STATEMENT BY PREMIER AND MINISTER OF FINANCE,
HONOURABLE ANDREW A. FAHIE
DURING THE SEVENTH SITTING OF THE SECOND SESSION OF THE FOURTH HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY OF THE VIRGIN ISLANDS
April 16, 2020
COVID-19 UPDATE – BVI, WE WILL RISE
Mr. Speaker, I wish to make a statement in this Honourable House on COVID-19 titled BVI, WE WILL RISE.
I wish to say good day and God’s continued Blessings on all of us who call the Virgin Islands our home.
As a people, we continue to celebrate the precious gift of life.
It was just this Easter weekend we were reminded that GOD, ABBA OUR FATHER Reigns. His crucifixion represents triumph and His resurrection represents HOPE!
It means, no matter how tough it gets; no matter what we face today; no matter what we are going through and have been through, no matter the uncertainties of tomorrow, the people of the Virgin Islands WE WILL RISE AGAIN!
Mr. Speaker, I know this because history never lets you forget that progress and survival are in our DNA as Virgin Islanders.
That is why; I am here today to tell the people of the Virgin Islands that as we continue to truly and faithfully repent and praise, all will be well, just have Faith, radical faith!
We continue to thank all those who continue to take the time to call-in to ZKING, ZCCR and ZBVI to pray and praise Jehovah for our beloved Virgin Islands.
I thank our Kingdom Ambassadors and Prayer Warriors for standing guard on the wall in protection of our Territory.
We thank all those who continue to pray within the walls of their homes.
Mr. Speaker, we thank our people for praying for each other and for your Government because true leadership is knowing when to follow and when to lead.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed the global operating landscape which has a trickledown effect on the Caribbean region, and more specifically the British Virgin Islands.
Mr. Speaker, I want to thank the People of this Territory for remaining in agreement with your Government to keep us all safe within our borders, and within our homes as we work to become a COVID-19 free destination, business jurisdiction and economy.
And, together we declare that is so in Jesus’ Name.
I know that some of our people are feeling a sense of frustration at this time. I empathise with you. I fully understand your pain.
It was not easy nor was it an easy decision to tell the cruise ships and tourists, not to come at this time.
Mr. Speaker, it was not an easy decision to know that there are Virgin Islanders living abroad in high-risk COVID-19 countries, they are our family members, who want to come home, but for now they cannot because our borders had to be closed.
It was not an easy decision to close schools and tell our children that they cannot attend classes and be with their teachers and friends.
It was not an easy decision to tell you that when you to see your brother, sister or friend to greet them from a distance.
It was not an easy decision to ask people to close their businesses!
Mr. Speaker, it certainly was not an easy decision to ask people to shop for 14 days and remain indoors for 24 hours each day.
But when you look around the world and hear and see the daunting stories and pictures of many people gasping for breath on ventilators; when you hear the startling number of people abroad succumbing to the reality of COVID-19 you have no choice but to pray, plan, prevent and persevere.
The reality is, once there is life there is hope.
So, what did we do as a people to keep our hope alive?
We bit the bullet. We dipped into your own money, while utilising our own resources. We recognised what our forefathers recognised that the only solution to our problems is ourselves.
Mr. Speaker, so we immediately invested over $12M of our own money and we swiftly swung into the preventative mode, to put the necessary measures and mechanisms in place.
This is what we have done together as a people of the Virgin Islands.
Mr. Speaker, let me remind you that together we used our funds to reconstruct an area in the Dr. D Orlando Smith Hospital to quarantine persons, if needed.
Together we spearheaded our Health Emergency response to this pandemic leaning on the strength and expertise of our people.
Our efforts to keep us all safe have been many.
And we have once again seen that the Lord always helps those who help themselves.
Our efforts were blessed with the help from many hands.
Mr. Speaker, help from Family Support Network, Red Cross, Lions, Rotary, Bank of Asia, and many other businesses and NGOs who stepped up to the plate. They helped to feed those who needed it the most and assisted in the donation of many needed resources in the fight against this pandemic.
Through our initial efforts to keep us all safe, GOD continues to allow more help to come.
We have seen this lately where this Territory was able to get 480 test kits in the first instance and then 960 test kits from the United Kingdom. I want to say that no matter where the help has come from, your Government says thank you. Praise be to God.
We are now awaiting the arrival of 30 medical personnel from Cuba. This again is your Government showing that it is remaining proactive and not reactive.
Mr. Speaker, almost daily, the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands continues to meet to make decisions that will keep us safe in this COVID-19 era, while ensuring that our economy remains buoyant. This is not an easy balance to achieve, but with GOD all things are possible.
