On March 11, 2020 the World Health Organization declared the Corona Virus, COVID-19 a health pandemic. As we speak, there are over 565,000 confirmed cases with approximately 25,410 deaths in over 200 countries, territories and areas. It is important to note that the majority of cases, approximately 95 percent, are deemed mild and rarely require hospitalization. It is important to note that in fact, by doing the math, only 5 percent of these cases would be assessed as critical.
The primary question that everyone has and will be asking is why the need of a curfew at this time. It is important that we layout this out carefully so that each of us will have a full understanding as we must. As Minister for Health and Social Development and under the responsibility of the Public Health Ordinance CAP194, of the Infectious Disease Notification Act and the Quarantine Act, together with the Cabinet of the Virgin Islands meetings have been convened for the past two weeks, almost on a daily basis to ensure the safety of all residents.
In the British Virgin Islands, the epidemiological summary reports indicate that as of March 26, 2020 36 persons were tested, 25 was returned as negative, 2 have been confirmed positive and we await the results of 9 persons currently under investigation and has been transferred to the laboratory of CARPHA in Trinidad. It has also been reported that during the time since the declaration, a total of 107 persons remain under self-quarantine at their home.
Under the guidance of the Health Emergency Operations Centre testing, containment, quarantine, contact tracing and follow-up strategies are on-going and are being carried out around the clock in accordance with the World Health Organization technical guidelines.
With respect readiness, we look at our BVI Health Services Authority; the authority continues to be on high alert and has fully implemented its incident command system. A number of changes have been made to prepare for the eventuality of cases as we now have with these 2 cases. Visitation has been curtailed with entry screening at points of entry through the main lobby, emergency room, and the old emergency room entrance to the Annex. Elective and non-emergency services are presently reduced to prevent gathering of numerous persons and to minimize the risk of disease transmission to patients, visitors and staff. The community clinics and outpatient clinics are utilizing telephone follow up to keep track of patients with limited clinical services by appointment only. Patients are urged to phone ahead rather than to turn up at any medical location. It is demanded that you call your healthcare provider first before you arrive, whether private or public facilities.
All visitations at the Dr. D Orlando Smith Hospital have been suspended with the exception of Obstetrics and Pediatrics which are restricted to one designated visitor only. Client services staff will be available outside the lobby to handle persons presenting at the lobby entrance and address concerns. Mr. Speaker, Ladies and gentlemen, we have to be careful with how we proceed even at our public health facilities.
It is important to note that the third floor of the Dr. D Orlando Smith Hospital has been transformed into a special isolation unit specifically to handle any suspect or confirmed severe cases of COVID-19 or the persons who are deemed as requiring hospital administration. This unit has 14 beds, is expandable and will be expanded to 18 and have designated staffing with considerations for infection control and donning and the removal of personal protective equipment as well as an area for staff to shower and change before leaving the unit.
The Emergency Room has been reconfigured to provide rapid identification of patients who may have COVID-19 and their rapid isolation and handling. Why do I go through our preparation stages? We are in the process of qualifying the use of rapid test kits under the guidance of WHO so we must conduct as required even more tests to ensure the safety of everyone.
It is important to note that even in the United States of America, United Kingdom, Italy, countries, territories through the world, there exist a fact that no one has enough equipment whether ventilators or personal protective equipment (PPE) that are deemed required.
It was pleasing that yesterday together with all of the other donations made, the Bank of Asia was able to supply a series of over 12,000 N95 masks, gloves, isolation gowns, and eye protective equipment. But the only way that we are going to have enough equipment is for us to not need any of them. We can only do this if we adhere to protocols, if we practice our safety procedures that we have announced over this entire campaign.
We advised you to wipe surfaces, wash your hands, use hand sanitizers, avoid touching your face, cough in your folded elbow and if you use disposable napkins you have to apply the one use theory – throw out and use another. We also advised that if you showed any symptoms during this period that you self-quarantine.
We had a partial closure of the border before the curfew for incoming persons; indeed we were limited to the fact that those persons who were deemed belong to the Virgin Islands and those with Resident Certificates in the Virgin Islands could not be kept away from returning home.
