On May 20 2020, Premier Robinson gave an update on the phased reopening. Below is the full text of said remarks:
I wish to update on a few important areas and to then allow the press to answer any questions they wish.
I begin by saying that I do not wish my return to a press conference setting to bring any semblance of a return to business as usual. I believe that this risk is necessary to allow for the usual scrutiny and engagement that my Government over the past years have come to be known for. We have earned a reputation for being an engaging Government through regular town hall meetings around the islands, press conferences, interviews and through various social media platforms. This is the beginning of our public engagement with different sectors and groups. So on 20 May I begin a series of public engagements with various sectors across TCI and will follow up with various other groups/sectors as we practice social distancing and embrace transparency.
RECOUNT MEASURES/COVID-19 DASHBOARD
During the first week of our phased reopening, TCI saw a new suspected case, three or four days in a row. We are pleased that these cases were all negative. For the past days, in TCI we have enjoyed zero active cases and until last Monday also enjoyed zero suspected cases. On 20 May the dashboard reveals zero active cases and three suspected cases. While these numbers are low and give some assurance that we have flattened the curve, I wish to remind us of truths that cannot be ignored and to again remind those who would listen, of the Government’s COVID-19 response strategy.
The invoking of Emergency Powers and the introduction of strict measures including the imposition of the curfew was to flatten the curve. What does it mean to flatten the curve? It simply means to slow the rate of infection. The second and most important fact that ought to guide us all: we have not killed the virus – we slowed the rate of infection. We bought critical time for the rest of our strategy to be realized as we continue to increase health capacity through the recruitment of additional medical staff and critical upgrades to the TCI Hospital, procure personal protective equipment and secure in-country testing services. We again are pleased to report that in country testing is in place and the national priority remains to test frontline workers, TC Islanders who are sheltered in place on islands outside of their home and other priorities as the Minister of Health under policy will direct. The role of private laboratories and the establishment of the TCI Public Health laboratory as the established lab was agreed in Cabinet by regulations and a full strategy is currently being developed. Wider testing remains key as we move from phase to phase.
UPDATE ON STIMULUS APPLICATION
To date 2,300 payments have gone directly to bank accounts. There are approximately 200 cheques being processed, through Smartstream.
In all 11,400 have been submitted to the database for the Employee Stimulus Package; of that, there have been over 2,500 duplications which have now been cleared. There are approximately 9,000 submissions being vetted.
The initial vetting of all the submissions have been completed and we have found that approximately 3,000 were approved on the front-end to be paid. Of the remaining 6,000 applications, some 2,700 have been declined and another 3,300 have had to be further reviewed by the Compliance Team.
There are a number of reasons for a declined application. They are:
• There is no evidence provided that the applicant was working in the Tourism or Hospitality Industry.
• 2 or more of the required documents needed for validation purposes were not submitted.
• Identification(s) submitted were not valid. In this case, the majority of the applicants stem from conditions of work permit or permanent residence certificate (PRC) where the right to work requirements were not met. Or that complete copies of work permit, PRC, residence permit spousal could not be seen.
When an application is sent to compliance, it is done so for one or more of the following reasons:
• A copy of one of the required documents have not been submitted; or
• Payment of NIB contributions could not be verified by the one of various means.
In processing of the submissions, the vetting revealed that:
1. Scores of applications were submitted by applicants working in sectors other than hospitality.
2. Duplications numbered in the thousands; there was a case of a possible duplication that numbered nearly 20.
3. Persons submitted expired work permits. Of those who would have provided work permits that expired, some did not even supply a copy of a paid receipt for renewal.
4. We’ve had to ensure that persons found to be working, who are endorsed on a PRC, had a work permit to work legally in the TCI.
5. Hundreds of employees did not have a recent contribution history with the National Insurance Board. It is important to mention that although it is not the intention to withhold an employee’s benefit because NIB contributions were not paid on their behalf, because of the absence of a record, these are the things that took up a lot of the processors’ time in trying to pay the benefits expeditiously.
