Statement by His Excellency the Governor Augustus J.U. Jaspert
On the Further Relaxing of COVID-19 Measures
8th May, 2020
Good afternoon all,
Before I start, I just wanted to briefly pause and recognise that today is 75 years from what is referred to as VE day – Victory in Europe. This day marks the unconditional surrender by Nazi Germany in WWII bringing the end of the war in Europe. These events happened a long time ago, and many miles away. But it is important that we pause to remember and give thanks to the sacrifices of so many that allow us to have the freedoms and the liberty that we take for granted today.
It has been almost a week since I stood before you, with the Premier and Minister for Health, to announce the first phase our Government’s plans for the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions.
A lot has changed in that time.
Across the Territory, essential businesses have re-opened and quickly come into compliance with the new social distancing and hygiene measures. Individuals have returned to work to help run those essential businesses and serve the Territory. Fisherman have returned to the waters to provide essential food for us all. And some teachers have returned to the classroom to prepare online tuition for the children of this Territory. To all those individuals, to all the businesses, to all public servants, police officers and those in statutory agencies and everyone playing their role in getting this Territory back up and running in a way that is safe, I would like to say thank you.
The Public Service have continued to deliver their commendable work. Many public offices have re-opened this week, albeit under different circumstances in order to adhere to social distancing measures. All key public services are now back up and running and a total of 45 public offices are now open. Furthermore, the newly created social distancing monitoring taskforce, which inspects BVI businesses to ensure they are complying with new measures in place, has been doing exceptional work. As of yesterday, 713 businesses have now been inspected and 647 have been officially approved to operate. I am grateful to all the businesses that are making rapid adjustments as we adapt to live with the threat of coronavirus. Public officers from across the public service have been allocated to support these inspections with 68 inspectors, including across our Sister Islands. Thank you to all public servants for their hard work.
Our volunteers and our community spirit continue to fill me with great pride in this Territory. We owe a lot to these individuals. They have delivered food, they have transported essential supplies and they have looked out for our most vulnerable neighbours. Their work epitomizes the true character of the people of this Territory – generosity, kindness and community spirit. My heart felt thank you to each and every one of you.
As you would expect, Cabinet continue to meet regularly to review the latest situation and hear from our medical experts. The Minister of Health will set out the latest update on the results of testing.
We must not become complacent or think that any relaxation of measures or opening of further parts of our Territory and businesses means that the threat of the virus has gone away. It has not. We can take a risk-based approach to the next phase of re-opening if we all act together to manage these risks – as businesses have been doing adapting with the new social distancing guidelines and as we all have been doing by staying at home as much as possible and practicing safe distancing. With the confidence that the people of this Territory are taking the right steps to keep us all safe, we as a Government can take the next steps in our phased re-opening internally, whilst the borders remain closed. Cabinet will be discussing the arrangements for the borders next week and we will update on next steps as soon as possible.
Full details will be set out on social media channels, but I would like to highlight the key points from Cabinet’s decisions:
Cabinet has agreed that from Sunday 10th May at 6am a new curfew Order, which I will sign, will come in to effect.
This will impose a night-time curfew only – between the hours of 7pm and 6am every day for the next two weeks. Between those hours you must stay at home.
Businesses will be able to open, once they receive approval from the social distancing monitoring task force between the hours of 6am and 7pm (ensuring they leave time for staff to get home before the curfew starts).
Rather than a specific list of businesses, the new order will allow all businesses that pass an inspection by the social distancing monitoring task force to open. There are just a few business categories that this does not apply to at the moment. We know this will be difficult for those businesses not yet allowed, but this is because specific protocols need to be developed for these businesses to operate safely as they are ones where there is a higher potential risk of crowding or gatherings and more person to person contact. These are being developed at the moment and these businesses will be allowed once safe protocols are in place. The businesses not yet allowed are:
- Hotels, villas or other accommodation facilities
- Public swimming pools
- Bars, nightclubs and other entertainment facilities.
The social distancing monitoring task force is working and consulting on protocols and we will provide updates as soon as possible.
Cabinet has also decided to re-open all beaches. These will only be open from 6am to 1pm from Sunday. The beaches are open for exercise and therapy purposes. They are not open for large gatherings or events. People must adhere to safe distancing protocols and mass gathering restrictions. The beaches will be monitored and may be closed if people do not apply safe approaches.
The waters of the Territory remain closed for the movement of boats unless where authorised. This is to enable our police and customs marine teams to ensure that the marine border is kept secure.We are discussing with the United Kingdom what support can be offered to assist with keeping our border secure. The confidence in having a secure border gives us confidence in our phased internal reopening.
Amidst all these changes, it would be easy to think that we’re out of the woods, that COVID-19 is no longer a concern to this Territory.
I would like to make very clear that this is not the case.
COVID-19 remains a very real threat and each and every one of us needs to remain vigilant. This new approach and further relaxation of restrictions very much so depends on individuals taking responsibility.
Our Government is placing huge trust in all of us to comply with the measures in place. Our ability to fight COVID-19 in this Territory lies in our hands. All of our hands. It is by all taking responsibility and all individually staying safe, that we can collectively stay safe.
So please, play your part. Only go out when it is absolutely necessary to do so. When you do go out, it should only be within curfew hours and you should wear a face mask and social distance. This virus is invisible and there is no way of knowing whether the person next to you has it so we must take these precautions.
The passing of another week also brings us closer to Atlantic Hurricane season. I would like to take this opportunity to remind you to start preparing now. I know you will be very familiar with the steps you need to take and will likely have plans in place, but this year will be different. We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by COVID-19 and should review our existing plans to ensure COVID-19 measures are factored in. Please be assured that your Government has already been doing a lot of work on this. I will speak more about this at a later date.
As always, the UK continues to stand by the people of BVI. This week, the UK launched a 24/7 support centre for medical professionals in BVI and other Overseas Territories to connect with. Early next week, a very large shipment of medical supplies from the UK will arrive in Territory. The shipment will include test kits, which will bring the UK’s contribution of test kits up to 4,800. With the help of this support, BVI is able to implement a broad testing and tracing programme to tackle COVID-19. The UK is also helping us prepare for hurricane season, with RFA Argus in the region. I am sure many of you saw the helicopters flying over the other week to identify possible landing sites that could be used to deliver relief during the upcoming hurricane season should we need it.
I started my address by thanking all the individuals who have returned to work this week and who are helping the Territory get back on its feet. I would like to close by thanking the people who have stayed at home. By staying at home, you are playing a crucial part in defeating the virus. I recognise that this comes at great personal sacrifice and it has not been easy. But staying at home and safe distancing when out is the most valuable thing you can do to keep our BVI safe.
So please - stay at home, stay safe and protect this Territory.
Thank you and may God bless these beautiful British Virgin Islands