STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
1st September, 2020
COVID-19 Operation Containment and Operation Eradication
Good day and God’s Blessings to you the people of these beautiful Virgin Islands.
At this time, we find ourselves at the crossroads where we have had to readjust our existing plan and adjust our course, once again.
We had the economy back on the track and because of one or two lawless persons we are back here almost at square one.
The majority cannot be following the minority.
Our residents and businesses must not be made to continue to suffer due to misconduct by a few persons out of greed and lack of respect for our Virgin Islands.
I want to state clearly that these types of action will not be condoned by your Government.
Persons engaging in all or any illegal activities will be sought after vigorously and brought to justice. Those that need to be deported will be deported. The BVI will not be used as a hub for human smuggling to the USVI and also from the USVI to the BVI en route to their home country. Your Government will not allow the actions of a few individuals to endanger the welfare of the BVI and our economy.
We thank those persons who have been coming forward thus far to give valuable leads and information pertaining to the aforementioned.
A task force will be set up immediately to aggressively bring this illegal activity to an abrupt and needed end.
The Governor of the United States Virgin Islands, Mr. Albert Bryan Jr has discussed with me similar concerns in this same area, and we have pledge our united efforts to a joint operation under our Friendship Day relationship to address this matter once and for all.
This effort, along with our local efforts, will send a clear message to all who intend to try and continue these illegal activities in our Territorial waters, that there is a zero tolerance, zero tolerance, I repeat zero tolerance by the Government of the Virgin Islands to crime.
I say here again that our people and businesses should not be made to suffer for a few lawless people. BVI will not be a hub no more for these illegal activities. We are small in size and we cannot continue to allow this behavior to continue.
As you know we now have a spike in COVID-19 cases.
I have always said that we are not out of the woods as yet, and the Minister for Health has re-emphasised that with his report on COVID-19 cases in the Territory.
For the last six months, we have been warning everyone that COVID-19 is not playing around with us and we cannot play around with COVID-19.
As we saw the death toll rising in the world, for six months, we have been emphasising how important it is for everyone here at home to take this invisible threat of COVID-19 seriously.
For six months, we have been asking you to heed the precautions and to practice the safety measures such as washing your hands for 20 seconds, wearing the appropriate face masks when you are going out in public, sanitising your hands and work spaces, standing six feet apart, and avoid congregating in large crowds.
For almost six months, we have said that there are only eight ventilators and we have a population of over 30,000 persons. I said then that we do not ever want to see anyone in a position where you have to choose who lives or who dies.
After learning that scientific data projected that the BVI could have had just over 3,700 confirmed cases of COVID-19, six months ago, your Government from day one of that prognosis has been moving forward in an aggressive way, putting all the health structures and preventative measures in place to keep us all safe. For this I really want to thank my elected colleagues and also all the members of the House of Assembly for the funds that need to be passed to allow this to happen.
We invested our own tax dollars to set up our own COVID-19 testing lab. We invested in test kits to allow us to have the resources to test for COVID-19. And over the years we invested in our people to train and retain them in the medical field.
Also, we are investing in having the Old Peebles Hospital retrofitted for COVID-19 related matters. And, we brought on board 22 medical professional from Cuba, all a part of the preventative measures against COVID-19. Donors have also assisted our efforts greatly with medical supplies and resources such as, but not limited to ventilators, test kits from Public Health England, among other contributions from different entities and we thank them tremendously.
But here we are, with some of our efforts being retarded due to the lawlessness of a few.
I know that the majority of our residents want to keep everyone safe, that I know and I believe, and to help us to get rid of COVID-19 from our shores.
And, I know that these are the persons who are dutifully wearing their masks, sanitising their hands, maintaining the social distancing and obeying all the protocols and advice. And those persons make up the majority, and your Government and I applaud you for these efforts.
But there are those few who have not been taking COVID-19 seriously and have not fully embraced the level of personal responsibility that is needed to reduce transmission of the virus.
For example, we have a situation where a few persons have not been taking the closure of our Territorial borders seriously even though they knew they are closed. In order to immediately address this gap, we have taken more measures to further strengthen the protection of the BVI’s sea borders as part of the COVID-19 24-hour mitigation strategy driven by HM Customs and Immigration Department under the theme: “BVILOVE: Partnering and Protecting our Sea Borders in The New Regular,” coupled with the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force.
We have another situation where some of us are engaging in mass, social or family gatherings with persons outside their immediate households. We are having house parties and getaways by our aunts, uncles and cousins. We don’t wear our masks. We do not social distance. We let down our guards because it is our family. Then we go back to our homes and we bring the unwanted and dreaded gift of the Coronavirus home to our immediate love ones. This is actually the reality of some of the cases we have learned about.