We thank the Governor for chairing these meetings and being a part of the decision making as Ministers deliberated on the scientific evidence from our public health officials, the World Health Organisation and CARPHA, and the recommendations from the Health Emergency Operation Centre (HEOC).
I continue to thank our Deputy Premier and Minister for Health and Social Development, Honourable Carvin Malone as he and his HEOC five member Unified Command Centre team Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development Mrs. Petrona Davies, Chief Medical Officer Dr. Irad Potter, CEO of BVI Health Services Authority Dr. Ronald Georges, Acting Director of the Department of Disaster Management Dr. Evan Innis-Springer and Director of Communications Mrs. Arliene T. Penn continue to keep their hands on the pulse as we navigate through this unprecedented time of the ongoing health pandemic. This team is supported by professionals from across the public service and statutory bodies, and we thank all of them for their hard work and commitment.
The HEOC is also supported by the Joint Information Cell, which is headed by the acting Public Health Communications Specialist Ms. Adrianna Soverall. I thank the JIC which includes the team from the Department of Information and Public Relations of the Premier’s Office and communicators from across the public service and statutory bodies for the good work they are doing to keep the public informed, and in a very creative way.
I thank the Cabinet Secretary Ms. Sandra Ward and the Attorney General Baba Aziz who continue to provide invaluable assistance behind the scenes.
Mr. Speaker, I also thank all 13 elected representatives, all of the Members of this Honourable House, for all their invaluable contributions because we are all in this together.
But, most of all I thank you the people of the Virgin Islands for being obedient and making the necessary sacrifices, as uncomfortable as they may be, to ensure that we all remain safe.
As you are aware, we had three confirmed cases. They have been recovering remarkably. In fact, two of them have now tested negative for COVID-19, and we praise God for their testimonies.
Thankfully, since this 14-day 24-hour curfew was instituted, and the ongoing testing, there have been no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the BVI. For this we can only say to GOD BE ALL THE GLORY!
For the last few days we have been meeting in Cabinet to properly flesh out what will happen when the current 14-day 24-hour curfew ends on April 19.
Mr. Speaker, here are some of the factors that guided our decisions:
- We have in place aggressive contact tracing and containment measures along with the proactive social distancing.
- We have had no new cases or spikes in transmission and no evidence of community spreading to date.
- We have been able to balance the enhancement of the public-health surveillance system and scaling up the healthcare system to account for the unprecedented spread of COVID-19.
- We need to re-energise our economic activity, while ensuring our safety.
With these factors in mind, Cabinet Ministers deliberated, voted and agreed that there will be no need for any further extension of the current 14-day 24-hour Imposition of a Curfew Order.
Cabinet was presented with a comprehensive COVID-19 Phased Internal and Restricted Borders Reopening Plan by the HEOC team.
To date, we have only endorsed Phase One of the plan which will take us up to June 1, 2020. This first phase only represents the internal reopening of the BVI. Please note that during this phase our borders will remain closed.
I repeat during this phase, our borders remain closed.
Mr. Speaker, we thought it best to approve the plan in phases so that each phase builds on the strength of the other, and to allow for amendments and adjustments to be made along the way seeing that this pandemic remains fluid.
Simply put we are not out of the woods yet.
We recognise that there have been some genuine needs during this 14-day curfew. In order to address those needs, Cabinet approved home delivery services for essential food supplies, only, from approved supermarkets between 9:00am and 3:00pm; and home deliveries of LPG (cooking gas) from 6:00am to 12 noon, while this present curfew continues. Please note that you can only call in your food and groceries orders using those delivery services approved by Cabinet.
Today, I want to also explain Phase One of the internal reopening plan and how it will function.
Cabinet agreed on the plans for the first part of a six-week gradual and safe re-opening that will be carefully managed.
A new Curfew Order will be put in place for from 6:01 a.m. on Thursday, April 16, 2020 to 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 30, 2020, for 14 days, to be managed in the following manner:
Mr. Speaker, on April 16 and 17, the Order will operate in a manner that is currently ongoing. Simply put, April 16 and 17 there will be no difference to how we are operating under this current Order.
However, on Saturday, April 18, approved businesses will be allowed to clear supplies at Port Purcell, Tortola and St. Thomas Bay, Virgin Gorda.
Cabinet also approved a list of critical/key private sector businesses to carry out the necessary in-store sanitisation, physical distancing markers, security, environmental health assessment and associated measures prior to re-opening.
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet agreed to a limited list of Critical/Key Private Sector businesses and organisation activities that will be permitted to operate during the first few days of the first phase of the internal reopening plan. They are as follows:
- Pharmacies/drug stores
- Restaurants but only deliveries and take-out
- Banks/remittance services
- Farming and fisheries
- Fuel stations and LPG (cooking gas)
- Hardware stores
- Ferries but only, inter-island movement within the BVI. And , I repeat ferries but only, inter-island movement within the BVI.
