Though many public officers will be working remotely because of the coronavirus pandemic, various government agencies will continue operations on a reduced scale. (Photo: DANA KAMPA)

As part of efforts to combat the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, which was confirmed here yesterday, the government has been rolling out an emergency workplace policy for the civil service that includes “pandemic leave” for public officers who have chronic ailments or who need to care for their families until schools reopen.

The “Public Service Continuation of Operations Policy,” which was unveiled on March 18 by Governor Gus Jaspert and Deputy Governor David Archer Jr., is designed to keep the public service running smoothly while protecting workers and lowering the possibility that coronavirus will spread here, Messrs. Jaspert and Archer explained.

The governor is also halting public ceremonies, and foreign travel restrictions have been placed on public officers.

“We know that it is a stressful time and these are important services that are needed,” Mr. Jaspert said in a March 18 statement announcing the policy. “As we go forward, the ways of working may be different, but I know that our public service can and will rise to the challenge.”

Last Thursday, Mr. Archer and Director of Human Resources Michelle Donovan-Stevens explained the plan during a Facebook video conference, assuring residents that government offices will remain open as much as possible while still providing “the right amount of protection for” public officers.

Ms. Donovan-Stevens encouraged parents and legal guardians to “first look for responsible options” before applying for pandemic leave, and encouraged anyone with questions to contact the Deputy Governor’s Office at darcher@gov.vg.

Remote work

Mr. Archer said government offices are also instituting flexible working arrangements including condensed hours and remote work options.

Mr. Archer said officers who opt to work remotely “will not be penalised, but the expectation is that you fall in line with the remote working policy.”

The Employee Assistance Programme, which includes one-on-one counselling for public officers, has also gone online.

“We’ve created unique ways to help our employees,” said Ms. Donovan-Stevens, adding that a government counsellor will be available via Skype, WhatsApp, and telephone.

Employees can access the hotline and WhatsApp account at 468-9889, and the Skype account is eapbvi@gmail.com.

Mr. Archer also said that restructuring work around the pandemic is an opportunity to explore how to do government work more efficiently.

The situation, he added, is forcing officials to look at e-government programmes and ways to communicate better while providing remote access.

“This is going to prepare us for what would’ve been coming anyway,” he said.

Public expectations

The public, meanwhile, is asked to maintain a three-foot distance between all people in public offices.

Appointment systems have been put in place in some public offices.

Additionally, the government has placed restrictions to keep a reduced number of people inside buildings.

“We’re trying to keep pace with best practices,” Mr. Archer explained.

Among other guidelines that the Governor’s Office has circulated to all offices via posters, “meetings with more than five persons should not take place.”

During the video conference, Mr. Archer and Ms. Donovan-Stevens accepted questions from people watching via Facebook. One of those questions was whether ferry operators would practise the same standards of social distancing while transporting residents who travel for work or other purposes.

Mr. Archer admitted that his office did not have the answer, but assured viewers and listeners that the that the issue would be considered.


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