The reality is, we cannot tell by looking at someone whether they have COVID-19 or not; whether they are carriers or not; or whether they have it, but are just not showing symptoms. So, we have to more wise and move wisely. We have to interact differently. COVID-19 has changed the way we interact until a vaccine is found. The harsh reality is that we have to live and work with COVID-19 and the only way to do this with the highest degree of success is to adhere to the measures and practice what we preach.
Then, we have the issue where some businesses have not been adhering to the preventative measures. They have relaxed the measures to now where people are crowding and not sanitising or washing their hands as they enter the establishments. Some are not wearing masks or shields and they are not standing and sitting six (6) feet apart, either.
Living and working with COVID-19 is not a cliché, but rather this is “The New Regular.”
I applaud the many businesses that are adhering to health and safety measures.
However, it is now time to change gears. From this time forth any business upon inspection that fails to adhere to the social measures will immediately be fined and their trade license will be suspended until the fine is paid.
Other measures will also be put in place to encourage businesses and each of us to adhere to the approved social measures.
It is time to change our mindset on how we deal with COVID-19. It is time to change our behaviour and our mindset.
COVID-19 has one strategy and that is to spread from human-to-human. We, therefore, must have one strategy—to work together to keep all of us safe person-by-person.
It is time that we hold each other accountable to adhere to these measures that are designed to keep us all safe.
Yesterday, Tuesday, 31st August, Cabinet met and we deliberated on a unified way forward. We have made decisions, which is a test run for us to learn to live and work through COVID-19. The announcements made by the Governor early on by Cabinet reflects the deliberations and decisions of Cabinet informed by the advice of our capable and experienced technocrats from all facets of the Public Service.
If we cannot handle living through these measures, then we will be setting back phases two and three of the reopening plan, and by extension our economy. You have elected a Government to lead, and lead we shall.
We all have endured sacrifices and expenses and your Government has been using strategies such as the curfews to help to manage the movement of persons and, by doing so, reduce the opportunities for the virus to spread.
In order to ensure that all our hard work and sacrifice does not go down the drain because of the irresponsible actions of just a few persons, Cabinet recommended that the National Security Council instruct the Attorney General to draft a new Curfew Order (No. 30) to put in place a restricted curfew for a 14-day period starting from 2nd September, 2020 until 16th September 2020 from 1:01 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. daily. This curfew is important to restrict the movement of persons to reduce the impact of the Coronavirus on the BVI population. This will allow the health team the opportunity to further find people easier as they continue to aggressively trace and test from the existing confirmed cases. Simply put everyone should be in their homes for the next 14 days between the hours of 1:01 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. daily.
The restriction of the movement of vessels in Territorial waters will continue. There is zero tolerance when it comes to any illegal activities in our Territorial waters. That is why officers of HM Customs, including all the other law enforcement agencies that comprise the Joint Task Force will continue to remain committed to playing their respective roles in keeping the BVI safe during this COVID-19 era and beyond. In this regard, we are now reviewing the existing laws so that stiffer penalties and fines are in place for persons caught in any illegal activities in our Territorial waters.
We know that business continuity is important, and we have to make sure that we exhaust all efforts to protect our Territory so that we do not have to be faced with going into shut down every minute. But, bearing in mind that we can’t open all the businesses at this first phase due to the need to restrict movement to assist the team with contact tracing, as a Cabinet, we decided that only those essential businesses that were allowed to be open as provided in the previous Curfew (No. 29) will continue to provide service in addition to those businesses that provide remittance services as well as insurance companies, automotive companies and garages.
