15th April, 2020
Good morning to all,
I hope you all had a good Easter weekend – although I recognise we had to celebrate our usual Easter traditions, such as going to Church and seeing family, in a different way this year, I know that these sacrifices were vital. Thank you again for making those sacrifices and staying at home.
As the Premier and I have said before, the measures we are taking do seem to be helping to limit the virus in this Territory. In the period since the curfew started, our medical teams have advised that no new cases have been identified and there is no evidence of community transmission. But that is only the case because of your collective effort to comply with the restrictions in place – so please do continue to stay at home for the remainder of the current curfew.
The Easter weekend has been an exceptionally busy one for myself and colleagues in Cabinet and also for many of our essential workers on the front line and those working behind the scenes. I thank all involved for their support.
Whilst I know being confined to your home has been difficult, it has given us the ability to assess the current situation in the Territory, limit transmission, and ensure that those quarantined are supported and assessed as we are now down to just five people in quarantine.
We are confident that we don’t see evidence of transmission within our Territory, but we are not out of the woods. As a Cabinet, we understand that everyone wants to know what happens after the current lockdown period comes to an end. Rightly so, as it has a huge impact for us all. Our priority remains that we protect the safety and security of our population.
Having taken advice from our medical teams, Cabinet has collectively agreed to a series of measures to gradually, as is allowed, for a structured re-opening of essential services and businesses in a safe and structured way. These will be kept under review and are therefore subject to change. The details are set out below.
Home Delivery Services for essential food items – starting now
We recognise that people are concerned about running out of food. Therefore, Cabinet has agreed to amend the current curfew order from today to allow approved home delivery services.
This will be for essential food supplies only, from approved home delivery providers and supermarkets, between 9.00 am and 3.00 pm. For home deliveries of LPG (cooking gas), it will be between 6.00 am and 12 noon. This will ensure those currently facing shortages of food and cooking fuel can be catered for quickly. More details will be set out on social media.
For those experiencing hardship, arrangements are already in place through the Red Cross and FSN.
Phased re-opening of essential shops and businesses – from 19 and 20 April
We will start the first phase of re-opening by granting public access to a limited range of key businesses, shops and services.
A full list of these businesses will be published separately, but includes food stores and bakeries, pharmacies, restaurants — for take out and delivery only, fuel stations, hardware stores, laundries and banking and insurance companies.
Cabinet will review the phased approach weekly and, dependent on the medical advice, may add further businesses or activities to the list.
What this means in practice is set out below and will be covered in further detail on social media channels.
On Saturday 18 April:
· Persons will be allowed to clear goods from Port Purcell in Tortola and St Thomas Bay in Virgin Gorda.
· An approved list of critical businesses will be allowed to undertake in-store sanitisation, put in place social distancing markers, prepare security and undertake environmental health assessments prior to re-opening.
· All other people must remain at home.
On Sunday 19 April:
· Critical businesses and essential services will be open to cater for seniors (those aged 70 and above) and essential workers only.
· All other people should remain at home to ensure that we protect our seniors and most vulnerable
From Monday 20 April:
· People will be able to leave their home every day between the hours of 6:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. to access critical shops and services and for limited exercise. Businesses should ensure that their operating hours allow for their staff to arrive for and leave work within the curfew restrictions. 7:00 p.m. will be a hard curfew and police will enforce
· People will be encouraged to avoid gatherings and follow the safe social distancing and hygiene guidelines. There will be a mandatory ban on gatherings above 20 people. For gatherings smaller than this, social distancing guidelines should be adhered to.
· Beaches will not open and should not be used. Whilst we know this is restrictive, keeping the beaches closed in this initial phase allows the Police to enforce the ban on large gatherings more effectively.
Access to Road Town business district – from 20 April
We want to avoid crowds at the stores in the Road Town central district as people re-stock. To reduce crowds, access to the Road Town business district will be managed on a rotation system from Monday 20 April to Thursday 23 April.
Let me be clear, shopping within your own district is allowed from 20 April onwards on any day, but you will not be able to access the Road town shopping district until your assigned day.