- Buses/taxis but with limited passengers, adhering to the social distancing measures.
- Private health care providers
- Insurance companies
- Small construction teams with a limit of 20 people per project
- Manufacturers and suppliers of personal protective equipment and hand sanitisation products manufactures of those
- Office supplies
- Telecommunication retail stores
- Garages and automotive supply stores
- Hairdressers and Barbers
- Home delivery services; and
- Gatherings at faith- based organisations will be limited to 20 people
As a Cabinet, we will continue to review the list of essential services and we will make adjustments, where appropriate and reasonable.
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet agreed that a new night-time Curfew will be imposed from 7:00 p.m. until 6:00 a .m. daily starting from April 19 to June 1, 2020. Please note that approved businesses will be allowed to operate daily from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
Businesses should ensure that their operating hours give allowance for their staff to report and leave work within the hours of the imposed Curfew.
Cabinet agreed that on Sunday, April 19 seniors and essential workers can access key critical/businesses for essential supplies and services, (seniors would be persons who are 70 years and above) and everyone else should remain at home.
Mr. Speaker, I repeat, Cabinet agreed that on Sunday, April 19 seniors and essential workers can access key critical/businesses for essential supplies and services, (seniors would be persons who are 70 years and above) and everyone else should remain at home.
In Cabinet, we also agreed that from Monday, April 20 at 6:00 a.m., residents will be able to leave their homes to access critical/key services, as defined, and for limited exercise, but not on beaches. For now all beaches remain closed.
Mr. Speaker, in order to facilitate a structured approach following the lifting of the 14-day 24-hour curfew, Cabinet decided that from Monday, April 20 to Thursday, April 23, there will be a district-by-district plan instituted for the first three days where residents will have access to businesses in the Road Town business district on scheduled days. The Road Town business district is between Road Reef and Baugher’s Bay.
Our objective here is to ensure that there is not an influx of people rushing into Road Town all at once to do business. We want to minimise frustration and chaos as much as possible. We want to ensure social distancing practices. We want to ensure the safety of all and we still want people to be comfortable while conducting business in the capital.
Mr. Speaker, the district-by-district schedule is as follows:
On Monday, April 20 – residents of Districts 4, 5 and 6 will be the only ones allowed to access businesses in the Road Town Business District.
On Tuesday, April 21 - residents of Districts 1, 2 ,and 3 will be the only ones allowed to access businesses in the Road Town Business District. Jost Van Dyke will fall within the District 2 timeframe.
On Wednesday, April 22 – residents of Districts 7 and 8 will be the only ones allowed to access businesses in the Road Town Business District for the introduction of the internal reopening.
On Thursday, April 23 – District 9 (Virgin Gorda) will be the only ones allowed to access business in the Road Town Business District.
Residents of Anegada would be allowed to travel to the Road Town business district to access services from April 20 to 23.
Mr. Speaker, we are having this structured approach because we are mindful that people want to rush out and make purchases.
But please understand that the Territory will no longer be on a full lock down.
We are internally reopening, but with CAUTION so that we do not retard the progress we have made thus far in containing COVID-19 in the British Virgin Islands.
As a Territory, we have been doing extremely well. We just want to make sure that there is a structured approach.
After the fourth day, of the internal reopening, we have every day of the week in which to go to Road Town or anywhere in the Territory, and do business. So please do not panic and rush out.
All the businesses have assured us that they are prepared for you. Shipments are still coming and cargo is still being cleared.
Mr. Speaker, so let us all remain calm and do what is expected of us, and look out for each other with BVILOVE.
We are going to get through this together.
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet also endorsed the 90-day Public Service Operations Plan in phases up to June 1.
We will continue to meet with the business community virtually to discuss innovative ways of doing business post COVID-19.
We are in this together, and we are all working together.
During this initial internal opening, I wish to say here that Cabinet also decided that schools would remain closed to students, but teachers, in a limited capacity, can access schools and engage in on-line instruction. And the Minister for Education will soon be following with a speech with more details in this area in regards to schools.
Mr. Speaker, Public Officers are being retooled and retrained for the new BVI where Cabinet decided on a temporary redeployment of Immigration Officers to join the Joint Task Force with Her Majesty’s Customs and the Royal Virgin Islands Police Force for the COVID-19 era.
This means that there will now be extra manpower on the roads, at the borders and patrolling the seas. There will be zero tolerance of human trafficking and zero tolerance to crime.