Today, at the House of Assembly we will look at the provision for being legally able to have mandatory quarantine as too many of us on returning home did not follow the protocols of self-quarantine. We continue to monitor and track all those persons who have come into contact whether on a primary basis or on a secondary basis with the two cases that had been identified. We will continue to track both whether primary or secondary because we do not know who may have been affected and those persons will have to be tested once identified. If it is found that any additional amounts of persons have been notified then we have to provide all the services that I have outlined and more being done. It will be a strain on the resources of this country like every other country if we have a full blown occurrence of positive situations.
The curfew is outlined by the Curfew Act No. 20 of 2017 for the purposes of controlling, suppressing or preventing the spread of COVID-19 and for the protection of all persons in the Territory. A curfew is hereby imposed between the hours of 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. on the 25th day of March, 2020 and on the 26th day of March 2020 and between the hours of 8:00 p.m. on Friday, 27th March, 2020 until 6:00 a.m. on Thursday, 2nd April, 2020.
The cycle has to be broken and the cycle cannot continue because we do not have the resources if we have a full blown situation of positive cases. So we have created through Cabinet, through signature of the Governor the curfew.
In terms of the businesses that the Governor outlined, the persons employed in the essential services as defined in section 3 of the labour code 2010, if they are on duty. This list will be printed, circulated and it will be readily available. These also include:
- officers of private security service providers as defined in section 2 of the Private Security Industry Act, 2007, if they are on duty;
- customs and immigration officers, if they are on duty;
- public and private sector waste management services;
- fuel distribution and delivery services;
- public and private sector social care providers;
- Courts (Senior Magistrate and Coroner);
- mortuary services;
- humanitarian support;
- emergency call handlers;
- freight, courier and cargo distribution;
- Apostille and related statutory services;
- laundry services;
- media and broadcast provider;
- farming, agriculture, fisheries and veterinary service;
- transportation services (providing transportation for essential and critical operations);
- supermarkets and restaurants (providing services to and for essential and critical operations); and
- Health and emergency operations centre.
This list would be analyzed from time to time even during the short five days because no doubt, there would be those persons who may have inadvertently been omitted and those persons who are on the list that may have to be removed.
But this important for us to provide, if you are on this list and you do not have a cause to be out, for your very own safety, for the life of others, we are asking you to abide by the rules which have been laid out. This period, especially from 8:00 o’clock (p.m.) on Friday March 27 until 6:00 o’clock (a.m.) on April 2 is short compared to the lives you may save and compared to other territories who have laid out even more aggressive curfew times be it one month or even further periods.
When we received the results of the other 9 tests, we would have to examine it for all those persons in the Territory because if we have any reported positive persons we would have to look at the primary and secondary contacts and reexamine our procedure as to exactly how wide spread it may well have been. The curfew is important. I want to look specifically at all the residents of the Territory to provide care packages for households of our golden gems no matter the island within the Territory who are very critical to us. These packages are currently being packed.
It also gives us an opportunity to look at our complete health improvement programme. The Ministry of Education has been awarded two million dollars (2,000,000) for boosting up the farming and fishing community and this programme again is without borders as it relates to districts and various islands. We are going to promote backyard farming. The Premier has made available over twelve million ($12,000,000) dollars to improve the public health care services of this Territory and is relentless in terms of making sure that not a penny is speared to preserve our health at all times.
So I want to thank all the members of the House of Assembly who have met from time to time and members who have presented their cases whether opposition or Government ideas that have been incorporated. The Leader of the Opposition has asked that the structure of the Health Emergency Operations Centre and he will be provided with it today to make sure that all of us are involved in terms of getting the correct measures in place for what we have to do . Thank you very much to all members for their understanding, I thank the Government of the Virgin Islands and all those frontline persons who are have been with us day in day out to make sure the protection of our health care in the Virgin Islands as it relates to COVID-19. But at the end of the day, we have a duty to protect lives and with this I say God bless every one of us and God bless these Virgin Islands.