Statement Given By Honourable Carvin Malone: Situation Update On Covid-19 Response – 1 September

 

STATEMENT GIVEN BY THE MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT
HONOURABLE CARVIN MALONE
ON TUESDAY, 1ST SEPTEMBER 2020

SITUATION UPDATE ON COVID-19 RESPONSE

 

 

Your Excellency, Honourable Premier, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.

The British Virgin Islands together with the region and the world has been grappling with this new strain of coronavirus.

COVID-19 has deeply impacted every aspect of our lives over the past eight months. We understand how disruptive this pandemic response has been to our society, economy and our day-to-day functioning. Throughout the world everyone is longing to regain a greater sense of normalcy and stability.

For the past eight months the BVI Government has been developing and implementing a national strategy to ‘keep out’ and ‘stamp out’ the virus that causes COVID-19 while investing heavily to strengthen the capacity of our health system and save lives. Some of these prevention and suppression measures have taken a heavy toll on individuals, on families, businesses and the wider society and economy, as we struggle to understand and adapt to a rapidly changing reality.

At the risk of being exhaustively repetitive I will again state that your Government has invested millions of dollars in the development of our COVID-19 response infrastructure and our human resource professionals. There was no PLAY BOOK but through the brilliance of past leadership we were able to utilize the provisions of existing legislations to guide our responses to this pandemic.

Through the Public Health Act; the Quarantine Act and the Infectious Disease Notification Act our professionals were able to discharge their duties in ways that MUST be commended. During the early months and continuing through this pandemic your Government:

  • Constructed COVID-19 examination facilities;
  • Developed a 12-room isolation facility on the 3rd floor of the Dr. D Orlando Smith Hospital;
  • Procured, installed, trained and commissioned our PCR testing equipment;
  • Engaged a 22 member team of Cuban Health Care Professionals.

Public and Private Sector individuals – whether on the front line or in the back offices – whether in-front of behind the cameras continue to expose themselves to the tasks at-hand and have been performing admirably well.

Within an extremely short and exhaustive period we were able to identify, contact trace, swab, provide PCR results and quarantine hundreds of individuals. These accomplishments MUST not go unnoticed to any of us. It is total commitment while monitoring whether or not businesses and individuals are adhering to established protocols. I stand in defence of all our professionals.

The simple fact is that we all want to see the BVI emerge from the acute phase of this pandemic more vibrant and resilient than it has ever been – rebooting businesses and our tourism industry, exploring new economic opportunities, children returning to school and people safely returning to work and play.

But the reality is that the pandemic is far from over.

Cases continue to rise and spread globally, regionally and locally. We are not out of the woods! We must not lose sight of the seriousness of this disease and how fatal it can be to people of all walks of life.

Over the past several days the Government has been receiving updates on the current COVID-19 outbreak and carefully considering the options available for containing it.

As previously mentioned, the Cabinet examined Situation Report #25 presented by the Health Emergency Operations Centre. Discussions centred on the projected level of infection and transmission of the virus under various scenarios.

During my last public announcement, I reported that the Territory had a total of 35 positive results as at that date with 26 active cases; 8 recoveries and 1 death.

In our commitment to keeping you fully informed, I am reporting that as of August 31st, 2020 the BVI has conducted COVID-19 testing of 3,027 individuals with 2,965 confirmed as negative while 47 persons tested positive and 15 results are pending.

Of the 47 positive results a total of 38 cases remaining active while 8 cases have recovered, and 1 death recorded to date.

Since Case #12 was discovered on August 17th the contact tracing efforts of our health surveillance teams have resulted in the investigation of 219 primary and secondary contacts.

The BVI is experiencing small clusters of cases which are disbursed but interlinked. So far, confirmed cases have mainly been discovered on Tortola, in Huntum’s Ghut, Lower Estate, Long Bush, Cane Garden Bay, Hannah’s, Purcell Estate, Fat Hog’s Bay, Sea Cow’s Bay, Lambert’s Estate, and Road Town communities.  Their primary and secondary contacts are further disbursed throughout other communities on the Eastern, Western and Central districts of the island and on Anegada.

In order to improve the chances of containing the current outbreak, further movement restrictions are urgently required over the next 14 days. This is our best chance of avoiding a scenario of community spread.

The evidence surrounding the risk, severity, contagion, long term disability and crippling effects of the CoV is undeniable.

Our medical teams and public health professionals have emphasised that if we fail to take decisive actions the BVI will be heading towards an epidemic. The majority of cases (70%) have been discovered through contact tracing, with 32% of all cases being asymptomatic.

We believe that we are seeing the tip of the iceberg and there are more persons possibility infected in the population who are asymptomatic and can readily spread the disease. Which means that we may have many undocumented cases of who are transmitting the virus.  While we don’t exactly know how much spread is caused by our asymptomatic group, current estimates place our undocumented cases at approximately 1, 482 persons at a minimum.

And let us not forget that while many persons may have mild disease, some will be severely affected and may require the usage of one of our 8 fully equipped ventilators.

The 2 cases that are currently hospitalized did not contract COVID-19 in the nightclub or bar. There were the unfortunate primary contacts of persons who engaged in mass gathering events. Then there are others who unwittingly contracted it through household contact or work colleagues.

While we encourage the requisite public health measures, there exists an unwelcomed level of unacceptable social behavior and suspected criminal activities that have contributed or may have allowed the outbreak to re-emerge, with substantial new infections and consequences. We moved from 8 positive cases on May 28th to now 47 positive cases as at August 31st.