From Friday 23rd April, shopping within the Road Town business district is also allowed at any time.
These restrictions on accessing the Road Town business district will only be in place from Monday 20 April to Thursday 23 April.
The approach will work as follows:
On Monday 20 April until Thursday 23 Apri,l people will be able to access the Road Town business district, but this will be on a District by District basis as follows:
1. Anegada residents may travel to the Road Town businesses district to access services on any day from 20-23 April,
2. Monday 20 April – access will be for Residents of Districts 4, 5 and 6
3. Tuesday 21 April – access will be for Residents of Districts 1, 2 and 3
4. Wednesday 22 April – access will be for Residents of Districts 7 and 8
5. Thursday 23 April –access will be for District 9 (Virgin Gorda)
It is important to also remember that this is not the same as when people had to stock up for the 14 day lockdown. The shops are expected to remain open from Monday 20 April onwards. Therefore, you do not need to rush or stock up all at once which could cause crowds at the stores.
Social distancing and hygiene practices – starting now
It is vital that we do not consider this a return to normal, as new physical social distancing measures will be in place and need to be adhered to. We will be monitoring businesses’ compliance with these to ensure they are enforced during this period.
As mentioned earlier, there will also be arrangements in place to ensure that there are not large crowds at the main stores when we start re-opening.
We need everyone now to adapt to the new reality of needing to practice safe social distancing and follow hygiene and sanitisation guidelines.
Access to schools
Cabinet also agreed that schools will remain closed to students, but teachers may access schools to facilitate on-line instruction in a limited capacity. The position on schools will be reviewed weekly by Cabinet as with all other measures.
Borders and use of private and commercial boats
Our borders will remain closed to incoming passengers until 6:00 a.m. on 2 June. By keeping them closed, we can build up our capability to fight the virus in the Territory.
Enhanced surveillance through a joint Police and Customs team, with support from others such as Immigration, will enforce the closure of our borders, particularly on the sea.
There will be a ban on all private and commercial (other than internal ferries, freight and cargo) boats on our Territorial waters in this first phase. We know that this will be disappointing for people who want to get back out on the water, but it is important that the efforts of our security teams are focussed on securing the marine border.
New working practices for the public service
We will also be setting out changes to how the Public Service operates. I will not go into detail on that now other than to say that the public service will be open for business in the next phase.
Essential services have continued to operate during this period and I am grateful to all public servants for their support. As we go in to the next phase, many Government services will operate differently – putting in place social distancing measures and offering services virtually, remotely and online as much as possible. We will ensure that Public Servants have the time they need to tend to their own essential requirements too and that their safety is prioritised.
Further details will be communicated to both Public Servants and the public by the Deputy Governor and myself. In the meantime, I would like to thank all the Public Servants for their hard work and commitment to date.
So in summary – with your help we have made progress and we should all be proud of what we have achieved to date. This has not come without cost and hardship and we are very conscious of that – hence Cabinet is setting out what economic support may be available and I will also be speaking with the UK on the support that they can provide.
This next stage does not mean that life will go ‘back to normal’. We will sign a new curfew order to cover the night time curfew and people will be expected to remain at home when not out for essential services and supplies or undertaking exercise. We will also expect all people to strictly observe social distancing measures. We need to ensure that we keep ahead of this virus and that requires us all to take responsibility for safe distancing and hygiene.
I have said before that this is an unprecedented situation. There isn’t a playbook for what we should do and the decisions we make will be kept under review, subject to the latest medical advice from the unified and capable HEOC team and are therefore subject to change. The constantly evolving situation makes it difficult to plan as far in advance as we’d all like, but it’s important we get these decisions right. We are very grateful for personal sacrifice and hardship – these are challenging times for us all. Our most important priority is to continue to protect everyone in the British Virgin Islands.
I again want to thank all of the individuals and teams who are working to protect us.
I recognise that the changes agreed by Cabinet and as I have outlined will raise a number of questions. We will ensure that you have clarity and will be providing further detailed guidance through Government channels.
So please – continue to stay home, stay positive because these times will pass and stay healthy. Thank you and may God bless this Territory.