other immediate relief and economic stimulation proposal by the Government.
Please note that Cabinet has already approved the template of the economic stimulus plan. The details in this matter will be made public very soon.
Let me say again that we in the BVI have doing quite well and we have been able to make successful strides because of the hard work, dedication, and cooperation of all of us who are part of this mission – the Governor, the Cabinet, Members of the House of Assembly, the Minister for Health, professionals in the Ministry of Health especially the Permanent Secretary Mrs, Davies, the team at the Health Emergency Operation Centre (HEOC), Joint Information Cell (JIC), our protective services, the private sector, NGOs and you the people of these beautiful Virgin Islands.
Our collective mission is to prevent the loss of lives and to keep us all safe.
Remember, we are in a pandemic, not a disaster.
Everything around us seems to be fine, lights are on, water is available, life looks and feels normal, but the problem we are having is there is an invisible enemy on the loose.
COVID-19 has no face, no smell, no touch, no sound, no taste. Your five senses cannot detect it until it attacks you, and by then it may be too late for you and your loved ones.
How do you protect yourself from it?
Well, Cabinet has decided that social gatherings are limited to a maximum of 20 persons and that the wearing of masks is strongly advised outdoors and in public spaces.
So, put on your mask.
Practice social distancing.
Business owners you must ensure that you have clear and visible physical markers of 6 feet, inside and outside, of your facilities in order to do business in a safe manner in this new regular.
People of the Virgin Islands; let us all remember to regularly wash our hands for 20 seconds with soap and water.
Also, beaches remain close.
I have said this before and I will say it again, we have a golden opportunity to contain this matter now and for the future as we live and work in the new regular with COVID-19.
I thank you the people of this Territory for your continued understanding and your adaptability to the measures that continue to be put in place to ensure all of our safety.
We are in this together, to protect each other and together we will get through this.
Let us continue to remain in Prayer, turning fear into Faith, uniting and cooperating, and being patient and dedicated to our mission.
With God’s Hand guiding us as a Territory, WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS
For where GOD IS we are, and where we are GOD IS! And, where God is, all is well.
I thank you again and May God Bless our Virgin Islands as He continues to watch over His people and as we move forward in the true spirit of BVILOVE in this new era of the new regular.