With growing concerns of a second wave of faster-spreading Covid-19 in the United Kingdom, the Unites States and other countries, the Virgin Islands has pushed its projected reopening date for seaports from Jan. 21 to March 1 and decided to temporarily ban tourists coming from the UK.
The extended port closure was announced Tuesday by the BVI Ports Authority, and Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone disclosed the same day that there were 14 active cases of Covid-19 in the territory, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to 107.
Of those, 92 people have recovered and one died. The 14 active cases include one on a vessel, three on Tortola, and ten on Virgin Gorda.
All active cases were in quarantine at the time of the announcement and were tested on the day they arrived and on their fifth day in the territory in keeping with the entry protocols, according to a circular issued by Mr. Malone via WhatsApp.
The minister also announced last Thursday that the AstraZeneca vaccine would be available in the territory starting next month.
During a House of Assembly sitting that day, he said government will collaborate with several agencies to support a national programme to make the vaccine available to residents on a voluntary basis. Those agencies include Public Health England, the Caribbean Public Health Agency, the Pan American Health Organisation, and the World Health Organisation.
The effort is part of a United Kingdom plan to deploy vaccines throughout its overseas territories.
“Published safety data indicates that this vaccine is well tolerated and has no serious safety [effects] confirmed related to the vaccine,” Mr. Malone said. “Safety data will continue to be collected and monitored as the vaccine is rolled out worldwide, including in the [VI].”
Up until Tuesday, a total of 14,684 people had been tested in the territory.
Meanwhile, a new curfew order passed last Thursday extends the 2:01 a.m.-to-4:59 a.m. curfew until Jan. 15. Vessels are to remain stationary between 6:01 p.m. to 4:59 a.m.
During a New Year’s speech on Friday, Premier Andrew Fahie said the territory has welcomed about 2,500 people since the BVI Gateway App launched on Dec. 1. About half of those people are tourists, he added.
“What we are seeing is that in a vast number of cases, tourists are willing to work with our health protocols in order to vacation in the BVI,” he said. “With vaccines becoming available to persons who are willing to take them, there is a possibility that more persons may become able to and willing to travel in the months ahead.”
However, Mr. Malone also announced that Cabinet agreed to implement a travel ban effective next Monday for tourists coming to the VI from the United Kingdom, where a faster-spreading variant of the virus has been identified.
“The notion of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus has added an additional layer of concern to our response,” Mr. Malone said.
The travel ban will apply only to visitors and will not be imposed on residents, belongers, work permit holders, diplomats or government employees, he said.
On Monday UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a new national lockdown until at least mid-February to combat the new variant of Covid-19.
Here, Cabinet agreed to “set a mark” at 20 active cases to “inform decisions by government,” Mr. Malone said last Thursday. He did not give further clarification at the time, but a circular issued on Tuesday stated, “A decision on travel restrictions will be triggered if the territory reaches 20 positive cases.”
The minister also promised an “extensive communication campaign” in the coming days to explain the recent decisions about the pandemic reached in the HOA.
Additionally, fines under the Covid-19 Control and Suppression (Entry of Persons) Regulations, 2020 have increased.
Those who tamper with and damage the geofencing device worn by people in quarantine face a maximum fine of $2,000, up from $125; those who have unauthorised visits with people in quarantine face a fine of $5,000, up from $500; and those who violate any protocols or guidelines set out in the regulations face a fine of $10,000, up from $1,000, according to the minister.
On Dec. 17, Mr. Malone made another announcement stating that the maximum fine for anyone landing or embarking illegally in the territory is now up to $100,000 and 10 years imprisonment, up from $1,000 and 12 months imprisonment.
Those who assist or shelter anyone landing or embarking illegally will also face a fine up to $100,000 and up to ten years imprisonment, up from $3,000 and two years of imprisonment.
Mr. Malone also said that hotels, resorts and charter companies with Gold Seal transportation services under the direct authority of the Taxi and Livery Commission can be used to transport guests.
Residents and belongers, he added, can now apply for a waiver of the pre-arrival Covid test, but if their waiver is approved, they will be subject to a quarantine period of seven to 14 days with a PCR test at the end of the quarantine period.
“A negative test result must be attained before release,” Mr. Malone said.
In the HOA, Mr. Malone also gave broader updates about the territory’s response throughout last year.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, he said, the VI has published 32 situation reports.
In 2020, 41 curfew orders were passed and nine Public Health Control and Suppression Measures Orders were passed and assented to by the HOA, he added.