STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
DURING THE FIFTH SITTING OF THE THIRD SESSION OF THE FOURTH
HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
ON THURSDAY 31ST DECEMBER, 2020
AT THE SAVE
ROAD TOWN, TORTOLA
COVID-19 SITUATION AND RESPONSE
Mister Speaker, let me first extend New Year Greetings to everyone in these beautiful Virgin Islands; throughout the region and via all the usual communication mediums, who have had to endure the sound of my voice giving updates on what I think is the most critical topic in this Territory’s history, over the past 10 months – that of COVID-19.
Mister Speaker, it has been a trying year! One that has tested our resolve, tested our fortitude, tested our patience and tested our resilience as a people and Territory! But, we have made it Mister Speaker!
After 32 Situation Reports presented to Cabinet;
41 Curfew Orders passed; and
9 Public Health Control and Suppression Measures Orders passed and assented to by this Honorable House.
Mister Speaker, we have made it to the final of the 365 days in 2020! To God be
all the Glory, Mister Speaker!
I am pleased to bring to this Honorable House, the status report on the COVID-19 situation and response in the British Virgin Islands and the decisions made by Cabinet following this week’s meeting.
As is my customary practice, Mister Speaker, let me begin by acknowledging the hard working public officers; healthcare and public health workers; and our private partners and civic groups who, in their efforts to keep us all safe, continue to work tirelessly and sacrifice immensely even during this holiday season; we owe each of you a debt of gratitude.
Mister Speaker, since the declaration of COVID-19 as a GLOBAL PANDEMIC, your government, in addition to activating the Health Emergency Operations Council, is being advised by local, regional and international agencies and professionals in the Virgin Islands; the Region; the UK and other parts of the World.
Mister Speaker, the decisions made have all focused on saving lives and livelihoods.
The decisions made have all been in the best interest of our Territory.
Mister Speaker, the investments we’ve made have all been done to bring us to a state of readiness for the almost inevitable.
Mister Speaker, although our decisions may not have been popular at times, they were made with the safety of this entire population at the forefront.
My mantra Mister Speaker in the last 10 months has been and still is clear; we are NOT out of the woods yet!
The Region and the World continue to be challenged with the second and third waves of the COVID-19 virus. In addition Mister Speaker, we now have to contend with a new variant of the virus, first reported by authorities from the United Kingdom on December 14, 2020.
Every day, there are persons entering the Territory whose status is questionable until they complete all the necessary entry protocols. Mister Speaker, we have no choice! Every single person no matter their status must comply.
Mister Speaker, as of today, 31st of December, 2020, the epidemiological summary indicates that the BVI now has a total of 12 active COVID-19 cases in the Territory.
A total of 13,223 test samples Mister Speaker, have been collected from 13,209 persons and tested at the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital Laboratory.
Mister Speaker, today’s report confirms that a total to 97 persons have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past ten months in these Virgin Islands; with 84 recoveries, 1 death and 12 persons remaining active, as I mentioned previously.
The 12 active cases of COVID-19 Mister Speaker, have been discovered by persons who recently travelled into the Territory and completed testing on entry (day 0) or on day 4. Of the active cases, one (1) is a returning resident and eleven (11) are tourists or non-residents. All persons were deemed non symptomatic and are safe and secured in quarantine until they have completed the re-tested protocol yielding negative results to be considered recovered.
Mister Speaker, in our efforts to ensure everyone’s safety and to continue to address any gaps in our protocols, in recent weeks including yesterday Cabinet meeting and made a number of key decisions in our attempt to address the uncooperative behavior of persons in quarantine and intent on breaking the laws and protocols of the BVI, as well as to ensure we remain proactive in our attempts to address the ever changing dynamics of this COVID-19 pandemic. Mister Speaker,
Cabinet decided to:
Increase the level of fines under the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Entry of Persons) Regulations, 2020 as follows:
- Persons who deliberately tamper and damage the geo-fencing device face a fine of $2000.00 (up from $125.00)
- Persons who engage in unauthorized visits with a person in quarantine face a fine of $5000.00; (up from $500.00)
- Any person who contravenes the protocols or guidelines as set out in the Regulations face a fine of $10,000.00 (up from $1000.00)
Cabinet has also decided to:
- Impose a fine of $500 for not returning a wearable device or device designed to enforce quarantine provisions and issued under a quarantine order of the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Entry of Persons) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020;
- Impose a fine of up to $5,000 for the provision of false information in an application for entry into the Territory under the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Entry of Persons) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020 or to a designated Public Health or Quarantine Officer enforcing a Quarantine order under these Regulations;
In an effort to support our enforcement mechanisms Mister Speaker, Cabinet has also decided that:
- Public Health Officers under the Ministry of Health and Social Development be designated to issue fixed penalty tickets under the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Entry of Persons) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020;
- Officers of the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force be given powers of arrest under the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Entry of Persons) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020;
As it relates to the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2020 (No.5 of 2020), Mister Speaker, Cabinet decided to:
- Amend Section 2 (4) to increase the penalty from a fine not exceeding $5000.00 to $10,000.00 for failing to comply with a quarantine order.
