Fellow Virgin Islanders and friends, I am pleased to report that Government agencies continue to work across sectors in a vigorous response to the global coronavirus disease outbreak, (COVID-19).
I am also pleased to report that the Health Emergency Operations Centre continues to lead the way and has been in regular and direct contact with our partners at the Caribbean Public Health Agency, Public Health England and the Pan American Health Organization.
While there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within our Territory, we are keeping a high level of vigilance and monitoring the global spread of the virus which, as of today March 10th, has affected over 112 countries and territories, including several in the Caribbean.
Notice is taken of the economic fall-out from this and other catastrophic events of recent times. Our health system and our economy are not immune from world events. We must be vigilant! We must prepare!
By way of update — further to my statement on Monday March 2nd, your Government has implemented a number of measures spearheaded by the Ministry of Health and Social Development:
- The National Emergency Operations Center has been activated at LEVEL 1 to adequately prepare for the effective coordination of strategic responses across the Territory, as the need arises.
- The Minister of Finance has signed the ADVANCE WARRANT and has made funding available to better protect our frontline officers and the population; to purchase supplies and equipment AND to prepare the Major Peebles Wing of the Dr. D. Orlando Smith Hospital as an ISOLATION center.
- The visa-free initiative for Nationals of the People’s Republic of China has been suspended.
- Travel advisories were issued in respect of China, South Korea, Japan, Singapore and Italy due to the rapid increase of COVID-19 cases in those countries.
- Revised and updated protocols have also been issued to cruise ship companies indicating that clearance will be denied to any ship with a passenger or crew member with recent travel history to an affected area, where that person is exhibiting symptoms consistent with COVID-19 and does not have a negative test result.
- Cabinet has decided to restrict non-essential duty travel by public officials to areas affected by COVID-19.
- The Deputy Governor has issued workplace guidelines for the public sector, including a checklist to help guide public officers in the best ways to protect themselves and the public they serve.
- Through our strong partnerships with Statutory Bodies such as the Ports Authority and the Tourist Board, we are providing similar advice and support to cruise ship agents, hoteliers and charter companies. All employers in the public and private sectors are encouraged to develop or review plans to ensure they are able to operate with adaptations like telework and flexible sick leave policies, and are prepared to respond if an employee/s were to report symptoms of illness.
- In addition to the training programmes completed, the Environmental Health Division will continue its outreach in target areas such as taxi operators, ferry operators, and schools to review and enhance their infection prevention and control procedures. Arriving passengers at any of the Ports of arrival should have witnessed increased measures aimed at keeping our BVI as safe as possible.
These preventive measures are being taken to reduce the Territory’s exposure to the virus that causes COVID-19. As advised by CARICOM, however, “this rapidly evolving situation now requires a shift in mindset in all countries from preparedness to readiness and rapid response”.
Continuing to employ a collaborative and proactive approach, the three main thrusts to our response strategy are to: Detect, Contain and Mitigate.
In this report, I will focus on the ongoing efforts to boost our detection capability.
Agencies working at our Ports-of-Entry have implemented expanded screening measures for all passengers and crew members arriving from international destinations. These include examination of Advanced Passenger Information data, inclusive of travel history. There is also enhanced enforcement of International Health Regulations (IHR) requirements for all arriving vessels, (including ferries, cargo vessels, and private boats and aircraft) to submit health declaration forms and undergo Port Health assessments before passengers are allowed to disembark.
In this regard, special arrangements are being worked out well in advance of the upcoming BVI Spring Regatta and similar boating events.
Our teams are also examining ways to facilitate this pre-screening process through greater use of information and communications technology (ICT) tools.
Detection also involves laboratory diagnostics. The BVI Health Services Authority has the specialized PCR equipment to conduct testing for the virus. They have acquired the approved test kits and laboratory staff personnel have been trained to carry out testing for COVID-19 in-Territory. The Caribbean Public Health Agency, located in Trinidad, remains the only regional reference lab certified to validate local COVID-19 tests on behalf of all national public laboratories within the member states.
BVIHSA continues to test its COVID-19 readiness plans with simulations to further improve them and identify gaps for strengthening.
The BVIHSA has also been providing technical guidance and support to private healthcare providers in order to ensure that appropriate measures for infection prevention and control, triage, case identification, isolation, and management are implemented across the health sector.
Every citizen, resident and visitor has a role to play in prevention and detection as well.
I know that with so many unknowns about this new virus, many of you might feel nervous. While this is natural, I would remind you that panic is never a productive response. Rather, we should all calmly continue to follow the time-tested respiratory virus prevention measures that we are all familiar with by now:
- Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with greater than 60% alcohol.
- Disinfect multi-touch surfaces frequently and avoid touching your face with un-washed hands.
- Remember to sneeze and cough into a tissue and discard it into a covered bin, or if you don’t have a tissue, cough into your flexed elbow.
- If you are sick, stay at home.
- If you are experiencing fever together with cough or shortness of breath, contact a healthcare provider. Please call ahead to health providers to make them aware of your symptoms so that you can get prompt attention. In the near future hotlines will be provided for you to call and get appropriate instructions.
Bear in mind that you can strengthen your body’s resistance to viral infections by eating balanced meals, getting adequate amounts of exercise, water, rest; managing stress and effective management of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. Our wellness and our illnesses are largely determined by our choices of foods; exercise, hydration and rest.
I find this an opportune time to advance and hasten the second phase of the “Complete Health Improvement Program” (CHIP) which was launched by the Ministry of Health early 2019. In this regard, you can rest assured that all stakeholders would be encouraged to get-on with the full implementation of this Health program for there is no better time than NOW.
In closing I wish to thank and commend all the agencies that have been working so well together to prepare our Territory for a robust response to this epidemic, and assure the public that the Government will do whatever is necessary to effectively manage the situation as it evolves.
I also urge every resident to heed the advice given and to work assiduously on their individual family and business preparedness plans for COVID-19.
I wish to encourage our media partners to do their part and to assist with educating the public about engaging in safe practices. The Government cannot do it alone. Your assistance is needed to get the information widely circulated.
The Ministry of Health and Social Development is committed to keeping everyone informed and will bring you regular updates. You can also access information on the Territory’s COVID-19 response on government’s website, www.bvi.gov.vg
Everyone should also beware of misinformation on the coronavirus disease circulating on social media platforms. Always double check the facts before sharing by visiting official websites: www.bvi.gov.vg/novel-coronavirus-info
Thank you for your attention. May GOD protect us! May GOD bless the Virgin Islands!