Good evening to everyone tuning in locally and abroad, I am Minster for Health and Social Development Carvin Malone, here with a COVID-19 Response update for the Virgin Islands.
The last time I provided an update, we were still managing the drastic increase of local active COVID-19 cases due to community spread which led your Government to make some tough decisions in our efforts to save lives. Unfortunately, in that effort, I am saddened to report that our death toll did increase to us losing 37 souls from the effects caused by the COVID-19 virus. During this time, as families continue to bury their loved ones, I would like to extend my deepest sympathy to them on behalf of my family and I during such a difficult time.
Our Virgin Islands are such a close knit community of people and so one death affects us all and to now have to mourn the loss of 37 persons we know presents a hard pill that we must swallow as we either know the person or their family or someone who knows them and so we too are affected by their grief. I would like to encourage anyone who is struggling during this time with coping with grief to reach out to a friend to talk to, so that you are not trying to manage your feelings by yourself or in isolation. There are also psycho-social support teams available to talk to and those numbers are 541-2383, 541-1559, 541-1861.
Virgin Islanders and residents, there is the saying that with every dark cloud, there is a silver lining and although we have faced some dark moments recently, things are finally starting to take a positive turn thanks to everyone doing their part and following health protocols paired with getting vaccinated. Of course, I will always lean on the side of caution that we are NOT out of the woods and we can only maintain our low active case numbers if we continue to FOLLOW the health protocols.
As of 5th August, a cumulative total of 75,667 persons have been tested; of that number a total of 2,532 persons tested positive; 2,343 persons have recovered; and we are now down to 152 active cases with 7 persons currently being hospitalised and again 37 persons who have passed (deaths) as a result of this dreaded disease. Let me give you the gravity of this again. We were up to 1,604 active cases just two to three weeks ago. We are now down to 152. We were up to 31 persons hospitalized, we are down to 7. The CEO of the Health Services Authority will speak more of this but we are headed in the right direction.
I know that some continue to have reservations with the science of vaccinations or the COVID-19 vaccines specifically. However, the science continues to prove that when layered with mask wearing, sanitization, and physical distancing, COVID-19 vaccines are our best defense in protecting our beloved Virgin Islands against COVID-19 and its variants. With over 1.7 billion doses administered worldwide, there is proven evidence that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective as they do prevent you from getting severely ill; they do prevent you from being hospitalized; they do prevent you from dying and together, with herd or community immunity, we will get us back on our feet economically and socially.
We are still advocating that the AstraZeneca vaccine is safe and effective and is among the best vaccines available on the market today. And in our continued efforts to boost vaccination uptake among young people and persons who cannot take the AstraZeneca for health reasons, these individuals will now be able to access other brands of COVID-19 vaccines. It is for that reason that we have forged an alliance with the US Virgin Islands to introduce the BVI-USVI Vaccination Bubble Initiative to give persons the ability to protect themselves and their family from COVID-19.
To this end Cabinet has made several amendments to the Public Health (COVID-19 Control and Suppression Measures) Order to facilitate the process and incentivize persons who wish to participate.
These decisions are as follows:
• Persons going to and from the USVI, specifically to receive vaccinations, or to accompany minors for that purpose, under the agreed protocols with the USVI authorities would be exempt from the applicable quarantine requirement for the partially vaccinated persons;
• Persons going to and from the USVI, specifically to receive vaccinations, or to accompany minors for that purpose, under the agreed protocols with the USVI authorities would be exempt from the requirement to register on the entry portal and from payment of the associated fees;
• Persons going to and from the USVI, specifically to receive vaccinations, or to accompany minors for that purpose, under the agreed protocols with the USVI authorities would be exempt from payment of the relevant fees on exit of the Territory;
So you see ladies and gentlemen we are pulling out all the stops to facilitate the protection of our people from COVID-19. We encourage you take advantage of this opportunity and the local opportunities which are still available to get vaccinated. Persons who are interested in participating in the USVI-BVI Vaccination Bubble initiative should note the following:
• 12–17-year-olds will be given priority;
• Individuals under the age of 18 MUST have a parent or legal guardian accompany them. If the parents or legal guardian is not travelling with the child, a notarised letter by the parent allowing the person to accompany the child must be presented;
• An official birth certificate must be presented at the time of vaccination to the USVI Department of Health for each child;
• You must have a valid passport and ordinarily meet immigration requirements to enter the US Virgin Islands;
• You must be able to fund all costs associated with getting the vaccine including transportation and logistical costs.
