Statement by Honourable Carvin Malone – COVID-19 Update on Travel Requirements

STATEMENT BY HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT

ON THURSDAY 6TH MAY 2021

COVID-19 UPDATE & TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS

I extend morning Greetings to all here in the BVI, the Region and the World.

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to accelerate, and we are deeply saddened by its rising death toll as health systems and economies far and near buckle under the strain of second and third waves of infection.

According to the WHO Weekly Update issued on May 4th, and I quote:

“For the second successive week, the number of COVID-19 cases globally remains at the highest levels since the beginning of the pandemic with over 5.7 million new weekly cases, following nine consecutive weeks of increases. New deaths continue to increase for the seventh consecutive week, with over 93,000 deaths. The South-East Asia Region continues to report marked increases in both case and death incidences.”

While we continue our phased reopening of the BVI to international travellers, we must be mindful and cognisant of the realities in the region and around the world.

We cannot be paralysed by fear – but – at the same time, we must take note of what the realities and real possibilities are when COVID-19 is able to get past the stop gaps – especially where the risks from these gaps can be minimised by preventative actions and cautions.

The news headlines coming out of India remains grim.

Reuters is reporting that, according to data from India’s Ministry of Health, a record 412,262 new cases and 3,980 deaths were reported over the past 24 hours, taking total infections past 21 million and the overall death toll to 230,168. Infections have overwhelmed the healthcare system, with hospitals running out of beds and medical oxygen.

In crematoriums in Delhi, the floor and shelves were overflowing with earthen pots, plastic packets and steel containers filled with the ashes of people who have died from COVID-19. Why is this important!

India is the world’s largest producer of vaccines, but it will take their two producers at least two months to boost production to the volume required. The United States is worried about the situation in India and so should the BVI. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has warned that the health crisis in India could drag down the U.S. economy because India is an important country in global trade.

Let us look at the situation in Brazil, CNN has reported on May 4, 2021 – last Tuesday, that COVID-19 has accounted for one-third of all deaths so far for 2021. According to data from Brazil’s National Civil Registry, 615,329 deaths were reported in the country between January 1 and April 30. Of those, 208,370 were related to COVID-19, according to Brazil’s health ministry — 33.9% of the nation’s total.

COVID-19 is surging with a vengeance in Brazil in recent months – fueled in part by a disregard for social distancing precautions and the emergence of extra-contagious new variants – and has claimed more lives in the past four months than in all of 2020. More than 78,000 people in Brazil were killed by the virus last month alone. Ministry of Health figures show Brazil recorded 73,295 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, along with 2,811 deaths from COVID-19. PAHO has reported, “In Brazil, mortality rates have doubled among those younger than 39, quadrupled among those in their 40’s and tripled for those in their 50’s between December 2020 and March 2021.” Brazilians desperately want vaccines but they have problems accessing supplies.

Italy’s Ministry of Health today reported 258 coronavirus-related deaths, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 11,807 from 10,585.

These international reports are not to scare anyone it is to keep it real. It is our duty to report and keep you informed.

Let’s get closer to home Jamaica has recorded a total of 798 COVID-19 deaths. They have over 23,600 active cases at the moment with 144 new cases in the last 24 hours.

The Jamaica Teachers’ Association, as reported in the Gleaner today, estimates that it will take between two and three years to reverse most of the learning loss since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, following the disclosure that 120,000 students have been completely absent from school in the last year. These are some of the impacts of COVID-19 that we sometimes do not hear much about.

Also in the Caribbean, Trinidad’s Ministry of Health reported yesterday, May, 5, 2021, that the country had 3,024 active COVID-19 cases, with a total of 189 deaths. In the previous 24 hours they recorded 399 new positive cases. It was reported this morning that some 79 police officers contracted the COVID-19 virus. Projections were that at the current rate, the parallel healthcare system is at risk of collapsing within seven days.

Principal Medical Officer (PMO), Dr. Maryam Abdool-Richards has noted that Trinidad is not just seeing deaths amongst the elderly population and persons with pre-existing conditions, but they are seeing deaths even among the age group of the 30’s.

She said – and I quote, “Our ward occupancy rates have increased within 24-hours from 50 to 60 per cent which is a ten percent increase, and our ICU occupancy rates have decreased from 50 percent to 40 percent. I’d like to reiterate that the decrease in ICU rates is not due to the discharge of patients at the stepdown but unfortunately, due to the deaths of patients.” – End of Quote.

All this is saying is that, the BVI cannot throw caution to the wind. Let us each read and understand what is happening in territories near and far. Those with ears and understanding, let us hear and understand.

The Health Emergency Operations Centre (HEOC) and Public Health teams continue to monitor the situation as it unfolds and propose strategies to help mitigate the impact of the pandemic on our Territory.

At a meeting held on Wednesday the 5th of May, Cabinet considered a report from the HEOC, mainly addressing recent changes to the entry requirements for vaccinated and unvaccinated travellers.

I am pleased to provide an update on decisions taken by the Cabinet regarding non-domestic travel requirements in view of the ongoing COVID-19 response.

As previously announced, effective May 15, 2021, travellers who have been fully vaccinated with the final dose administered at least 14 days before travel will be immediately released from quarantine once their arrival test is negative.

