British Virgin Islands Governor Augustus Jaspert on Tuesday said that the British Virgin Islands (BVI) does not intend to introduce a full 24-hour lockdown of the British Overseas Territory (BOT) as it seeks to further curb the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) that has infected 38 people here.
In a statement, Jaspert said that a two-week curfew would instead come into effect as of Wednesday. He said while the 24-hour lockdown is an option, it comes with significant cost, economically, socially, and mentally.
“Therefore, we want to avoid this if at all possible, so not to put additional hardship on individuals who are already facing a very challenging time,” he said.
The Governor said that the law enforcement agencies have also been doing good work to ensure the safety of the population, including maritime security, which is essential to protecting against imported cases and transmission.
“We…have always said that an agile response to COVID-19 is required. Cabinet must constantly review the data, expert opinions and the challenges before us and adapt. Just as important as the efforts of medical professionals and law enforcers, is the efforts of our community.
“The time has come for us to adapt again to fight this virus and protect our islands. We have moved to the next phase in our response plans – and we need everyone to support us in this.”
The Governor said that it is also worth remembering that the island is facing a long-term threat from this virus, “a threat which would not disappear if BVI was to go into lockdown for a couple of weeks.
“Much as we would like it, we cannot plan for being completely COVID-19 free in the near future and it would be unrealistic to do so. It could be many months, even longer, until the world emerges from this period. So instead, we need to use the next period to learn to function with COVID-19 so that our society and economy can keep going in the long-term, rather than repeatedly closing and opening.”
He said that the best way to do this and stop transmission is to adapt behaviours, adding that means social distancing, wearing face masks, following hygiene measures and limiting chances for transmission through a curfew.
“Therefore, a new Curfew Order will come into force tomorrow for two weeks.” he said, adding that there will be a hard lock-down from 1:01 p.m. each day until 5:00 a.m (local time) each morning.
“This means you must stay within the confines of your home or yard between these hours. We need everyone to stay at home as much as possible. The limited hours of movement are for essential trips only, such as purchasing groceries or medicine or taking limited exercise.
“Please do not gather in groups, visit another household or engage in non-essential activities. When you do go out, you must wear a face mask that fully covers your nose and mouth.”
Jaspert said that during the curfew hours a limited number of essential businesses will be open. But he said every establishment must ensure their staff and customers maintain six feet distance inside and outside of the establishment and that everyone wears a face mask.
“They must provide hand sanitation facilities, ensure thorough and regular cleaning and put policies in place for staff and customers to report symptoms,” he said, adding that “the restrictions on movement of vessels on the Territorial waters remain in place – there is no movement allowed except for those authorised to do so”.
He said all beaches will be closed at 12 noon to ensure individuals can be back at home by 1:00 p.m. in compliance with the curfew.
“You may only visit beaches for exercise, not for meeting with groups or having parties. Schools remain closed and this position will be reviewed every two weeks for which the Minister of Education can set out more detail. Teachers will be allowed to access their classrooms to prepare learning materials and online resources.”
The Governor said that to ensure full compliance, the government is enhancing the Police enforcement and Social Monitoring Task Force that will be visiting establishments and patrolling public places
“There will be a zero-tolerance policy for individuals or businesses breaking the rules. The law is being changed to remove warnings for first offences. If you are found to be breaking the curfew or failing to wear a face mask or social distance, you could be issued a fine on the spot, US$100 for individuals and US$1000 for businesses.
“Businesses can risk being shut down if they fail to enforce social distancing measures or open without authorisation. Individuals will also be able to report non-compliance or any concerns to the police,” he added.
The Governor said that as a result of the curfew, the public service is being reorganised to meet the new demands, adding “we aim to continue our business as usual work and provide essential services to the public, albeit via digital channels or whilst working remotely.
Jaspert said he was urging everyone to please comply with the new measures, adding that the “past week or so has been a sobering reminder of the threat we face.
“I know most people have been complying with the measures and I’d like to say thank you to each of you. Your actions have made a real difference and helped to keep us safe.
“To those individuals and businesses not complying – this is the moment you need to change the approach for the sake of the community. Failure to follow these measures is selfish and puts everyone at risk. The only way to avoid a full 24 hour lockdown is for every single individual to comply,” the Governor added.