As we begin a new week in a state of lockdown, I would like to thank you all again for continuing to observe the curfew. It is more important than ever that we continue to do so. As you heard earlier from the Minister for Health and Social Development, we have another confirmed case, taking the total of confirmed cases to three in the Territory. These are all people who have recently travelled. We do not have confirmation of community transmission and need to do everything possible to continue to avoid that.
Many of you will be aware that the Government of the British Virgin Islands made a request to the United Kingdom Government on Friday 27th March for funding to pay at least the minimum wage of persons who have become unemployed as a result of COVID-19. I would like to take this opportunity to set out the UK Government’s position and be transparent about what the BVI Government and the UK Government can do.
Above all else, it is paramount that we continue to work together in partnership. The Premier, Ministers and I have been working together closely through Cabinet to consider what measures we need to take to tackle COVID-19 and its consequences. We are having to make difficult decisions to protect the people of this Territory and I support the actions taken to keep us safe and ask that people do likewise, primarily through staying at home.
I agree with the Premier on the importance of protecting the best interests of the individuals and businesses of the British Virgin Islands, many of whom are facing, and will continue to face, significant financial hardship. Countries and Territories around the world are assessing their own public finances and making arrangements to support their people. I believe that as a Cabinet, we also need to consider what urgent measures we can take here.
To this end, I have asked Cabinet to set out, as a matter of priority, its plans to ensure that individuals and businesses receive the support they need, both immediate and longer term. I am pleased that this work is actively underway. I am also pleased that the Government has also begun to address the current expenditure and is looking to address internal financing arrangements.
We need to recognise that we are starting from a strong position in the British Virgin Islands. We have healthy reserves and the Social Security Board Fund is very robust. Citizens are cooperating well with the current ‘lockdown’ – one of the measures our Government has taken in an effort to slow the spread of the virus in the Territory. Cabinet is currently doing an urgent assessment of public finances and putting together plans on new measures, including what assistance will be available to individuals and business. The impact of this pandemic may change in the future, but I recognise that it is important that people and businesses are given some initial reassurance from our Government on how they are supported in the face of economic hardships. I am encouraged that like the other Overseas Territories, the BVI Government is developing its own plans to respond to those in need and I am looking forward to hearing these necessary developments in Cabinet. I know, like sister Territories, BVI is proudly self-sufficient, and will be considering every resource to support our people.
Nonetheless, I would like to emphasise that the UK stands with the people of the British Virgin Islands and has already offered its support to this Territory. Since the outbreak of the virus, experts from the UK’s public health organisation have provided remote support to BVI via regular teleconferences to discuss disease management techniques and medical equipment. Later this week, I expect the first batch of testing kits (480 tests) to arrive in the Territory – more than doubling our current testing capacity. This will be the first of many packages of equipment from the UK. Whilst the UK and indeed the whole world struggles with accessing necessary medical supplies, I, as Governor, will continue to lobby for more on behalf of the people of the British Virgin Islands.
Furthermore, Premiers and Governors from across the Overseas Territories are speaking to the UK Government about their needs on an ongoing basis. The UK Government made a formal request for detailed information from all Overseas Territories on 17th March and the UK Government is now expecting the BVI Government to set out its overall plans for minimising the economic impact of COVID-19. As fiscal management and social security are responsibilities of the BVI Government, the UK Government needs to consider the request made on Friday in the context of our own BVI Government plans.
It’s also important to acknowledge that this is a global challenge and the UK has not been spared. As of this morning, more than 1,400 people have died in the UK and I know our thoughts are with our fellow British citizens in the UK and indeed all those affected across the world. But, despite the immense challenges, I am pleased that the UK remains committed to supporting its Overseas Territories in ways that it can.
Over the coming days and weeks, I hope to work with my colleagues in Government on the robust plan for that will support all the people of the British Virgin Islands. As always, my priority is your safety and security.
Finally and above all, I will keep my communication clear, regular and open. I will listen to your concerns and answer your questions; and I will do everything in my constitutional power to serve you during this time.