However, this would not apply to persons travelling from or through Brazil or India. Cabinet has decided to amend the list of restricted countries under the Immigration and Passport (Prohibition of Entry) Order, 2021 to apply only to Brazil and India. Persons travelling from those countries, who are granted permission to enter the Virgin Islands, will be required to quarantine for a period of fourteen (14) days on arrival.

Fully vaccinated travellers from all other countries will require:

  • BVI Gateway Traveller Authorisation Certificate at a cost of $105.00 (reduced from $175.00);
  • Proof of a negative RT-PCR COVID-19 test taken 3-5 days before arrival;
  • Proof of vaccination status;
  • RT-PCR COVID-19 testing upon arrival; and
  • Quarantine until the return of a negative test result.

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

  • Children aged 5-17 will be tested on arrival;
  • Children will be released from quarantine together with their parents/guardians once the test results for the entire group are negative, but must remain within their family bubble; and
  • Unvaccinated children will be subject to a further test on day four.

Further to that, Cabinet decided that a fully vaccinated traveller may be approved for home quarantine in a residence where all the adult occupants are fully vaccinated, once the traveller, or travelling party, is provided with a separate bedroom.

We turn now to the concessions that have been made for fully vaccinated persons who have been present in the Virgin Islands for more than 14 consecutive days and wish to travel to the US Virgin Islands, St. Maarten, or Puerto Rico for a period not longer than 24 hours.  As previously announced, with effect from the 15th of May 2021, ‘outgoing day trippers’ to these neighboring jurisdictions will be exempted from quarantine and the COVID-19 test upon re-entering the BVI; but would be required to take a PCR test seven (7) days after returning to the Territory.

At its meeting held on the 5th of May 2021, Cabinet further decided that:

  1. a person seeking to be certified as a ‘day tripper’ should apply for re-entry through the Gateway prior to departure from the Virgin Islands;
  2. the Gateway fee would be reduced to $70.00;
  3. ‘Day trippers’ would be allowed to travel with children who are under five (5) years old;
  4. refusal by a returning ‘day tripper’ to undergo Day 7 testing would attract a fixed penalty of five thousand dollars ($5,000) or a court penalty of ten thousand dollars ($10,000) on summary conviction.

After carefully considering both the wish to re-open the Territory to tourism and the need to mitigate the risks arising from increased travel, particularly arising from new COVID-19 variants, Cabinet decided that the quarantine period for unvaccinated travellers will be extended from four (4) days to seven (7) days.

Where people are traveling in mixed groups with some individuals unvaccinated, the entire party will be treated as unvaccinated and will also be required to quarantine for seven (7) days upon arrival.

In the case of persons who are only partially vaccinated, meaning that they have received one dose of a two-dose vaccine, or whose final vaccine dose was administered less than two weeks before arriving in the Territory, a 4-day quarantine period would be required, with PCR testing administered on arrival and on day 4.

Finally, Cabinet has requested that the HEOC present recommendations for rapid or PCR testing for frontline workers and Public Officers.

We will continue to sound the alarm that vaccination is our best defense against the relentless COVID-19 pandemic.  New, more aggressive strains continue to emerge, as the virus mutates and spreads rapidly from one region of the world to another, increasing the risk of severe sickness and death.

As of the 5th of May 2021, at the Dr. D Orlando Smith Hospital, 30,814 tests were conducted. Of these, 219 were confirmed positive.  While 193 persons have recovered there exists 25 active cases and one reported death. In one of the active cases there was no recent travel history, which means that the virus was acquired locally.

The 34,000 doses of vaccines donated to the British Virgin islands by the United Kingdom and Dominica will allow for a total of 17,000 persons to receive two doses of vaccines each. To date 10,462 persons have received their first doses while 2,034 persons have received their second doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine administered in the Territory.

Without apology, it is this Government’s intention to intensify the education process aimed at encouraging the remaining 6,538 persons to voluntarily be vaccinated at any of the centers by the 31st of May 2021. Following this date, an assessment would be made in relation to the remaining doses, of which I hope there would be NONE. For the next 25 days all hands and voices would be required to assist in our ambitious goal.

While this may anger some anti-vaxxers, it is our duty to be steadfast in purpose, in this regard.

Several leaders are grappling with the question of mandatory vaccination as a means of keeping their populations safe while reopening their internal economies. To be clear, the Virgin Islands Government will not be requiring mandatory vaccinations for its residents. There is no room for irresponsible TABLOID JOURNALISM in this regard. The choice is yours to freely make.

Let us be resolute, we will, continue to educate, encourage and enlist the support of the entire community to get vaccinated in order to safeguard your own health, protect those around you, and help to achieve herd immunity as we further reopen our Territory’s borders and tourism industry and the wider economy.

And so, I close by expressing thanks to the persons who have been vaccinated thus far and encouraging every other adult to take advantage of the earliest opportunity to get vaccinated.  On behalf of the Government and People of the Virgin Islands, I also extend a special word of acknowledgment and gratitude to the nurses, doctors, technicians, and Public Health teams that have been working tirelessly to protect this community from COVID-19 infection.

We join in celebrating NURSES WEEK 2021!

We join in celebrating the 65TH ANNIVERSARY OF RED CROSS in the BVI!

We join in honouring my GOLDEN GEMS as we celebrate SENIOR CITIZENS MONTH!

We join in celebration of MOTHER’s DAY; and

We join in recognising MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH!

So many reasons to celebrate! So many reasons to VACCINATE!

GOD BLESS this Territory and the people of the BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS.

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