Bermuda and BVI take similar action amid COVID-19 threat
Britain’s overseas territories have responded to the coronavirus threat with border closures, curfews and community-wide initiatives to protect the most vulnerable citizens.
The game plan followed in Cayman is being repeated in the British Virgin Islands and Bermuda, among others, as small island territories try to minimise casualties from the highly contagious virus.
Amid the fear and anxiety, there is optimism that small island communities have the ability to stop the spread of the virus.
While many residents stress over the capacity of healthcare systems to cope with a spike in cases, there is hope that containment measures can be effectively followed in smaller, close-knit communities with collective determination to avoid unnecessary deaths.
Bermuda – a state of emergency
Bermuda’s Premier David Burt declared a state of emergency on Wednesday as the number of cases in the Atlantic territory rose to 32. There had been a further 5 cases announced by the weekend.
“Together we must do all we can to save lives, and the danger of waiting is not worth the money it might save,” he said in a national address.
“We must act decisively and we must act now. The future of Bermuda depends on us all doing our part.”
Though the measures were described as a 14-day, 24-hour lockdown, they are similar to the alternating soft and hard curfew measures that Cayman already has in place.
Bermuda had been operating under a nightly curfew already. That has now been extended to the daylight hours, with the exception of grocery stores, pharmacies and other essential businesses remaining open.
Unlike Cayman, there are no exemptions for exercise, however, and traffic on the roads is being closely monitored.
Speaking to the Cayman Compass last week, Stephen Wright, a reporter with the Royal Gazette newspaper, said the night-time curfew was being observed impeccably and people understood the need to behave differently.
“The test will come as restrictions increase or carry on for a longer period of time – and tensions would probably rise if we get our first deaths,” he said.
Bermuda has seen multiple imported cases, as well as community spread of the virus, and even before the lockdown was announced, Wright said people were choosing to stay off the road.
“Hamilton, the capital, is deserted, even during the daytime, while the rest of the island feels eerily quiet and still, as the majority of people hunker down at home.”
He said the island’s aging population, along with the high prevalence of diabetes and other underlying medical conditions, meant there were concerns that hundreds of lives could be at risk if the virus spreads through the community.
British Virgin Islands in total lockdown
In the BVI, there has been just three confirmed cases, all associated with residents returning to the islands from overseas.
Authorities reacted with extreme measures to the outbreak, putting the island under a round-the-clock lockdown from last week. Meanwhile, anyone under mandatory quarantine is not allowed to leave their home and is being monitored 24/7 by security personnel.
“For six days, no one is allowed out except essential workers, not even to go to the grocery store or pharmacy or to exercise,” Freeman Rogers, editor of the BVI Beacon told the Cayman Compass earlier this week.
That curfew was eased Thursday and replaced with similar measures to those in Bermuda and Cayman, allowing restricted movement throughout the day.
Premier Andrew Fahie made the announcement of the new measures on Wednesday.
He also revealed that 30 Cuban doctors would be arriving on the islands shortly to assist local health workers. They will be quarantined for 14 days before they get to work.
BVI, which has a similar economy to Cayman based on financial services and tourism, is feeling the impact of the closure of its borders and the freeze on global travel.
Rogers said, “Anecdotally, I know that many people have been laid off, at least temporarily. The tourism industry is our biggest employer, and it is obviously shut down now.
“One bright spot is the financial services industry. Thanks to business continuity plans, I believe that most, if not all, financial services companies are continuing to function as usual by having their staff work remotely.”
Bermuda moves swiftly on financial aid
Bermuda moved swiftly with a significant financial aid package for its residents.
The Bermuda government raised its debt ceiling by $150 million in preparation for the crisis and is now offering $500-a-week unemployment benefit to all people left without work by the crisis.
The financial support is separate from the usual financial assistance offered by government and is specifically aimed at people who are unemployed due to the COVID-19 crisis.
It is also being made available to work permit holders who have lost their jobs and can’t return home because of border closures.
The Royal Gazette newspaper reported Saturday that the first payments had already been made to 1,142 people, with 400 more applications being processed.
In BVI, the debate is still rumbling about the need for economic aid.
Fahie struck a similar tone to Cayman’s Premier Alden McLaughlin when he addressed the issue last week, saying his government had acted quickly to ensure funding was in place to manage the health crisis.
He added that anyone left unemployed by the outbreak could apply for benefits through the usual department. He suggested economic stimulus for the community was a longer-term discussion.
“In terms of the medium term, it looks sexy to come out with economic packages, but we’re seeing that most countries and territories that come with their economic packages [end up with a worse] state of affairs, and they [have] to turn back on what they came up with,” he said.
- A version of this article first appeared in Friday’s print edition.