Good day to one and all.
Around the world, the Coronavirus COVID-19 continues to spread. While we do not have any confirmed cases in the Territory, Government has taken the approach that the detection, containment, mitigation and management of this Coronavirus remains a national priority. Cabinet has been meeting regularly to strategise the details of our response and review the continuity of business plans for the various government agencies and departments as the situation changes. Most recently, after discussion with the Premier I chaired a special meeting of Cabinet yesterday Sunday March 15, and again earlier today, Monday March 16.
Following those meetings it has been agreed:
- that Special Cabinet Meetings will be held daily, effective 17th March, 2020, for the purposes of discussing matters relating to COVID-19;
- that a Unified Incident Command team comprised of the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development, Chief Medical Officer and the Director of Disaster Management will be established
- that the Cabinet will receive daily Incident Command Reports, inclusive of new developments regarding COVID-19 and policy recommendations for consideration by the Cabinet;
- that the NEOC would remain at Level I and we will regularly review this situation.
We will also undertake daily reviews of the listing of countries of special interest and high risk, that is, those countries a traveler to the Territory has visited which could trigger restrictions enhanced screening procedures. We are also working through business continuity plans for the public service. Continue to follow advice on www.bvi.gov.vg
These actions to protect the people of the Virgin Islands are in addition to those shared by the Premier on Friday March 13, which include:
- Prohibiting cruise ships from docking in the Territory until at least April 13
- Strengthening our screening capacity at ports of entry by clearing all international cargo vessels at Port Purcell, and all international passengers at either the Terrance B Lettsome Airport, the Road Town Ferry Dock, or the West End Ferry Dock
- Assessing the Public Health Sector’s needs in terms of quarantine facilities, testing equipment, and supplies to protect health care staff
- Updating the list of countries from whence travelers should expect enhanced screening and possible quarantine upon arrival on our shores
- Assigning the Department of Trade, Investment Promotion and Consumer Affairs the task of monitoring potential price gouging and related issues
- Setting up a health hotline so that persons can speak to a medical professional by phone if they have Coronavirus related concerns, and
- Encouraging residents to practice safe social distancing by postponing mass gatherings in various communities.
I know that in a Territory so accustomed to welcoming visitors to explore our beautiful islands, these and other measures may present a challenge. The Premier is also sensitive to this, and has directed that an Economic and Fiscal Stability Task Force be formed to help limit the impact the Territory will see as a result of reduced visitors. For now, I would ask that we all acknowledge that it is a sacrifice well worth making since it will help protect the people who live here.
At home, work and school, I encourage all to follow the prevention measures being shared regularly by the Ministry of Health and Social Development:
- Practice good hygiene by frequently washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water and avoid touching your face
- Cover your coughs and sneezes with a disposable tissue or your elbow
- Disinfect surfaces like tabletops, doorknobs and door handles frequently
- If you are particularly at risk because of age or chronic disease, limit group gatherings and crowded public places
- If you are ill, stay at home
We need to change some of our behaviours. Take sensible precautions – even how we greet people can make a difference. We are known as a warm and welcoming people but there are other ways to show that than a handshake and a hug. From now on greet people from a distance. Avoid handshakes and hugs.
Also I would ask that we try to ignore and not disseminate the Facebook posts and WhatsApp messages that aim to worry us. Instead follow official advice and continue to be good neighbours and friends. Just as during other types of emergencies, while it may be prudent to have some extra supplies on hand, excessive stockpiling feeds fear, and may even make it more difficult for the most vulnerable in our population to access necessities.
As we have seen, this Territory is highly capable of responding to threats when we work together. We have been working diligently to ensure that adequate preparations are in place in the event that we have a confirmed case. I want to thank all of our teams across the public service and Statutory Bodies who are working so hard to protect the Territory and to thank the Minister of Health for the action he has taken so far. Our dedicated men and women in the health services industry have demonstrated their ability to provide excellent service when the need arises and I remain confident in their abilities during this time. This may be a long journey ahead but I am confident we can support each other and stay strong.
May God bless us as we face this new challenge together.