When the borders do open up in phase two, only persons deemed to belong to the Territory and persons with resident status will be allowed entry over the next three (3) months, but with strict conditions. At that time, such entry will only be allowed at the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, subject to a pre-approval of passenger information seven (7) days in advance of travel, among other measures.
The seaports for now will remain closed.
Mr. Speaker, we cannot become complacent, hence the reasons for these actions.
I know that many persons are waiting eagerly to hear about the economic response referred to some as an economic stimulus plan. While the details of this phased plan that has been approved by Cabinet will be fully discussed with the public shortly, today I seek to inform this Honourable House of what Cabinet decided.
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet has approved the Policy Paper: BVI Government’s Policy Response to the Coronavirus pandemic, which will serve as the interim framework to guide the Government’s social, economic and fiscal response to the immediate and short-term needs of the Territory.
I will be making a full statement on this as Minister of Finance shortly, but I just wanted to whet your appetite and let you know that:
Cabinet decided that the Financial Secretary is to instruct applicable Ministries, Statutory Bodies and Public Corporations to implement the Immediate Relief Package, and for each to submit a bi-monthly report to the Minister of Finance for the information of the Cabinet;
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet also decided that the Financial Secretary, in collaboration with the applicable Ministries, Statutory Bodies and Public Corporations, will develop a Phase Two economic and social response programme guided by the Economic Stimulus component of the Policy Paper, which programmes are to be submitted to the Minister of Finance within 30 days for presentation to the Cabinet;
Cabinet agreed to instruct the Financial Secretary to lead technical discussions with the UK Government's Financial Technical Team in petitioning the Secretary of State to relieve the Government of the Virgin Islands of its obligation under Section 20 of the Protocols for Effective Financial Management and the review and amendment of Sections 25, 27 and 28, to enable the BVI Government to secure the funding necessary to respond to catastrophic events such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in light of:
- the real impacts and forecasted economic outlook for the BVI due to the catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic;
- the unavailability of grant funding from the UK Government, and
- the impediment that conditions of the Protocols for Effective Financial Management pose to the BVI Government being able to finance the immediate relief and economic stimulation programmes on its own.
Mr. Speaker, Cabinet agreed that any and all funding, aid, assistance, grant, gift or donation, whether monetary or non-monetary, received by or on behalf of the BVI from or through any country or government, person, business, institution, organisation/NGOs with respect to the COVID-19 global pandemic, the economic effects of the pandemic or anything otherwise related to the pandemic, shall be payable into the Consolidated Fund and managed through the Ministry of Finance, in keeping with the Virgin Islands Constitution Order, 2007, the Public Finance Management Act, 2004, and the Audit Act, 2003 to ensure accountability and fiscal responsibility through one single Virgin Islands institutional framework to ensure public accounts accountability, transparency and good governance in the management and auditing of monetary or non-monetary contributions to the Virgin Islands for COVID-19 pandemic;
The Cabinet agreed that the Minister of Finance publicly account and report on any and all funding, aid, assistance, grant, gift or donation monetary or nonmonetary, received by or on behalf of the BVI from or through any country or government, person, business, institution, organisation/NGOs with respect to the COVID-19 global pandemic in keeping with transparency, accountability and good governance.
I thank the COVID-19 Economic and Fiscal Stability Task Force and other key stakeholders who were able to give their recommendations.
Despite these health and economic challenges that the world is faced with, and to which the BVI is not immune, as a Government we remain focused on our vision of transforming the BVI into a leading regional economy by 2025 through entrepreneurship, innovation and local and foreign investment.
We are going to be the trend setters.
Again, let me remind all of us that as a people we have done a lot to mitigate COVID.
Mr. Speaker, now is the time for us to remain laser focused.
The magnitude of this virus is big. This is not a matter that will be going away anything soon, so let us prepare our minds and our actions and everything around us for the long haul.
We are facing and fighting something that we cannot see, so it is very important what we all do from here. We cannot play around with COVID-19, because COVID-19 is not playing around with us.
Mr. Speaker, if at any time we as a Government believe that persons are not putting safety first and practicing social distancing and personal hygiene, a 24-hour curfew will be reinstituted, and you can hold me to that!
As the leader of this Territory, I am not going to wait to do what needs to be done to ensure that not one person in this Territory dies as a result of COVID-19.
Our elders have taught us that an ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure. So, let us not fool ourselves; this is far from over. We must move in a wise way. We must continue to pray and to work.
I give God all the praise. We must give God alone all the praise. We must give God alone all the glory and honour for what He has done for us in the BVI. It is only because of Him that we now only have one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the BVI.
Together with God’s help we will continue to be safe and we will rise again. Remember God is with us, God is with you, and where God is, all is well.
Long live the people of the BVI!
Mr. Speaker, I thank you.