Those of you who are able to meet these requirements can move on to the other stage of the registration process. Persons can complete the Vaccination Bubble Registration Form and submit it along with the listed documents via email to the firstname.lastname@example.org. Persons can also register for by calling 852- 7525 Monday-Friday between the hours of 10:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. During that call you will be asked a series of questions and the information will be validated for eligibility purposes. Please ensure that information provided is truthful and accurate. We want to know your contact information, immigration status, vaccination preference, vaccination history if any, your reason for participating, your medical history and if you have previously tested positive for COVID-19 among other information.
Participants will have to sign their application and a declaration exempting the Government of the Virgin Islands from any and all liabilities associated with the vaccination.
If you have been successful at this stage, then you will be added to the Bubble list. Persons on the bubble list will be given a date and time to check in at the West End Ferry Dock. Persons will have to check in at least one hour and a half before the departure time of the ferry to allow for rapid antigen testing. The BVI Health Services Authority has also lowered the cost of the rapid test to $30 to facilitate this process. All registered persons with a negative test will then be allowed to board the vessel. The boat will depart West End bound for Cruz Bay, St John. Upon arrival the vessel will be inspected by the Customs and Boarder Protection CBP. Passengers will be allowed to exit the ferry and go through the terminal, while the vessel remains docked. Cleared passengers will exit inspection facility but stay within the secured zone. Passengers will then proceed to Department of Health (DOH) for vaccine processing and administration. When finished the vaccinated passenger will return to the ferry and wait until the last vaccinated passenger returns and all passengers will remain on the ferry until observation period is over. When the observation period is over the boat will depart St. John and return back to West End, Tortola. I don’t think that I have to say this, but I will say it anyway. All COVID-19 safety protocols will be strictly adhered to.
We want the people to know that this initiative has a time stamp and a small window of opportunity. So interested persons will have to show their interest very early to be accommodated. Our pilot trip will set sail on August 3rd with a total of 59 persons, 35 of whom were children who were accompanied by their parent or guardian. I was so pleased to see the willingness of parents to ensure the safety of their children from this disease. I want to encourage as many persons with an interest to still do so.
Our BVI-USVI Vaccination Bubble Initiative has begun and so I want to encourage persons to take advantage by visiting www.bvi.gov.vg for more information on how they can register for this initiative to get vaccinated.
Again, an extreme amount of gratitude to all those who answered the call and made getting vaccinated not just a personal choice to protect themselves but considered the positive effects that their vaccination status will have on our community; as we are now at a total of 16,590 fully and partially vaccinated persons, which when completed because currently were are at 12,187 fully vaccinated persons and 4,403 partially vaccinated persons; when completed will put us at 55 percent margin. This is good towards the 75 percent that we require in order to reach or be deemed with herd immunity.
I want to acknowledge that we still had to discard some 685 vials of the vaccines in the Territory on account of them expiring on the 31st July; and with the present situation globally with more and more waves of different variants causing countries to once again close or implement more stringent travel protocols, vaccines supplies are even shorter and procurement is even more difficult. But your Government remains steadfast and continues to do all that it can to ensure that the people of this Territory have every opportunity to get vaccinated. I am confident that we will get to the 80 percent needed for optimal protection against COVID-19 and its variants and that we will once again safely re-open; but again, we cannot and will not without the participation and willingness of you, the people in doing your part. We must give a debt of gratitude again to the United Kingdom Government for providing the 3,040 doses of AstraZeneca that was received recently and is now being administered. The 685 vials were in fact properly disposed in a careful and protocol manner and we are now only administering only from the new bath of the 3,040 received.
