These past few months and weeks, countries around the globe have been grappling with the deadly COVID-19. We have seen panic, fear, anger and tears from leaders in public places. No one could have imagined that countries so far apart and so different in a world seemingly so big would become so small and will across the continents face the same crippling challenge.
Our Proactive Response – Set out our steps
Our country has had the benefit of watching this unfold in many respects in the worst possible away for citizens across the world and have used the opportunity to learn from good and bad experiences whilst crafting our response.
I must as always commend the Ministry of Health for their pro-activeness and for briefing Cabinet as early as January on COVID-19 and for the Hon Minister’s comprehensive Ministerial Statement to the House of Assembly as early as February 14th. Health’s advice through the Public and Environmental Health Board, Health Leaders has poised TCI to take proactive measures.
When we introduced Regulations in response to this pandemic, ours were the most advanced in the region at the time.
We activated the National Emergency Operation Center (the structure used in our context for Hurricanes) to better coordinate activities to manage and structure our preparedness, mitigation and response to COVID-19.
We strengthened measures as recent as Friday to contain and control the spread and last evening, the Emergency Powers commenced under a declared State of Emergency; and all steps were taken prior to any news of a confirmed case in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Whilst this is being lauded by our counterparts, we are not boastful of what we have accomplished but proud of our health team who never shied away from their role and advice.
This is not to say, we have taken all the right steps to eradicate the threat but these measures certainly are mitigating measures and will go for naught if we as the people do not embrace the measures in the spirit in which they are being introduced.
Yesterday, the Cabinet sat in an extraordinary Meeting to consider further recommendations from the Meeting of the PEHB and the NEOC. After hours of careful and measured consideration, we have agreed the following:
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, a curfew is being imposed.
Effective Thursday, March 26th, a curfew is hereby imposed on all persons and businesses from 8pm to 5am save for any exemptions provided.
Effective Saturday, March 28th at 5am, a curfew is imposed every day until April 14th 2020 for twenty-four hours except as provided herein or as may be approved by the Governor. There are essential services that will be allowed to operate and a comprehensive list will be made available through various platforms immediately following this address as well as at 12pm today and every other hour, the measures will be aired over RTC for the remainder of this week.
Shelter in Place
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, residents are to shelter in place and shall remain confined to their place of residence (inclusive of their yard space) to avoid contact outside of their family, save for the exceptions provided.
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, all businesses and offices may only continue their business operations by allowing their employees to work remotely from home utilizing virtual means unless workers are permitted to work under these Regulations or are designated as essential services. These provisions are likewise extended to the Public Service.
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, all establishments, institutions, businesses, offices, stores and organisations shall suspend operations except those designated as essential services in the Regulations and for the hours permitted.
Stricter Social Distancing Protocols
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, there will be strict distancing protocols for those offering and accessing essential services.
Ban on Social Gatherings
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, no person shall host or attend any social gatherings except those approved by the Governor on the advice of the Ministry of Health.
Closure of Public Beaches
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, all public beaches shall remain closed.
Restriction on Visitation
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, there will no visits to anyplace of quarantine, to a patient at the hospital or under residential care at a facility, the detention center or the prison.
Power of Governor
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus, the Governor shall have the power to requisition any building, ship, aircraft, vehicle etc. with notice during this period of emergency to be used for the purpose of stopping and controlling the spread of the virus. He shall likewise have the power to reasonably requisition management and control of any essential service.
For the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus and enforcement of these provisions, a Police Officer has the power to stop, detain and arrest any in violation of these Regulations.
No one shall obstruct any officer empowered under these regulations to carry out their duties.
And no person shall declare the sale or offer of sale of goods during this period of public emergency at an unconscionable price.
Ban on Returning Residents
Effective today, all returning residents are banned from returning to TCI for a period of 21 days. We have now agreed to take this step following our repeated appeals.
Restriction on Inter Island Travel
Effective tomorrow all inter island travel is restricted save for those accessing essential services only.
Please note that all provisions remain under review but the 24 hour curfew shall remain in place for a period of 21 days from Saturday 5am. Please familiarize yourselves with the essential services that will allowed during this time and the wider Regulations.
I wish to remind us further that:
Emergency Powers came into effect last evening under a Declared State of Emergency at midnight and this allows for ease of governance. We assure our people that these powers will be accessed and responsibly used for the purposes of preventing, controlling and suppressing the spread the virus. This leadership partnership that you see before you today is vital for us at this time but your role is even more important.
In addition, effective last night, it is a punishable offence to spread false information. Please guided by the Regulations as to what constitutes this offence.
Our dashboard released daily shows in our local context one confirmed case of Co Vid 19 in these Islands. I place emphasis on confirmed. We want you to behave as if there are more because there probably are. We want you take note of symptoms and use the numbers provided by the Ministry of Health. If you experience any of the symptoms, please do not go to the Hospital. Please use the numbers provided.
STIMULUS TO BE ANNOUNCED 2PM TOMORROW
As I conclude, I share that in all of Cabinet’s deliberations during the threat of this pandemic, we have been guided by four principles: top of the list and paramount is the health and the well – being of our people and so we have had to make some tough decisions that adds to all of our financial state. There must never be a competition between economy and health. Health must win every time. It is a sacrifice that we have all had to make as leaders and I know that it is the right decision.
In these times, Governments do have a responsibility to aid our people. And as promised, TCI Government like a few Governments thus far will present a list of measures. Tomorrow at 2pm, I will announce the TCI’s Stimulus Package in response to COVID-19. Countries dealing with the fall out have had to juggle figures that are shifting by the day. The response of TCI has been a measured one and one that has looked around sectors to see how we can assist individuals and businesses.
As we are all uncertain of the length of this period, we ask that you tighten your boot strap where you are able to and consider the uncertainty. Whilst TCI Government will do what it can, we ask corporate citizens to not close their bowels of compassion and we ask us as individual citizens to be our brothers’ keepers. We need each other. The road ahead may become increasingly difficult. These are indeed uncertain times but I remain confident that if we take individual responsible action, we can come through this the best way possible.
These are difficult times and this hand has been dealt to every country across the globe has challenged us not just as leaders but as citizens to take proactive steps. This uncertainty does not make us powerless. In fact, this empowers each of us to take this matter seriously and in our own hands and it has rewarded those who act responsibly together.
Whilst the Governments across the world are taking serious measures to protect its people, our efforts are only as good as the individual. We need you to partner with us by breaking contacting and by heeding health’s practical advice: wash your hands properly or use a 70% alcohol based sanitizers, cover your cough and/or sneeze and disposable of any tissue properly, avoid touching your mouth, eyes and nose, sanitize frequently used surfaces including your cell phone and practice social distancing.
May God bless us all and God bless these Beautiful by Nature Turks and Caicos Islands.