Statement by Minister for Health and Social Development
Honourable Carvin Malone
COVID-19 Situation and Response
17th December 2020
I extend Seasons Greetings to everyone in the Virgin Islands; throughout the region and the World. I am pleased to bring you the status report on the COVID-19 situation and response in the British Virgin Islands and the decisions of Cabinet following this week’s meeting.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge 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 one of you a debt of gratitude.
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 indeed United Kingdom and other parts of the World.
The decisions made have all focused on saving lives and livelihoods.
The decisions made have all been in the best interest of our Territory.
The investments made have all been made to bring us to a state of readiness for the almost inevitable.
Though our decisions although our decisions may not have been popular at times, they were made with your safety at the forefront.
It is clear that we are NOT out of the woods!
The region and the world continue to be challenged with the second and third waves of the COVID-19 virus.
Every day, there are persons entering the Territory whose status is questionable until they complete all the necessary entry protocols. We have no choice! Every single person no matter their status must comply.
Now, I would like to begin by providing what would include the case numbers and their distribution.
As of today, 17th of December, 2020, the epidemiological summary indicates that the BVI now has a total of 11 active COVID-19 cases in the Territory.
A total of 10,483 samples have been collected from 10,469 persons and tested at the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital Laboratory.
This report confirms that a total to 86 persons have tested positive for COVID-19; 74 recoveries; 11 active and 1 death.
The 11 active cases of COVID-19 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, two (2) are returning residents and nine (9) 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.
In our efforts to ensure everyone’s safety and to continue to address any deficiencies in our protocols, Cabinet met on Wednesday the 16th of December. Decisions were made in our attempt to address the uncooperative behavior of persons in quarantine and intent on breaking the laws and protocols of the BVI.
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)
As it relates to the COVID-19 Control and Suppression (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act, 2020 (No.5 of 2020), 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.
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 utilised 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.
Recognising 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 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.
In addition to the amendments discussed above, as a Government we recognise that our geographical location makes our borders porous. In an attempt to curtail this reoccurring issue, Cabinet has decided to:
- Increase the fine stipulated in Section 20(3) and 20(5)(a) of the Immigration and Passport Act for any person landing or embarking in the Territory, and any person being the master or captain of a vessel from which a person lands or embarks in the Territory and is in contravention of Section 20, from one thousand dollars and twelve (12) months imprisonment, to one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000.00) and ten (10) years imprisonment;
Cabinet has also approved an increase of the fine stipulated in Section 47(2) of the Immigration and Passport Act from three thousand ($3,000) dollars and two (2) years imprisonment, to one hundred thousand dollars ($100,000) and ten (10) years imprisonment, for a person assisting with or making arrangements for a person to enter the Territory illegally, and for a person knowingly harboring an illegal person for a period of more than two (2) days.
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 will not take the matter of illegal entry in to this Territory lightly we have you our people to protect.
Our public health measures work. Our entry protocols work. And now us 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 one another because we have seen and experienced what any type of lapse in procedures and protocols can do.
High spikes in active cases, immense pressure on our healthcare and public health systems, strict curfew orders, closures of programmes and schools and limited gatherings. 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.
A topical issue in the community presently is the matter of COVID-19 Vaccine. This evening I wish to inform you the public that the Ministry of Health of the Government of the British Virgin Islands has signed on to the WHO GAVI Covax initiative which gives eligible countries access to COVID-19 vaccines. Additionally, the Government of the UK has expressed its commitment to provide the BVI with access to COVID-19 vaccines. Tentatively the Ministry expects to receive vaccines in late January to early February 2021 with further confirmation to be available within the next two weeks.
Given the lack of access to the BVI by direct flights and consequent transit times together with the specific cold chain requirements, efforts will focus on the Astrazenca vaccine which is compatible with our current cold chain and logistics for management of vaccines through the Territory’s expanded programme of immunization.
Given this information the Ministry of Health and its stakeholders will immediately begin the mammoth task of planning for introduction of this vaccine in the Territory. This will include the involvement of multiple stakeholders from the public, private, and non-government sectors coupled with a significant health promotion effort. We are well aware that many misconceptions, myths and untruths have surrounded COVID-19 vaccination all of which will need to be addressed in our programming and planning for introduction of the vaccine.
The public can rest assured that the vaccine will be offered on a voluntary basis with best efforts to provide adequate information for persons seeking vaccination. As we advance our plans more information will be forthcoming to the public with regards to COVID-19 vaccination.
So as I close, let me emphasise that our response highly depends on us all doing our part. And I am imploring everyone to call our Royal Virgin Islands Police by dialing 311 to report any suspicious activity of a breach or lapse in the public health measures or entry protocols.
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 take this time to welcome a team of experts from Public Health England (PHE) who are here to provide technical support and advice on key health initiatives. They would be joined in a press briefing on Friday before their departure on Saturday.
I want to also remind you to contact the 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.
Please remember to take COVID-19 seriously. Wash your hands, sanitize, wear your mask, and keep your distance.
For more information on the Territory’s COVID-19 response please visit the website www.bvi.gov.vg/Covid-19. Thank you for your attention and your full cooperation.
Season’s Greetings and May GOD continue to bless these beautiful Virgin Islands. Thank you.