Starting Sunday, British Virgin Islands residents will be able to visit beaches for the first time since the territory went into lockdown. (File photo: CLAIRE SHEFCHIK)

Beaches throughout the territory will reopen on Sunday, but large gatherings will continue to be prohibited, government leaders announced Friday during a live Facebook broadcast that included Premier Andrew Fahie, Governor Gus Jaspert and Deputy Premier Carvin Malone.

Mr. Fahie explained that residents will be permitted to visit beaches “for exercise and therapy” from 6 a.m. to 1 p.m. beginning on Sunday. The current curfew hours will also be reduced that day: People will be permitted to leave their homes from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., though they must continue to follow social distancing protocols.

The premier added that this night-time curfew will continue for at least two weeks.

The beaches will be monitored, and Governor Gus Jaspert said officials will close any areas where visitors disregard the rules.

“We must not become complacent or think that any relaxation of measures or opening of further parts of our territory and businesses means that the threat of the virus has gone away,” Mr. Jaspert said. “It has not. We can take a risk-based approach for the next phase of reopening if we all act together to manage these risks.”

Businesses

Businesses in the territory continue to reopen as well.

Mr. Jaspert said the newly created Social Distancing and Compliance Task Force has inspected 713 businesses, and certified 647 of them to open their doors. The governor said all key public offices also reopened this week.

He reminded business owners that they must give employees enough time to return to their homes before the evening curfew starts.

Not all businesses in the territory are allowed to reopen, however. Mr. Fahie said hotels, villas, public pools, gyms, cinemas, bars, nightclubs and other entertainment organisations will remain closed for now.

“We know this will be difficult for those businesses not yet allowed, but this is because specific protocols need to be developed for these businesses to operate safely as they are ones where there is a higher potential risk of crowding or gathering and more person-to-person contact,” he said.

Economic stimulus

Plans for an economic stimulus package to support those who are struggling financially because of the pandemic are still in the works, Mr. Fahie added.

“We continue to move forward with firming up the economic response plan that has already been approved in principle by Cabinet, with some tedious details now being worked out,” he said.

Some individual measures have been implemented, including a multi-million-dollar fund for fishing and farming, online education support, free water delivery and free house-to-house garbage collection. He said Cabinet also decided to waive stamp duty for belongers seeking to buy land during the pandemic.

“Overall response is being tweaked so that it is practical, realistic and gets into the hands of the people in an accountable and transparent manner,” he said.

He did not offer a specific date for rolling out the complete stimulus plan.

Case update

Mr. Malone, the minister of health and social development, announced the full recovery of another person diagnosed with Covid-19. This means there are only two active cases out of the seven confirmed cases in the territory, he said.

Of the 13 samples that the Caribbean Public Health Agency processed on Thursday, he added, all came back negative. This brings the total number of tests administered in the VI to 167, and the total number of people tested to 143, some of whom were tested more than once.

The governor said a large shipment of medical supplies from the United Kingdom is set to arrive early next week, which will bring the total number of UK-contributed test kits to 4,800.

Mr. Malone praised the diligence of VI residents in following best practices of limiting contact and maintaining good hygiene.

“By continuing to observe these measures, in the weeks and months ahead, we can reduce the risk of a spike in transmission even as we prepare for the phased reopening of the territory’s borders,” Mr. Malone said.

Mr. Fahie thanked those who have contacted the dedicated Covid-19 hotline for their assistance in pursuing aggressive contact tracing and curbing the spread of the virus in the VI. Anyone experiencing symptoms including fever with a cough or difficulty breathing should call 852-7650.

Borders

For now, the VI’s borders remain closed to inbound passengers, leaders said. Belongers and others with resident status can enter the territory beginning June 2 through Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport, though under “strict conditions,” Mr. Fahie said. He added that the government would offer more details about the process in a future update.

“The reality is we need to adapt to live and work in this new regular,” the premier said. “This means putting people first.”

Mr. Jaspert said Cabinet will next week discuss arrangements for the eventual reopening the territory’s borders to tourism.

Future

Leaders commended the work of those who helped deliver food to those who needed it in recent weeks.

“Our volunteers and our community spirit continue to fill me with great pride,” Mr. Jaspert said. “Their work epitomises the true character of the people of this territory.”

Moving forward, Mr. Fahie encouraged community members to continue supporting one another, especially with hurricane season approaching next month.

“Hurricane season is expected to be active,” he said.

Helicopters flying overhead last week were surveying the islands for landing sites in case they need to deliver relief supplies during the upcoming season, Mr. Jaspert said. He added that the UK is prepared to assist where needed.

“I know you will be very familiar with the steps you need to take and will likely have plans in place, but this year will be different,” Mr. Jaspert said. “We cannot allow ourselves to be distracted by Covid-19.”

The premier promoted a “get ready, stay ready” initiative, which puts measures in place to prepare for hurricane season despite the challenges presented by Covid-19.

“Any leader who thinks that Covid-19 is going away anytime soon will be fooling themselves and their country,” Mr. Fahie said. “We have to work together to come up with ways to live through this health pandemic.”


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