Despite considerable outcry from tourism stakeholders, government announced on Tuesday that it won’t budge on its four-day quarantine rule for anyone entering the territory when borders open to tourists on Dec. 1.
However, Premier Andrew Fahie and Health and Social Development Minister Carvin Malone did announce some changes to protocols announced late last month. The number of Covid-19 tests required to be performed in the Virgin Islands has been dropped from three to two; a plan to restrict entrants’ movement after a four-day quarantine has been abandoned; and the cost of the tests and the purchase of a GPS monitoring app and bracelet will now cost $175 in total, down from a previously proposed cost of over $500, they said.
“I am pleased and humbled to say that we have been able to take another, and further, look at the Phase III Testing Protocols after getting additional feedback from many stakeholders from across the many sectors of the economy,” Mr. Fahie said. “We are 15 days away from our reopening, and I am pleased to say that the different agencies from the public and private sectors are all collaborating.”
Mr. Fahie had also announced previously that visitors would be able to read more about the specific entry requirements with the Nov. 2 launch of a “traveller’s authorisation portal” administered by the BVI Airport Authority at www.bvigateway.bviaacloud.com.
However, as of yesterday afternoon, the launch was still pending, though the site still advertised a date of Nov. 2.
According to Mr. Malone, Cabinet met on Friday and agreed that all travellers to the territory, including tourists and residents, must submit results from a negative polymerase chain reaction test taken five days before arrival for all low-risk countries and three days before arrival for medium- to high-risk countries. They will then be tested again upon arrival and again on day four of their trip.
A negative test result obtained on day four “allows movement within the territory,” Mr. Malone said, walking back previous plans to restrict movement for four additional days. A positive test would result in a 14-day quarantine.
The protocols previously announced would have required tests on the first, fourth and eighth days of a stay, and would have restricted travel to specific sites in the territory during days five through eight.
As before, nearly everyone arriving in the territory — with a few exceptions including aviation and medical personnel, diplomats and some members of the judiciary — will be required to pay for a tracking app, monitoring bracelet and a test upon arrival and on day four of the trip. However, the price has dropped: The whole process will now cost just $175 per person.
“This is a significant reduction from what was previously mentioned,” Mr. Fahie said of the original plan to require three tests and a monitoring app at a potential cost of more than $500 per person.
In a later question-and-answer segment with Deputy Chief Information Officer Natalie Hodge, Mr. Fahie also went into more detail about how the tracking bracelets will work, explaining that periodic check-ins will ensure that they function as intended.
“Once you don’t respond within the short time of the check-in, the app will pick that up, and then you will get … a call and a visit to find out what has happened,” he said. “And we would like to discourage persons from that because then you will be playing with the safety of others.”
As announced before, initially, only the Terrance B. Lettsome International Airport will open for arrivals on Dec. 1, with seaports following on Dec. 8.
According to Mr. Malone, new arrivals will still have to quarantine for four days within the compound of an approved facility, which can include a hotel, villa or boat. Government, however, has not yet provided a list of approved facilities, and he did not provide further information on when such a list might be released.
A boat in quarantine “will be able to move within territorial waters during the quarantine period but they may only moor at approved sites,” he explained, adding that these sites would be revealed in “a few days’ time.”
Health insurance that covers Covid-19 will still be required of visitors, but Mr. Malone suggested that this insurance is becoming easy to get, and may even be sold in the VI, presenting a potential business opportunity.
“Some of these insurances are sold at island destinations and other places that you may well go, and you can have it either before; you even have it on arrival,” he said. “And I think that these are the opportunities that Covid-19 also has actually brought.”
Mr. Fahie also announced news for returning residents: Cabinet agreed that for the first three months after the borders open, from Dec. 1 to Feb. 28, the cost of quarantine in a government-approved property “will be met by the government” for “citizens, belongers, permanent residents and work permit holders, exclusive of meals.” Previously, some categories of arriving residents had been required to foot the bill for their own quarantine, which had been set at 14 days. However, beginning Dec. 1, residents and visitors alike will follow the same four-day quarantine protocols, according to government.
Mr. Fahie also provided an update on the “golden seal” staff training requirements announced last week that businesses must meet before they can open to visitors. Some industry stakeholders had expressed confusion about how the courses would be conducted.
“I am pleased to inform you tonight that the ‘golden seal’ Covid-19 training is on the move,” said Mr. Fahie, adding that the required training “has a total of 3,278 registered participants to date from across various subsectors of the tourism industry. We look forward to all persons being trained and certified.”
The training “will help us to establish controls in terms of ensuring that both visitors and residents are kept safe and not put at risk,” he said.
According to the “BVI Tourism Industry Reopening Guide” provided last week to businesses by the BVI Tourist Board, hospitality businesses must participate in industry training; all businesses must pass an environmental health inspection; and except for taxi drivers and villa owners, all hospitality businesses must nominate a Covid-19 officer to work with government and ensure they are following the pandemic protocols.
In order to unite different stakeholders, Mr. Fahie said, Cabinet also approved a “BVI Reopening Steering Group” that will function as a “central liaison among all government ministries, statutory bodies and the private sector.”
He added, “This group will make sure that all efforts are in concert to achieve one BVI Love goal, our successful reopening.”
The group will be chaired by Felice Swapp and supported by Lisa Winter and Angelle Cameron, according to the premier. Ex officio members will include the permanent secretary in the Premier’s Office or designate; the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Health and Social Development or designate; the chairwoman of the BVI Tourist Board; the director of tourism; the managing director of the BVI Airports Authority or designate; the chief immigration officer or designate; the customs commissioner or designate; the police commissioner or designate; the chief medical officer; the managing director and/or deputy director of the BVI Ports Authority or designate; the director of communications or designate; and seven other people to be nominated by the premier, who were not named.
The Tuesday announcement also included some changes to protocols for gatherings within the territory. Mr. Malone noted that Cabinet decided to amend its Covid-19 control measures to allow gatherings of a maximum of 100 people, or 200 people for an outdoor event or “faith-based service, a graduation ceremony or wedding.”
The health minister will also have the leeway to decide whether or not to allow a proposed gathering larger than that. Also last Thursday, Cabinet issued a new order that trimmed the previous curfew by two hours.
The new curfew is between 2:01 a.m. to 4:59 a.m. daily. Business owners are permitted to open and operate between 5 a.m. and 2 a.m. Private vessels are still limited to operating between 5:01 a.m. and 6 p.m. daily. Ferries can operate between 5:01 a.m. to 1:59 a.m. daily. The new curfew will be enforced at least until Nov. 19.