6. An overwhelming number of applicants filled in the application without the name of the company that employs them, using/ referencing only a supervisor’s name. Except for enhanced due diligence conducted by calling the applicant directly or referring to NIB records, these applications cannot be processed to the payment stage.
Despite these constraints, there are over 20 persons actively processing benefits. This week, the Compliance Team is sending out notices for additional information. You will be allowed to load any missing documentation, by responding in the database with your unique identifier and date of birth.
For those applications that have been declined in the database, you will be subsequently advised of the reasons. The processors will eventually get back to responding to those persons; but a declined application, generally means that the applicant was not eligible for benefits and for many reasons.
Due to the volume of declined applications, an inordinate amount of time has already been spent mulling through applications to find eligible persons, had it not been the case, eligible applicants could have been paid.
We thank you for your patience, which is perhaps stretched thin and waning, but we are much closer to paying all eligible applicants.
Coronavirus Business Assistance Grant
The Coronavirus Business Assistance Grant is one of many relief measures available under the Government’s economic stimulus package. The grant is open to applications from self-employed persons and small businesses categorized as MSMEs and provides cash payments of up to $5,000. To date the Department of Trade is in receipt of a little over 500 applications.
Self-employed persons and small businesses are therefore encouraged to complete an online application form to receive funding under the Coronavirus Business Assistance Grant. The online application form and related information is available at www.gov.tc/trade/stimulus. Interested persons may also visit the Turks and Caicos Islands Government Facebook page to view an instructional video on how to navigate the online form.
Applications made by self-employed persons or small businesses under any other cash grant program will be deferred and applicants will be redirected to the Coronavirus Business Assistance Grant. The Government has engineered this grant to help your business withstand the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic as we work to encourage economic recovery across the Turks and Caicos Islands.
UPDATE ON PHASED REOPENING
Phased 1 Report
Cabinet a few weeks ago agreed to a phased reopening with the construction sector and supporting businesses being a major industry opening. In the first week, performance of Construction Sector and supporting businesses for the community and the sector. The Department of Planning has received a total of one hundred and fourteen (114) applications for the reopening of the construction industry. These included building of dwelling houses, apartments, commercial development, villas, hotels and other repairs and renovations.
Development Application for Reopening Registration by Islands
· One (1) in Parrot Cay
· Two (2) in Middle Caicos
· Four (4) in North Caicos
· Ten (10) in Grand Turk
· Ninety (97) in Providenciales
Opening of Government Offices
Government offices also saw a limited reopening.
Additional Phases to Come; Borders to remain close beyond June 1st
On 20 May in cabinet we agreed the remaining three phases and will make these announcements shortly. I wish to say however as we have been now clearly communicating to the Hospitality Sector, the June 1st date for the opening of our borders remains a date under review and there will be no reopening at this date. Persons will recall that the borders were closed on 24 March and saw several date changes which were explained as we shared on information and updates on regulations and as mentioned earlier, all that needed to be put in place. The opening of the borders is tied to the Hospital upgrade works which are progressing very quickly to a short period of construction works. At this juncture I wish to thank the Turks and Caicos Islands Collection for the generous donations of ventilators to complement what the Ministry currently has and have also received from Public Health England.
I assure this sector that protocols are being finalized this week, I will lead the reopening of this sector and will finalise a schedule of public consultation on the proposed protocols required for the opening of the sector.
I will be communicating a date for reopening of this final phase by early June.
Lives versus Livelihood
On Sunday, I received a letter from the Leader of the Opposition (LOO)which was widely circulated by Monday morning. I have since responded and will say publicly that I am happy that the Leader of the Opposition has offered to assist in this challenging period. His call for consultations and a discussion on the economic future of this country comes after my Government’s steps already in this direction. The Ministry of Trade and Health representatives had already begun consultations and as mentioned earlier, I will be continuing and expanding these consultations together with the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Health.
I must also acknowledge receipt of proposals from the TCHTA and Chamber of Commerce for further concessions to businesses and both documents remain under review. A response will be sent shortly. As the TCHTA document has been made public, I will update the public next week on my Government’s response.
