MESSAGE FROM MINISTER OF NATURAL RESOURCES, LABOUR AND IMMIGRATION
HONOURABLE VINCENT O. WHEATLEY
ON THE REOPENING OF BEACHES DURING COVID-19
AND THE BEACH USE POLICY
9 MAY, 2020
Good day everyone.
You would have heard the Premier and Minister of Finance Honourable Andrew A. Fahie announced that Cabinet decided that beaches will reopen from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. effective May 10, 2020 for the purposes of exercise and therapy.
Beaches in the Virgin Islands, as in many other parts of the world, are sites of beauty, enjoyment, therapy and recreation.
This Government understands that beaches hold a special place in the collective hearts and minds of the people in this Territory.
Historically, our green landscapes and sparkling blue seascapes have formed part of our natural, cultural, and social characteristics that makes a unique local, regional and international attraction.
Our beaches are also important to the economic well-being of the Territory. In recognising this reality and to ensure our beaches engendered a strong sense of belonging and pride, decades ago the then Legislative Council via Resolution No. 7 of 1989 established the principle that beaches hold a special place in the natural patrimony of the Virgin Islands.
This means that it our responsibility to ensure the continued traditional access and use of our beaches, as legally communicated in the resolution, which established that there should always be free access to all shores and all beaches (whether natural, manmade or on private islands) from any part of the waters to the shores and beaches; and that there should be reasonable access across lands to shores and beaches.
As we navigate this COVID-19 era, let me tell you, It was not an easy decision to close the beaches. But you see, COVID-19 doesn’t care who it affects, but your Government cares.
As a Government we know that the beaches of the Virgin Islands are areas of traditional, cultural, social, and economic and ecological importance to the Virgin Islands and to you the people.
We know that there was a time when thousands came just to enjoy our waters.
And, we know that you are eager to feel the sand once more.
Now, as we gradually open up to reboot and reawaken our economy, we have decided to open up the beaches, but we must put in place restrictions, because as Government we have a responsibility to protect you, as you enjoy your rights and freedoms.
COVID-19 has robbed us of the use of beaches for some time and as the Premier announced on May 8, we aim to reopen the beaches on Sunday, May 10.
All beaches will be opened for use from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Except for The Baths and Devil’s Bay. They will remain closed until further notice.
I repeat, all beaches will be opened for use from 6:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.
We are aware that some beaches are frequented more often than others by residents.
Therefore, the busiest beaches will be actively and closely monitored by officers.
Those beaches which will be actively monitored are:
- Long Bay, Beef Island
- White Bay, Jost Van Dyke
- Brewer’s Bay, Tortola
- Cane Garden Bay, Tortola
- Josiah’s Bay, Tortola
- Smuggler’s Cove, Tortola
- Savannah Bay, Virgin Gorda
- St. Thomas Bay, Virgin Gorda
Persons visiting any of the beaches must adhere to safe distancing protocols and mass gathering restrictions. Again, activity on the beaches will be closely monitored and the beaches may be closed should people not comply with the safe distancing protocols and mass gathering restrictions.
I cannot emphasise how important it is for everyone to pay attention to these guidelines that are put in place to keep you safe and all of us safe. We must take this invisible threat of COVID-19 seriously. We cannot be complacent in the way that we regain access to beaches.
It is important for all of us to ensure that the gains we have made to keep the spread of COVID-19 to a minimum are not lost by a lack of adherence to all of the guidelines promoted by the Ministry of Health and Social Development and the Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC).
We must adhere to physical distancing when using these spaces. Remain six feet apart.
Highly frequented beaches will be monitored by designated Public Officers and volunteers to ensure that users adhere to physical distancing.
I can’t stress enough, and I ask all beach users to comply with these measures and cooperate with any individual who will be monitoring beach use during this time.
It is imperative that we do not emulate the examples of other countries where beach reopening led to massive crowds that did not adhere to physical distancing – we cannot become complacent and lower our guard.
Again, should the public not adhere to the guidelines promoted by the HEOC for physical distancing, Government will not hesitate to close beaches in the interest of safeguarding your lives, the lives of your loved ones and all of the people of this Territory.
We have been doing quite well, holding our own, let us continue to jump the hurdles successfully until we reach the finish line and beat COVID-19.
To practice social distancing in the beach, groups of no more than 20 people will be allowed to congregate in a space to allow space for others to enjoy. You must at all times be six feet apart.
No gatherings of any kind will be allowed.
Recreational activities that are permissible during this period include:
- walking, jogging, running
- sitting in chairs
Activities where individuals may congregate, including but not limited to beach sports, recreational activities using beach equipment, closely spaced beach chairs are prohibited during this period.
Until further notice, no animals are allowed on the beach or in the water, and you may not walk them on beaches.
All licenced vending on beaches can resume operation once approved and certified by the Environmental Health Division and the Social Distancing Task Force. These establishments must meet all requirements related to COVID-19.
You should all ensure sanitisation, safe distance and hygiene modifications of your establishments to facilitate inspections and certification from the Social Distancing Task Force.
Let me make this clear, if you are not inspected, approved and certified you cannot open. You cannot operate.
In the short term during this period of COVID-19, our aim is to ensure that beach goers can enjoy these precious assets in a safe way while ensuring that we promote physical activity and derive benefit from the therapeutic aspects which may be gained from frequenting these spaces.
In the long-term, the policy’s full implementation will lead to the protection of beach ecosystems.
In time, our visitors will experience well managed beaches which are a pleasure to visit and Government will provide effective mechanisms to maintain the Territory’s natural assets which support the tourism sector while conserving ecosystems responsible for ecological integrity for residents of the Virgin Islands. It will represent a means of delivering on safe, clean, and beautiful beaches for generations to come.
May God bless all of us and these beautiful Virgin Islands.