As close and friendly as the two Virgin Islands are Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie said that he is not going to risk the health and wellbeing of the people of the Territory by enabling inter-Virgin Islands travel at this time.
Persons in the Territory often travel between the two islands to shop and capitalize on cheap airfare. However, the Premier said that he has been monitoring the COVID-19 situation in the US and does not believe that reopening the border to allow for such travel is wise at this time.
Hon. Fahie in a late night broadcast on 19 May announced, “Reopening of our borders at this time, without proper control measures, places every person in the Territory at risk of serious illness and even death. So, before anyone asks the Government to just throw open our borders, look your loved ones in their eyes and then think again what their lives mean to you and what your life means to them.”
The conversation that travel should be allowed to/from USVI was broached by member of the Opposition Hon. Julian Fraser at the opposition press conference the same day. At that time Hon. Fraser suggested that efforts could be made to repatriate BV Islanders stuck in that neighbouring Territory for months.
However, the Premier rubbished this suggestion stating that he is shocked to hear such a suggestion from the Opposition. “I cannot believe that the four Members of the Opposition want to put the entire country – you and your family – at high risk, and to retard the Territory’s progress by reopening travel between the USVI and the BVI, at this time,” he declared.
While further blasting the USVI travel suggestion Hon. Fahie declared: “Are the Members of the tri-party Opposition aware that flights are still being allowed between the USVI and the US mainland, and that yesterday alone there were over 17,000 new COVID-19 cases and more than 750 new COVID-19 related deaths in the United States? Already for today alone, over 900 persons have died from COVID-19 in the United States. Is this what our Opposition want us to open our borders to contend with at this time.”
The Premier further added, “We cannot jeopardise the BVI by creating a health crisis on our shores. We cannot place the BVI in receivership by creating an economic crisis that is beyond our ability to manage. Do not believe that because we in the BVI have a good handle on things that we must become complacent. We are not out of the woods. So, we must continue to conduct ourselves accordingly as we navigate this marathon.”
One of the most clamored issues regards the closure of the Territory’s borders which continues to impact negatively the Territory’s tourism sector as businesses that depend on the arrival of tourists were forced to close and furlough their staff. However, Hon. Fahie announced that the border closure is not the only cause of the sector’s snag.
The BVI Leader declared that health and saving lives is paramount. “Can I tell you, that while we are all aware of how important tourism is to the BVI economy, especially at this time, we have to be realistic in facing certain facts. Your life and that of your loved ones is the price some people are willing to pay to grab hold of power, and may I add, put it in the wrong hands.”
In noting that other factors are at work in the lull of tourism the Premier said, “Most of the countries in the world still have restrictions on international travel. This applies to many of the countries from which the BVI’s visitors originate. How will tourists get here even if the BVI opens its borders? How will they get here if their own borders are closed and airlines are not flying?”
The USA Covid emergency has been grossly mismanaged to say the least, and a large percentage of tourists coming to the BVI are Americans. Therefore an influx of tourists from USA, South American countries, China and even many European and Caribbean nations can be all too risky in the present situation.
The Premier further stressed that the tourism shortfall is a global phenomenon, “Secondly, the economies in most of those countries are also in decline. Many persons there are also out of work and have no money. Do you think those persons will have the money for vacationing? Even if the BVI says we are ready for visitors, the rest of the world is not ready. The United Nations World Tourism Organization continues to state that 100% of destinations worldwide still have COVID-19 related travel restrictions for international tourists in place.”
As he further reprimanded the Opposition Hon. Fahie stated: “Out of all 217 destinations worldwide, 156 (72%) have placed a complete stop on international tourism. Most significantly, the organization further states, no destination has so far lifted or eased travel restrictions. This is the global picture and it is so until someone invents a cure for COVID-19 or a vaccine for the Coronavirus. So, I am asking, the Members of the tri-party Opposition and their operatives, from where will tourists come if the switch is flipped in the morning and we reopen the BVI’s borders to international travellers? Does any of them have a crystal ball or a secret cure for COVID-19 to make pronouncements that global tourism and global aviation will be back up and running by September? From whom did they get this information?”