It has been reported that certain businesses in the community have not been adhering to measures that have been implemented as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic; and Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie has announced that the House of Assembly will be sitting on Friday 27 March to – among other things – amend the legislation to give it more teeth to ensure compliance.
During a press conference on 24 March Hon. Fahie emphasized that adherence to the new operation time is critical for the Territory’s weathering of the Coronavirus storm. The Premier also announced that Government is prepared to deal with those found in contravention. “All businesses no matter what they are, our churches no matter what they are must only operate from 6:00am to 8:00pm; and we also are making sure that measures are put in place security-wise to have persons who ignore those measures are being dealt with,” the Premier declared.
While Hon. Fahie said that the majority of residents are adhering to the measures to prevent the Coronavirus pestilence, he noted that there are dangerous offenders. “There are some who are not adhering to the measures. I want you to know that I say that when you continue to ignore the measures that have been put in place you are not doing it to spite the government…You are doing it endangering your own family…”
In giving an example of the nature of the non-adherence of the measures the BVI Leader said that he received information that persons were still hosting large gatherings. “One person sent me a picture of a party here some day with a little baby and this was only a few days ago and to the gathering there was at least about 70 persons there and they were passing around the baby. Those things I want to tell you publicly cannot be — you are endangering the child, you are endangering the persons that attend.”
While the Premier explained that the 6:00 to 8:00 requirement was not a curfew he did state that residents are expected to adhere as it if was. “A curfew by law in terms of the word comes through a state of emergency, but we are not in a state of emergency. Under the Public Health Act it allows the Minister of Health to reduce operations hours in the Territory when there is health pandemic.”
“No business should be operating after that (hour). Congregating should be stopped but this is not one to debate we are trying to do this to save lives so what I want to tell persons is debating this and trying to violate it is saying that you do not care about your life or your family’s life. These measures must be adhered to. It’s not by law named a curfew but it must be treated the same,” Hon. Fahie added.
As it relates to reports of persons violating the measures the Premier said that repercussions for such actions will be coming soon. “Eventually action will be taken,” Hon. Fahie declared.
Further, the BVI Leader stated that an agreement was made to have an emergency sitting of the House of Assembly on Friday. “We needed to beef up the law to strengthen and also to back up whatever actions will be taken from anyone who violates quarantine and violates these measure; so we are going to amend the law to strengthen the capability of law enforcement and health enforcement agencies to be able to deal with these matters…We wish that we did not have to do this because this is for everyone’s own good. So once persons can adhere to this then it would make life a lot easier. It is not forever; it is for a short time to make sure that we minimise the traffic and interaction so that we can minimise the possibility of the virus spreading.”
Police Prepared to Take Action
During a public broadcast on 23 March His Excellency Governor Augustus Jaspert, and Deputy Commissioner of Police Alwin James urged businesses to adhere to the recommended operation hours. During that same broadcast, the Deputy Commissioner urged persons to report businesses that were not complying.
The Deputy Commissioner similar to the Premier noted: “This is not a curfew. Persons are permitted to stay home freely within the Territory, this is about the operating hours of businesses, so businesses have to close at 8:00pm and remain close until 6:00am so their staff, so for instance supermarkets their employees who are working restocking shelves can still work, they can still move from one area of the Territory to another area it is not about restricting people’s movement. It is about the services of businesses.”
As it relates to dealing with people who are not adhering to the operating time the Deputy Commissioner said that under the present laws persons can be jailed or fined. “Those are summary offenses under the Public Health Act and those persons can be prosecuted and will be prosecuted in cases where it’s necessary. It’s a $1000 fine, a 12-month imprisonment. It’s possible also that it may affect the operating license in the future because we will report those to Cabinet of the constant violators as it relates to this area,” James said.
The Deputy Police Commissioner said that members of the public can also call to report businesses that are opening beyond the recommended time. “They can dial into our 311 number and report it and officers will respond.”
Governor Jaspert also emphasized that this was not a curfew. “What people are asking is – if my employer asks me to work after the supermarket shut to restock the shelves – that can happen. This is about minimizing the risk of lots of the public being in the same place all at once and passing around any risk of spreading this virus. Even though it is businesses that stay open during the day or are open during the day still I would ask them to think about how they apply social distancing practice in their businesses,” he explained.