BVI businesses were forced to make necessary changes to ensure that the Territory is not overly affected by COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Some of the changes were self-imposed and others mandated by Government; these changes will undoubtedly affect their bottom lines and in this article The Island Sun newspaper will be presenting a synopsis of the current state of business operations in the Territory following the implementation of these preventative measures.
The financial services sector seemed to be weathering well especially since the system has resiliency built into it as was observed following the 2017 hurricanes. Renowned trust company Appleby Global explained in a company article that businesses that use BVI financial service products are still able to do filings, searches through the VIRRGIN system in the usual manner. As it relates to court filings Appleby said, “An Emergency Measures Practice Direction came into force on 23 March 2020 to facilitate the filing by email of documents in older matters that are not currently administered through the E-Litigation Portal. Restrictions consistent with social distancing policies on access to the Registry have also been applied.”
On 19 March, before the border closure declaration. the BVI Tourist Board informed the guests and visitors in the Territory. The Board assured the visitors that they were not being asked to bring their vacation to a halt. “Government has given approval for visitors to remain until their scheduled departure.” However, the Board suggested that the visitors make attempts to secure flights, “Given the rapidly changing state of international travel with the imminent closure to a number of regional and international gateways and flight cancellations, we are urging visitors to contact their airlines to make arrangements for departures as soon as possible. In particular, the US Embassy in Barbados has recently issued an email urging US citizens who are returning home to contact their airlines to make travel arrangements while flights are still available,” the Tourist Board announced.
Less than a week later the Tourist Board informed visitors that they were receiving more news of gateway and border closures and flight cancellations; and urged the tourists to make airline contact.
On Tuesday, a USA subscriber told this newspaper that his return from Australia to his home in Georgia proved complicated, hugely expensive and took 70 hours to reach home.
The situation for tourists here became more peculiar when on 22 March at 11:59pm the Territory’s borders officially closed to inbound passengers. As a result of this announcement, the BVI Tourist Board rose to the challenge of assisting visitors to exit.
It was noted that all ticketed passengers in the Territory who heeded the call were able to depart on 24 and 25 March on Road Town Fast Ferry and Smith’s Ferry: those vessels made one trip each to St. Thomas for passengers seeking to depart the BVI.
The two companies alternated the trip with Road Town Fast Ferry making the trip one day and Smith’s Ferry the next. Those who wished to leave by air were able to do so via contact with the various airlines that travel from the BVI.
There is no doubt that the tourism industry is feeling the effects of this mysterious pandemic. One example is the major BVI tourism property Little Dix Bay which recently opened and had previously reported that it was well booked for months.
This tourist favorite as a result of the Coronavirus announced that it was halting service. The resort stated via social media, “In light of the current COVID-19 global outbreak, Rosewood Little Dix Bay will temporarily halt operations effective 24 March 2020. We have made this decision out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with the local travel mandate restricting visitor entry into the British Virgin Islands in an effort to lessen the spread of the virus.”
On the charter yacht section: companies such as The Moorings have been fielding calls from concerned customers. In noting this occurrence The Moorings issued a notice on its website stating, “We’re experiencing high call volumes. To allow our Vacation Planners to assist customers with immediate needs, we are asking those who do not have charters within the months of March or April to please wait until closer to your trip before contacting us. Rest assured we are working hard to support all our customers. “
Since the explosion of COVID-19 or Coronavirus the term ‘social distancing’ has become a buzz word and a way of life as persons through various means attempt to put space between themselves and others to minimising the spread of this fatal virus. This is being done by remote working, cancellation of public gatherings and the limit of gathering capacity. In other scenarios persons are ensuring that there are at least six feet between them and another person.
In the implementation of social distancing here there has been a recorded change in the attendance to various places of business. For instance, the Labour and Immigration Department which despite various efforts over the years always seemed to attract a full waiting room and at times an external line, saw a change thanks to social distancing measures.
The measure for those departments was announced by Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration, Hon. Vincent Wheatley on 19 March as part of that Ministry’s Preparations for COVID-19. “The Department is working on extending work permits on a case-by-case basis, until those persons can return to work. “ Further it was announced on 23 March by the Immigration Department that it was implementing social distancing. It was announced, “The Immigration Department is informing the public that it has implemented social distancing measures in light of Coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic and is now only allowing five persons within the lobby area at any given time.” Other persons were asked to call and make an appointment.
At the Department of Motor Vehicles, only ten persons will be allowed into the operations area at a time
Supermarkets urged to implement Rationing
Banks are also allowing limited numbers of clients at a time to enter their operations. There is also an increasing awareness of supermarkets’ shelves being emptied by panic buyers; as a result, there is a widespread and loud call for supermarkets to ration quantities for each customer with members of the buyer’s family not allowed to use a second cart. Panic buying is the action of buying large quantities of a particular product or commodity due to sudden fears of a forthcoming shortage or price increase.