It is hard to not be driven by the bottom line and for many there is a battle at this stage for lives versus livelihood and I am confident that if we made too early a step without achieving wider testing capabilities through in-country testing, without securing the urgent start of the first upgrade at Interhealth Canada to at least expand ventilator care or without securing more medical personnel and without procuring a good supply of personal protective equipment, we will be nothing short of reckless with the lives of our people. While we accept that the virus is here and that we may have slowed the spread, we equally recognize that we cannot stay locked away for ever and must be prepared for the real fact that there could be an outbreak. I believe that testing now available in country, once widened, we will see a spike in numbers and I want us to be prepared for this.
This is why we must move with urgency but with care. I acknowledge that a number of you have called and said that the hotels will begin to lay off if we do not open, I say with all sincerity that while TCIG funds equally suffer having to take care of critical services for an entire population and while we see falling revenues, we cannot reopen without a plan to give us the best chance of building on our early gains and at the peril of our people’s lives. It is not an easy decision but it is a necessary and important and yes a right decision.
We recognize the hardship that many face and are not oblivious to this. There are plans underway across Government to stimulate the sectors outside of the hospitality sector; sectors that were impacted by the mandatory closure of the economy.
Performance of the Economy
In the past six (6) weeks, TCI Government has lost approximately $26m and is projected to lose an average of approximately $22m per month under the strictest measures.
Even against the foreseeable loss and a deficit budget, my Government was able to offer a Stimulus Package to the sector impacted first and widely by our closure of the borders on 24 March.
I wish to also use this opportunity to advise on regulations passed recently.
The Emergency Powers evoked has allowed greater ease to pass legislation in this period. We have and continue to use this power exercised by the Governor in Cabinet. The following regulations were agreed in Cabinet and it is important that you are aware:
Under Regulations 44 – Rights of Clients and Attorneys
These Regulations amend the principal Regulations—
(a) to exempt any attorney from the night time curfew requirement where the attorney has to travel to visit his/her client at a police station;
(b) to clarify that nothing in regulation 19 prevents an attorney from attending a police station to support his client;
(c) to insert regulation 26 to empower the Governor to exempt any person or business from the requirements under regulation 3(2).
Under Regulation No 45 Take Away Restaurants and Inbound Essential Staff
These Regulations amend the principal Regulations—
(a) to amend the operating hours of restaurants for take away from 6a.m. to 6p.m.;
(b) to permit the opening of airports to allow entry of frontline emergency services staff involved in the Covid-19 pandemic response (medical personnel, new police recruits, etc.): provided that such persons shall be placed under quarantine for 14 days.
Under Regulation 46 Use of NIB as a Verifier of Information
These Regulations amend the principal Regulations to allow for other means of verifying that a person applying for the cash grant worked for an employer who operated in the hospitality industry and that the employer was paying or obligated to pay national insurance contributions on the employee’s behalf.
All returning residents are placed in a Government funded Quarantine Facility where the cost of meals are also met by the Government. Individuals are quarantined for 14 days. We have since received 16 returning residents from Barbados and the Dominican Republic.
Under Regulation 48 Permission for Returning Residents to re-enter
These Regulations amend the principal Regulations—
(a) to clarify that housekeepers/maids are not included within cleaning services and thus are not permitted to work;
(b) to provide for Turks and Caicos Islanders/students/residents to return to the Islands;
(c) to include travel to another island for the purpose of a funeral or international travel as essential travel;
(d) to provide for the issuance of guidelines and for enforcement of same.
I thought it important to pull these critical issues to the forefront and you can expect more frequent updates as there are significant changes now happening rapidly.
Appeal for Persons re Social Enhancement Stimulus and Labour Unemployment Registration
But before I allow the media to respond through questions on this and any other areas, I want to say that the Social Enhancement Stimulus is open for applications and we invite those who are in need of this type of support to apply.
I wish to also encourage those who may have lost their jobs to please register with Labour and Employment Services so that we can understand gain a better picture of the current TCI labour force as affected by COVID-19.