Statement By Honourable Carvin Malone-COVID-19 UPDATE – JUNE 10, 2021

TATEMENT BY HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

COVID-19 UPDATE AND ADJUSTING COVID-19 PUBLIC HEALTH MEASURES TO SUPPORT CONTINUED SAFE REOPENING

JUNE 10TH 2021

I extend greetings to everyone in the Virgin Islands and to those joining us by radio and other social media platforms.

As Minister for Health and Social Development I pledged to continually keep you abreast of new developments as we continue to live and thrive in this COVID-19 era.  Yes!  I said thrive!  We certainly recognise that COVID-19 does not appear to be going anywhere!  So the reality is we have to live; we have to work; we have to exist and now we must continue to thrive in spite of this dreadful virus.  

As of today, 10th June, 2021 a total of 52,480 tests were conducted on individuals swabbed throughout the Territory and assessed at the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital.  The Virgin Islands has recorded a total of 295 cases, with 291 recoveries and 1 death.  There are presently 3 active positive cases in the Territory — one of which was captured on their day 7 screening and the other 2 are contacts of this case.  All remaining positive cases are presently located on the island of Tortola.  The Public Health Unit Team continues to monitor all positive cases closely and these persons will remain in mandatory quarantine until they are deemed fully recovered. 

I continue to say, and I must say here again, “We are not out of the woods yet!”  When we listen or read the news accounts of what is happening in our sister nations like Trinidad and Tobago and even Jamaica, we see firsthand that the COVID-19 pandemic is still REAL in several parts of the world, including our own Caribbean region.  This pandemic continues to accelerate causing rising death tolls as health systems and economies near and far continue to buckle under the strain of this deadly disease.  While we remain grateful for the way God has been gracious to this Territory in allowing us to still be speared the ravages of COVID-19, we must also remain vigilant and mindful that it only takes one unknown carrier to impact from 10 to more than 70 individuals over a short time span.  Our own experiences over the last year has shown where one carrier was linked to some 36 cases soon after.  Let us take nothing and no one for granted!  Remember COVID-19 has no name tag! 

As we continue our phased reopening of the BVI to international travelers, we must remain fully aware of the realities around us.  We cannot be paralysed with fear – but at the same time we have to take stock of the real possibilities that can happen when COVID-19 is able to get past the stop gaps put in place for the safety of ourselves, our families and our Territory that we love so dear.  Our preventative measures such as washing of hands, wearing of mask and staying an appropriate distance away from persons cannot be forgotten or placed on the back burner.  We MUST observe all safety PROTOCOLS if we are to remain safe from the ravages of this virus!

Let me now pivot to the statistics related to the vaccine rollout.

In previous reports, I informed of the 34,000 doses of vaccines which were donated to the British Virgin Islands by the United Kingdom Government.  We had anticipated that 17,000 persons would be able to have free access to two doses of vaccines per person. 

To date, 12,245 persons have received their first doses, while 7,289 have received their second doses.   An analysis of these totals shows that:

  • On Tortola, 10,217 first doses and 6,217 second doses have been administered to date;
  • On Virgin Gorda 1,815 first doses and 974 second doses were administered;
  • On Jost Van Dyke 98 first doses and 50 second doses were administered; and
  • On Anegada 115 first doses and 48 second doses were administered to date.

I was hoping by now that our first dose numbers would be significantly higher; at least in the 15,000 persons range (a mere 2000 persons away from our 17,000 goal).  But we are not there yet!  There is still some ways to go, but the reality is time is not on our side!  The current stocks of vaccines we have available in the Territory are set to expire by July 31, 2021.  That means in order for us to effectively use the vaccines in stock, persons still expected to receive their first dose can do so no later than July 3, 2021.  This would give a 4 week time frame between the first and second dose. 

Again, I must appeal to all residents and stakeholders in this Territory, who are eagerly anticipating a measured yet unrestricted reopening of all our borders; we MUST take this vaccine roll out seriously!  Despite the growing voices of dissent to the vaccine – not only in the BVI, but throughout the Region and the World, the vaccine is literally the only viable assurance of returning to some level of normalcy.  If we as a Territory can achieve the herd immunity we hear so much about, we must have a greater uptake in the vaccine.  And the fact is, what we have available will soon expire!  Your Government has done all that we can to prepare and prevent this disease from impacting us all.  We must each now take personal responsibility for the lives and livelihoods of ourselves, our family members and for us as an entire Territory.

We are pleased to welcome professor Ian Cumming of Public Health England to the Territory as he conduct an assessment of our COVID-19 measures and offer recommendation not only for laboratory improvements but also of his experience as he travels throughout the British Overseas Territories.   

The Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) and the Public Health teams continue to monitor the COVID situation as it unfolds and proposes strategies to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our Territory.  At a Cabinet Meeting held yesterday Wednesday the 9th of May, the HEOC team proposed additional adjustments to our COVID-19 public health measures to support the continued safe reopening of the Territory. Several changes were suggested and approved by Cabinet allowing additional amendments to entry requirements, particularly for vaccinated travellers.

I am pleased to provide this update on the subsequent changes which are expected to take effect by June 15th 2021.  

  • Cabinet has decided that fully vaccinated persons travelling from overseas would be required to provide an RT-PCR test or an approved rapid antigen test within five (5) days of arrival and provide satisfactory evidence of being fully vaccinated. 
  • Cabinet further decided that fully vaccinated travellers would no longer be subject to PCR testing on arrival (day zero) and resultantly NO quarantine time would be required save for that ordered by a Quarantine Officer as a result of their entry screening.
  • In addition, effective June 15, 2021, Cabinet decided that partially vaccinated persons travelling from overseas would require a PCR test within (5) days of travel; provide satisfactory evidence of being partially vaccinated, and will be subject to a PCR test or rapid antigen test upon arrival in the Territory (day zero) and quarantined for a period of four (4) days.
  • In light of these decisions, Cabinet further decided that the Gateway administrative fee be reduced from $105.00 to no more than thirty-five dollars ($35) for fully vaccinated travellers.
  • For flight and vessel crews who are fully vaccinated, Cabinet decided that these persons would no longer be required to conduct bi-weekly screening and testing, but should self-monitor and report any symptoms of or recent exposure to COVID-19.

For the record, I think it is important to emphasis that these decisions will take effect from June 15, 2021.  All things being equal, we anticipate that the revision of the entry portal to effect these changes will be a work in progress.  We therefore ask travellers to be patient with us as we anticipate there will be processing issues in light of these amendments.  Safety must remain our first priority for this Territory and we crave your indulgence during this period.

Decisions taken and reported during my last presentation on May 13th still remain in effect.  Let me highlight these again for the benefit of everyone:

1.  Where fully vaccinated persons are travelling with one or more unvaccinated child:

  • Children aged 5-17 will be tested on arrival;
  • Children will remain with their fully vaccinated parents/guardians while awaiting their test results.
  • Unvaccinated children will be required to return to a testing centre and be subjected to a further test on day four.

2.  The quarantine period for unvaccinated travellers has been extended from four (4) days to seven (7) days.  This still remains in effect.

3.  Where people are traveling with mixed groups with some individuals unvaccinated, the party of unvaccinated individuals will be expected to be quarantined for 7 days upon arrival.  The exemptions recently approved will only apply to the vaccinated persons in that party.

The recent decisions taken by Cabinet will also effect some additional changes particularly for ‘outgoing day trippers’.  Persons who now wish to travel to the US Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, or Puerto Rico for any period, as long as they are fully vaccinated, would no longer be required to take a PCR test seven days after returning to the Territory.  However, children aged 5 to 17 travelling with their parents on the day trip will be required to take a RT-PCR test 7 days from their travel.

As a result of these decisions, the Premier will soon be announcing further measures that will be put in place that will continue to strengthen our tourism industry and by extension our economy, while balancing lives and livelihoods.

As we continue to live, work and thrive in this COVID-era, I will continue to sound the alarm that vaccination is our best defense against this pandemic.  And as the decisions announced today would have shown, there will be benefits derived for persons fully vaccinated; even for persons living in and visiting these islands.  I will continue to reiterate the fact that new, more aggressive strains continue to emerge, as the virus mutates and spreads rapidly from one region to another, increasing the risk of severe illness and death.  The reality is none of us know how the virus will affect us.  We simply must be vigilant and do the next best thing, get VACCINATED!  Protect yourself, your loved ones and our economy!  Remember VIGILANCE now more than ever!  We cannot let our guards down!  Can we reopen – YES we can!  Gradually with all the necessary protocols and precautionary measures! 

Will we reopen? – YES we will!  With the support and diligence of you the PEOPLE!  Must we reopen? – YES we must!  Our livelihoods depend on it!

 Again, let me remind you – wash your hands!  Wear your masks!  Cover your coughs and sanitise your surfaces as often as you must!  Also, keep your distance!  May the grace and mercy of God continue to watch over this little Territory as we continue to traverse these waters!  Let us all continue to do our parts!  God blessings on the citizens and residents of these Virgin Islands. I thank you for listening!

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