As stated before, I re-emphasise that we understand the importance of business continuity, that is why as a Cabinet we decided that the following persons be exempted under the new Curfew (No. 30) Order, 2020:
- Officers of private security service providers as defined in section 2 of the Private Security Industry Act, 2007, who are on duty, when traveling on to or from duty;
- Customs and Immigration officers who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed in the insurance companies for the purpose of issuing and renewing policies and persons with appointments who need to complete documentation in person;
- Persons employed in the public and private sector waste management services, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed in approved fuel distribution and delivery services, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed as public and private sector social care providers, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Judges and Magistrates and other persons employed in the Courts, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed in mortuary services, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed for humanitarian support purposes, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed as emergency call handlers, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed as freight, courier and cargo distribution, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons engaged to provide apostille and related statutory services, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed as media and broadcast providers, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons engaged in bona fide farming agriculture or fisheries with urgent need to care for animals and persons offering veterinary services who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed in transportation services (providing transportation for essential and critical operations), who are on duty, when driving to or from duty;
- Persons employed in supermarkets providing services to and for essential and critical operations, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed at the health and emergency operations centre who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed in the legal and financial services sector approved by the Governor to undertake specific and urgent legal and financial services transactions that cannot be carried out remotely or by electronic means, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons who are traveling en route to a port or airport as approved by Cabinet under the Immigration and Passport (Authorised Ports of Entry) (Amendment) Regulations, 2020, (without a detour) for the purpose of leaving the Territory;
- Persons employed for emergency household and business repairs, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed with cleaning, sanitisation, insect, mold and bug control companies, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty;
- Persons employed by remittance services;
- Teachers in public and private schools who attend their institutions for the sole purpose of accessing resources for on-line instruction; and
- Persons employed by automotive companies and garages;
- Persons employed in the travel sector, approved by the Minister of Immigration, to undertake specific and urgent travel transactions that cannot be carried out remotely or by electronic means, who are on duty, when traveling to or from duty.
In order to hold establishments accountable for remaining compliant with the measures, Cabinet decided to enhance the Social Monitoring Task Force and enforcement activities with leadership under the Deputy Governor’s Office, in consultation with the Environmental Health Division.
As a Government, we can assure you the people that our decisions are based on the advice, data, and intelligence from the technical officers, recommendations from the majority of the Members of the House of Assembly during the informal meeting, and in accordance with the provisions of the Public Health Ordinance, the Quarantine Act and the Infectious Diseases (Notification) Act.
I believe in my people of the Virgin Islands. We are the ones who must control our own destiny. We are free to do whatever we want based on our rights, but we are not free from the consequences of our actions. Each of us must act more responsible than ever, especially in this COVID-19 era.
In all that we have successfully come through and all that we will face ahead, it is important that you know that your Government is always taking into consideration the challenges and the hardship that these measures would impose upon us. As leader of Government business I want to thank every member of the Government for their support and thank everyone for their prayers. I must also thank the people of the Virgin Islands for your cooperation and all members of Cabinet.
People of the Virgin Islands, we must standup and adhere to these health and safety measures now so that we can ensure the success of phases two and three of our phased reopening of the British Virgin Islands.
This is what I mean when I keep saying we are in this together.
That is why your Government knows that it is time to take further strict actions.
This Territory will be prosperous and we rebuke in Jesus name any negative words that have been spoken publicly or silently over this Territory, especially in terms of economy and our security. We replace them with words of prosperity. Our Forefathers prayed to God and worked hard for the prosperity of this Territory to benefit this generation. Now we will do the same for ourselves and future generations.
I believe in my people of the Virgin Islands. We are the ones who must control our own destiny.
We are in the mode of Operation Containment and Operation Eradication.
Government alone cannot protect you from COVID-19. We all have a responsibility to protect ourselves, our families and each other.
The individual responsibility will make the greatest change in COVID-19. It is your responsibility to keep you safe, those around you, and by extension the BVI.
Let us change the environment in which we live. Let us continue not taking any chances. Every life is precious.
I plead with everyone in the BVI no matter your situation to come forward once you feel you have symptoms or you have been in any area where you feel is compromised with the Coronavirus and be tested.
I thank all of you who are encouraging others to be mature and not to discriminate against persons who are willing to come forward to be tested, those who are on quarantine, or who may have tested positive at some point. Call the medical hotline at 852-7650 and schedule an appointment today.
COVID-19 is not discriminating; so, why should we?
The Government and people of the Virgin Islands along with the rest of the world are fighting against a silent enemy, one that we cannot see called Coronavirus or COVID-19.
This fight is not about what you look like. This fight is not about your reputation. And this fight is not about your immigration status.
This fight is about your health. It is about your safety. It is about your family and your community. It is about all of us working together to do our part and keep COVID-19 out.
If persons fail to adhere to all the further measures being put in place now to contain COVID-19, then, and only then, we will be forced to implement a 24-hour 14-day lock down, so my people the choice is yours, the choice is mines.
We can either adhere or we will have to bear the consequences.
I have said this before and I will say it again, we have a golden opportunity to contain this matter now and for the future as we live and work in the ‘New Regular’ with COVID-19.
Let us not blow it. But rather get it right. WE WILL GET THROUGH THIS TOGETHER once we do our part and remain vigilant.
And I end by saying that God is with us! And where He is we are, and where we are He is, and where He is all will be well.
May God bless these Virgin Islands.
I thank you.