Good evening all.
Yesterday, you heard that in Cabinet we took further measures to secure our borders, safeguard our children and elderly, and some of the other ways the Virgin Islands Government is aggressively working to prevent the Coronavirus COVID-19 from reaching the Territory. This morning, the United Kingdom Minister for the Overseas Territories, Baroness Sugg made clear that although the United Kingdom Government faces its own challenges stemming from the Coronavirus, they are also in the process of procuring medical equipment and other support for the British Virgin Islands and other OTs as they respond to COVID-19 in the short and long-term.
Today, our discussions turned toward the Public Service Continuity of Operations Policy. Given the circumstances that we could potentially be faced with, it is critical that we ensure the day-to-day operations of Government can carry on without interruption while still protecting our public officers and those we serve. Our priorities are to ensure:
- that we maintain critical government operations to the public
- reduce the risks of transmission among staff
- protect public officers who are at higher risk for adverse health complications
- and that we minimize adverse effects on wider services as we work through this period.
This means that as public service leaders, we are doing our utmost to ensure that our essential services deemed most critical for the continuation of government and the Territory are sustained throughout, or resumed rapidly after a disruption of normal activities.
Through our continuity of operations plans, we will continue to assess our level of preparedness as a Government and a Territory. This will see our plans for procedures and schedules to adjust activities, personnel, and new processes being established to curtail the risk of or any potential spread of the Coronavirus.
At the present time, offices will remain open and plans will ensure the continuity of operations. Measures will include remote working and flexible work arrangements. Measures will be put in place to protect both the public and staff to minimize risks. This includes halting public ceremonies and limiting numbers for face to face meetings and using remote technology instead. Public officers in high risk groups or with medical conditions will be protected by working remotely. Special pandemic leave provisions will be put in place and considered in a compassionate manner to allow for quarantine and to recognise the extra challenges for public officers who care for children during the mandatory closure of schools. Foreign travel restrictions are already in place for public officers.
The Deputy Governor also issued a Circular with the necessary details to guide the continued functioning of the Public Service. The Office of the Deputy Governor will be available to respond to questions and concerns raised by public officers during this time. Representatives from statutory organisations will be encouraged to follow similar procedures after consultation with your line ministries.
It is important to note that the Employee Assistance Programme is now offering tele-counseling services to remain accessible to all public officers during this stressful time. They can be contacted at 468-9889 and I encourage all who wish to utilise this programme take full advantage of it, as it was created to look after the well-being of the officers who look after the entire Territory. We know that this is a stressful time and these are important services that are needed.
As Governor, it remains my priority to ensure the health and safety of all persons who call the British Virgin Islands their home and to support all those who serve the public. I will continue to work with the Premier and Cabinet in this regard.
I would like to thank the Cabinet for ensuring that we support our public officers, who are a source of strength and continue to work diligently to execute the mandate of the Government. As the men and women responsible for leadership of this Territory, we remain committed to our efforts to work to Detect, Contain, Mitigate and Manage the COVID-19 outbreak.
Finally, I would like to thank all public officers and those in statutory agencies for all that they are doing and will do to protect and support our Territory as we deal with the challenges of the Coronavirus. Our public and statutory agency officers are often on the front-line of our efforts to protect us. I salute them and thank them for all they are doing.
As we go forward, the ways of working may be different, but I know that our public service can and will rise to the challenge. Our public officers demonstrate daily their commitment and dedication and the public service values that drive positive outcomes for the public. During this next period, the public service will be tested, but I know that these values will not be dented and that our public service can and will continue to ensure they deliver for the public.
Thank you all and may God continue to bless and protect us as during this time.