These critical pieces of Legislation Mister Speaker, are on the agenda for today’s meeting. So I will be expounding a bit more on these later on in today’s proceedings.
Mister Speaker, in an effort to improve the ‘Government’s Approved Transportation’ (GAT) capacity to accommodate our visitors at the various ports of entry, as well support the transportation needs of guests during their day 4 testing, Cabinet decided to:
- Allow hotels, resorts and charter companies with approved Gold Sealed transportation services to be utilized under the direct authority of the Director of the Taxi and Livery Commission. This is intended to reduce the present demands on the ‘Government Approved Transportation’ services.
Mister Speaker, recognizing that a number of persons continue to be challenged with obtaining COVID-19 rt-PCR results for entry within the stipulated time due to the high demand in various countries, Cabinet decided to allow for the processing of waivers of the pre-arrival test in exceptional and verifiable circumstances to BELONGERS and RESIDENTS ONLY.
Such request, Mister Speaker, will be considered and approved by the Minister for Health and Social Development in consultation with the Chief Medical Officer. Under these exceptional circumstances, such persons will be required to remain in quarantine for an extended period of seven to 14 days with an additional rt-PCR test administered at the end of the on-island quarantine. A negative test result must attain before release.
Mister Speaker, the notion of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus has added an additional layer of concern to our response. This new variant referred to as SARS-CoV-2 variant under investigation, has been associated with more infections, and has now been detected in several countries including Canada, Sweden, Spain, France, Denmark, Netherlands, and Germany. A second variant originating in South Africa, which appears to cause more severe disease in younger persons, has also been identified in the UK. There is no evidence at present Mister Speaker, that either of these variants of the COVID-19 virus affects antibody response, vaccine efficacy, or current rt-PCR testing technology. However, Mister Speaker, we always want to ere on the side of caution. As a small Territory with a population of less than 40,000 persons we can take nothing for granted.
It is on this premise, Cabinet has:
- decided in light of the new strain of COVID-19 prevalent in the United Kingdom (UK), to implement a travel ban effective 11th January,2020 of persons travelling from the UK to the British Virgin Islands except for Nationals, Belongers, Residents, work permit holders, persons permitted to reside in the Territory, diplomats and persons employed by Government and Statutory agencies;
- decided to implement a 14 days quarantine for all persons allowed to travel to the BVI under the provisions mentioned above, provided that they undergo a rt-PCR testing regimen on days 0, 7 and 14;
- decided to use twenty (20) positive cases as a trigger to inform a decision by Cabinet regarding travel restrictions to the Territory except for Nationals, Belongers, Residents, work permit holders, persons permitted to reside in the Territory, diplomats and persons employed by Government and Statutory agencies;
- instruct that the Attorney General’s Chambers amend Section 10 of the Public Health (COVID-19 Control and Suppression Measures) (No. 9) Order, 2020 by extending the Order to 15th January, 2021.
Mister Speaker, I have said this before on many occasions that we do not and will not take these protocols lightly because it has been proven to work. We must be ready to make the hard decisions and implement what is necessary to keep this Territory and the people that live here safe.
Mister Speaker, our public health measures work. Our entry protocols work. And now we as a people need to continue to do the work that makes this a success.
We all have to comply and we all have to keep our guards up, for ourselves and for each other. Mister Speaker, we have seen and experienced what any type of lapse in procedures and protocols can lead to. And we know firsthand we do not want to go back there!
High spikes in active cases, immense pressure on our healthcare and public health systems, strict curfew orders, closures of programs and schools and limited gatherings. Mister Speaker, these are all repercussions of what happens when there is a lapse or when there is non-compliance. We must hold each other accountable and when we see something, say something so that we can continue to function in this New Regular living and working with COVID-19.
Mister Speaker, an extensive communication campaign will ensue in the coming days around the decisions taken and the Legislations which will be passed in this Honourable House today. It must be done Mister Speaker! At the end of the day, persons will be culpable for their deviance in the interest of all of the citizens and residents of this Territory.
So as I close, Mister Speaker, let me emphasize that our response highly depends on us all doing our part. And I am imploring everyone to call our Royal Virgin Islands Police Force by dialing 311 to report any suspicious activity of a breach or lapse in the public health measures or entry protocols.
Mister Speaker, tis the season for good will, and there can be no better gift now than all of us remaining compliant until we are out of harm’s way.
I want to also remind persons to contact the COVID (Medical) Hotline at 852-7650 to be assessed by a health professional if you experience any symptoms related to COVID-19. Common symptoms include – fever, cough, headache, fatigue, loss of taste or smell, sore throat, muscle aches, or difficulty breathing.
Mister Speaker, I want to admonish everyone to please remember to take COVID-19 seriously! Wash your hands, sanitize, wear your mask, and keep your distance.
Thank you for your attention and your full cooperation.
Again, a blessed and prosperous 2021 and May GOD continue to bless these beautiful Virgin Islands. Thank you Mister Speaker.