Thus, given the advancements we’ve made in lowering the surge in cases and the changes in the situation in our Territory, the HEOC-Unified Command team have made some recommendations to the Minister of Health and the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands for several amendments to be made to the Public Health (COVID-19 Control and Suppression Measures) Order. These recommendations include :
- An adjustment to the current Curfew Order with an allowance for the period to be amended from 11:00pm to 5:00am for a period of fourteen (14) days with an initial review after the first seven (7) days. Commencing on 7th August, 2021.
- That the “Stay-At Home” order be repealed and that ALL businesses be allowed to operate with the exception of nightclubs and entertainment centres. This would include hairdressers, barbershops, spas, restaurants etc. Such businesses are expected to operate within the established restriction limits of one (1) person per 36 square feet to a maximum occupancy of 50 persons, all inclusive of staff and patrons. Re-opening measures remain in place for businesses including hand-wash stations, hand sanitizers, social distancing markers, mask wearing and businesses can expect to be subject to spot checks by the Social Distancing Task Force, the Environmental Health Division and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force. These measures must be strictly adhered to so that we do not have to return to the days of elongated curfews and other measures required.
- Except with the approval of the Minister for Health and Social Development, all businesses and/or workplaces continue to restrict numbers to 1 person per 36 square feet to a limit of up to 50 persons at a time, per location, subject to adequate social distancing protocols being maintained in accordance with guidance from the Chief Environmental Health Officer;
- That all pre-schools, childcare centres, summer programmes and extra-curricular activities be allowed to re-open within the limitations of the social distancing and public health protocols. The Minister of Education will make announcements with regards to private and public primary and secondary schools on Tuesday 10th August, 2021.
- That all social gatherings be limited to 1 person per 36 square feet with a maximum of 50 persons per location.
- That all faith-based organisations, weddings, funerals be limited to 1 person per 36 square feet with a maximum of 100 persons; this will be reviewed after the 7 day and 14 day period.
- For in-person visits to and from Her Majesty’s Prison (Balsum Ghut) continue to be restricted mandatorily until 20th August, with the exception of emergency situations determined by the facility to necessitate a visit, subject to the contrary advice from the Attorney General, and with the opportunity to be reviewed thereafter;
- That all facilities that serve as residential establishments, namely, the Adina Donovan Home for the Elderly, Virgin Gorda Elderly Home and Rainbow Children’s Home; Safe Haven Transitional Centre and private residential facilities, will continue to prohibit visits in and visits out until 20 August, with the exception of emergency situations determined by the facility to necessitate a visit;
- That, except with the approval of the Minister for Health and Social Development, all ferries be required to restrict numbers to a limit of up to 65 persons at a time;
It is important to note that in addition to these, with the help of the CDC and the United States Virgin Islands Government, we were able to train and we continue to train a number of persons for the administration of the rapid tests. This is so that we can facilitate persons going and having to be able to take the rapid test at Jost Van Dyke, at the West End Terminal, at the Road Town Terminal, a the Terrance B Lettsome International Airport, at the Centre in Virgin Gorda and the Terminal in Virgin Gorda and in Anegada. We are determined to open this Territory in a safe manner. There was a call for persons who are medically inclined to be able to call in and apply to be trained for the administration in the rapid tests so that we can deploy the correct number of persons to each of these centres and we will continue to do this.
In closing, I know that most of you tuning in will be delighted in the new order; however, this is not an invitation that we revert back to our ways that put us in this situation in the first place. In the old famous words, ‘We are not out of the woods’. We have learned of the Delta variant being present in Anguilla, present in the US Virgin Islands, present in Puerto Rico, present in many of the neighbouring islands. We have to be mindful that if the Delta was not here and if we were saddened with so many situations of illness and deaths, we have to be mindful that following the protocols and being vaccinated is the best way from this.
We must never forget where we were and we must adjust and take every precaution necessary to live and manage with COVID-19. If we do not adjust, I am afraid we will continue this terrible cycle of learning the hard way. Our parents say, ‘Who don’t hear, does feel’. It goes here also. We must DO OUR PART! We must VACCINATE! We will get through this together! Stay safe and God bless us and God bless these Virgin Islands. I thank you.