Our frontline, health and security personnel are already being severely affected with approximately 20% being isolated or quarantined.  These are services for which there are limited or no reserves on Territory who can be utilised to close the widening gap.

We cannot as a Territory afford the frontline to collapse or for this observed growth rate to continue.  Limiting the opening hours throughout the Territory at this time for a 14 day period not only allows for the team to finalize their contact tracing and testing, but affords the BVI a much needed break in the transmission chain so that while transmission may continue among households, outside households transmission will be reduced.

While it is clear that a 24-hour lockdown would have been a preferred effective approach to interrupting and limiting the spread of the virus, our pandemic response takes a balanced view of the social and economic implications of such far reaching measures.

In the absence of a strategy that would completely eradicate the virus from our shores, we have transitioned to the ‘Manage It’ Orange Alert phase of our pandemic response.  The main objective of this phase is to minimise active transmission in the Territory as well as the negative physical, psychological, social and economic impacts. Let us NOT fool ourselves. A COVID-19 test is NOT a vaccine! Whether someone travelled intra-island or if you yourself travelled intra- island the risk of transmission one way or the other is real. The measures apply to everyone.

As we learn to live and work with COVID-19 we must take individual and collective action to keep ourselves, our families and our wider community safe.

In other words, we must each emerge from this limited curfew period with a stronger commitment to fully reopening our economy safely and sustainably.

According to the World Health Organization this calls for four essential commitments.

First — prevent amplifying events! COVID-19 spreads very efficiently in crowds and places where people gather – particularly in closed spaces where ventilation is poor.

We know that by limiting large gatherings and encouraging residents to practice physical distancing and wearing face masks, we will limit the virus’ ability to spread.

We must therefore challenge ourselves to find creative ways to hold events while minimising risk.

Second — reduce deaths by protecting vulnerable groups, including elderly persons, those with underlying conditions and essential workers.

By protecting those who are most at risk, we can save lives, prevent people becoming severely ill and avoid overwhelming our health system.

Third — individuals must play their part by taking measures to protect themselves and others – stay at least six feet apart from others, clean your hands regularly, practice respiratory etiquette, and wear a face mask.

And fourth — we must accelerate our efforts to find, isolate, test and care for cases, then trace and quarantine contacts. By remaining at home as much as possible over the next 14 days, and sharing any helpful information, you can greatly assist us in these efforts.

The Ministry of Health and Social Development remains committed to supporting every sector on each of our islands to reopen as safely as possible.

We encourage businesses and other establishments to re-examine your COVID-19 prevention plans and ensure that health and safety measures are being consistently applied by your staff and customers. I will be signing a NEW Public Health (COVID-19 Control and Suppression Measures) Order (No.5) which will go into immediate effect. This is not a revenue raising measure! It is NOT the intention to burden the pockets of individuals or close establishments. It is sending a clear and decisive message that each of us (individuals and businesses) MUST do our part! Fixed penalty notices will be introduced! The fines will be high and the fines will be collected! We have to live with COVID-19! It is NOT playing around with us and we are not playing around with it!

We urge individuals to limit interactions to members of your own household as far as possible, and remain mindful of the risk of exposure to the virus, even among extended family members, friends, work colleagues, and other persons that you know well.

In the majority of cases recently detected, the virus was contracted in close quarters – either in families, social settings or work environments.

It is also important to mention that 32 percent of the case contacts recently confirmed as COVID-19 positive did not display any symptoms of the disease.  Several other persons have been exposed to the virus without knowing it.  Persons may look well, feel normal and still transmit the virus to you and others around them. This is why we must continue to be careful and take every precaution seriously, regardless of who we are interacting with.

In my view and in the views of many, the most effective strategy against the COVID-19 virus is to boost your physical and mental health through good nutrition, physical fitness, stress management and other healthy coping mechanisms. I am not convinced that enough of our people have taken advantage of our Complete Health Improvement Programs that are scheduled and programmed by our teams at the Ministry of Health & Social Development. I urge you to call and be informed of how to engage yourself to a healthier and sustainable way of life.

Looking ahead, all of us working in the health sector will continue to do our part to strengthen capacity to meet increasing demands for health services.

The BVI Health Services Authority and the Ministry of Health are working to ensure that adequate COVID-19 testing is available in the Territory.  Additional testing facilities, technologies and services are being commissioned and will shortly be announced.  If you believe you have been exposed to the virus or are experiencing any symptoms of the disease, please call 852-7650 to schedule an appointment for testing. The fee has been waived. The tests are free. The fee of $135.00 is currently charged ONLY to persons requiring a test result for travel purposes.  Otherwise, testing is free.

I close by thanking everyone that has taken these messages to heart.

I encourage you to become ever more vigilant in your health and safety practices at home and in carrying out your daily affairs.

Please continue to keep aware of the latest advice and information with updates on Government’s website at www.bvi.gov.vg/covid-19.

As we enter the heart of the hurricane season our wishes is for an uneventful hurricane season. Prepare early; keep safe and be well!

Allow me to repeat:

In our commitment to keeping you fully informed, I am reporting that as of August 31st, 2020 the BVI has conducted COVID-19 testing of 3,027 individuals with 2,965 confirmed as negative while 47 persons tested positive and 15 results are pending.

Of the 47 positive results a total of 38 cases remaining active while 8 cases have recovered, and 1 death recorded to date.

Thank you and may God continue to protect and bless these British Virgin Islands.

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