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TCI Premier March 25 National Address – COVID-19 Impact and Response

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File Photo, Hon Sharlene Cartwright-Robinson, TCI Premier

FULL STATEMENT: 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 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:

Curfew Imposed
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.

Work Remotely
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.

Enforcement
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 COVID-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.

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.

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PDM’s Robert Been speaks out, calls Premier to forefront

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#TurksandCaicos, September 13, 2021 – The people are not getting what they voted for. The momentum initially shown by the Progressive National Party’s administration is slowing down day by day – and we are only seven months from February 2021 elections. In general, the PNP party is accused of being arrogant, inaccessible, untrustworthy, unresponsive and displaying clear favoritism to their party supporters first, and I am encouraging the PNP to stick to the promises made to the TCI people that you will not continue in this way. Elections are over.

The voters gave you another chance to prove that you can do what you promised – to serve the entire Turks and Caicos Islands, but sadly, I don’t see enough of the work going on like it was promised.

Education

While it is clear some work has gone into seeing better in our school system, Turks and Caicos Islands children are still being shared out of the spaces in their own country. We don’t want any child left behind, and definitely not our own children in their own land.

Why is this happening? With new schools, the Education Minister said these problems would be addressed, but the narrative continues. On behalf of the people of the Turks and Caicos Islands, I am calling for there to be an investigation into why our children cannot get into schools the government builds and staffs. We need real answers, progressive action, so that we understand what is going wrong and make it right… and this includes our special needs children.

Minister, you say you want the people to feel that you really do love them, well I call on you to immediately investigate every avenue to determine why many TCI families are still at the short end of the stick when it comes to securing sound education for all of our children – special needs or not, and enact productive plans that see a final end to these concerns.

Tourism

A major policy change came into force since September 1st 2021, which impacted our tourism industry and investors – domestic and foreign. The Minister of Health is leading on this, but we also need the Minister of Tourism to step out and thoroughly review all aspects of this decision to thoroughly address the valid concerns being expressed by our citizens. Ego should have no room in managing our economy in a way that is best for our economy.

There is integrity in reconsidering the negative effects of a decision, and moving forward with a better plan. Only God is perfect. Let us look around the world and learn from their mistakes, as well as glean from their wise decisions. There are other ways to achieve a desired goal – Minister of Health and Minister of Tourism, I appeal to you, before things get worse, work together and please explore this in other ways as well.

As a stakeholder, and someone whom you both are familiar with, I am happy to make myself available to put forth my ideas if it means the better of our nation. Finally about tourism, it has been since March 2020 that Grand Turk and Salt Cay have lost their tourism slice.

Plans to revive this industry always seem to get pushed back with no updates since June 2021. Millions of dollars sit in the joint infrastructure fund and even though they had a meeting with Carnival Cruise Line in June, we have not heard anything about projects, incentives, the new dock or the new cruise line company. Meanwhile Grand Turk people are leaving the island and businesses have to shut down, which makes job opportunities even harder to find there.

Providenciales is our pearl, but other islands exist in our Beautiful By Nature island chain. I am challenging you to speak to us about the future of our industry and any changes you are planning for our brand. What are you doing to soften the blow of this pandemic so it does not sink our tourism ship and what actual plans are in place to strengthen our tourism product?

Health

This is my final point. We cannot find spaces for our severely ill people at facilities in nearby countries due to the effect of surges of Covid-19 cases and the ongoing pandemic. We feel it for our regional health partners and are grateful for the open doors the NHIB was able to find.

However, if we are flown to the DR or Colombia, where we can find medical care and we die of the coronavirus – then the remains of our loved ones are cremated. This is a circumstance we cannot change and a heart-wrenching pill to swallow. I heard the Minister of Health say that it is out of his hands. And while that might be case, where is the plan to get Turks and Caicos out of this position? Let’s put our heads together to find a way around this.

No one wants the return of dear loved ones in a jar. We need a hospital which can cater to trauma emergencies. We need a hospital with a fully-functioning ICU. If it takes borrowing, if it takes strategy in finally developing medical tourism – let’s get the plan for it. Let’s get the public informed of that plan and with an agreed approach, let us finally fix healthcare in the Turks and Caicos Islands. Conclusion To the Hon Premier, your experience has earned you this prestigious title.

Your party’s theme was “We come for this wo’k”, and “this work” requires you to be occupied at the helm. Return to the forefront so your people do not feel abandoned in the midst of important health care concerns, the Covid-19 surge, cost of doing business, inflation and this recent mandate which lacked proper consultation by all levels of businesses in tourism and finance.

Your past experience, which you boasted has assisted in our country’s economic development and its thriving, is actively needed now. You have said many times, and I was happy to hear, that this is not about party politics, but about all of us as a people.

My call to you is the same. Turks and Caicos is a topclass destination and we demand top-class delivery on the Contract you wrote.

Just a reminder that the three (3) month stimulus plan is incomplete. The impact of the recent entry requirement is costing so many in hard-earned income – it’s time to deliver in full on this promise.

You wanted the work, you got the work, now do the work – for all of us!

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Caribbean Wellness Day 2021

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#Caribbean, September 13, 2021 – Health, in every facet, is sought-after, at great expense, by all members of the global community. Though the success of our endeavours in health varies from region to region, it must be emphasised that in our Region, a healthy Caribbean is always the goal for which we strive.

Each year the Caribbean Region observes, Caribbean Wellness Day since it was established at the 2007 landmark summit, ‘Declaration of Port of Spain: Uniting to Stop the Epidemic of Chronic Non-communicable Diseases.’

This year’s commemoration focuses on equitable access to health; an all of society approach to health and well-being, and building healthy communities under the theme, “Power Through Collective Action: In it Together, Building Healthy Communities.”

As health care systems are being taxed by the devastating effects of the COVID-19 Pandemic, it is even more important now to advocate for equitable access to health. Too many of our Caribbean citizens face harsh realities, because of inequities in access – this should not be. Caribbean Wellness Day is the most opportune time for the members of our Caribbean community to ensure that the health of our people is indeed a priority through legislative change, health in all policies and all of society action.

Equitable access to health care in the Caribbean is one of CARPHA’s points of focus as can be seen through our work to ensure equitable access to PPE, equipment, supplies and vaccines through the COVAX facility, a mechanism whose primary function is to ensure the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and donations notably the US Government donation of 5.5 million doses of Pfizer BioNTech.

Without the power of voices in chorus, like with the COVAX facility; the Caribbean Cooperation in Health (CCH) and others – many more would be disadvantaged and unserved. Achieving health for all in the Caribbean also means attaining and sustaining healthy environments.

The built environment, which provides for sidewalks, bike lanes, community parks and green spaces, can influence lifestyles, body weight, and improve mental health. As these necessary frameworks are made reality and we avail ourselves of them, we exercise Power through Collective Action showing that we are truly in it together, Building Healthy Communities.

As we speak about the environment, we must mention the effects of climate change. The inaction in the past has set the world on a course of environmental destruction. We need to act now; it is the only way that we can protect the generations to come from even worse realities than those we face today.

As we seek to mitigate the damage done due to inaction on the recommended major climate change interventions, we need to address other pertinent issues. Vector-borne diseases remain a challenge in many Caribbean territories, and unlike the bleak outlook that is presented on climate change, simple adjustments in our behaviour can make the world of difference.

By eradicating breeding grounds of mosquitoes in our immediate environment and communities, we minimize the spread of many vector-borne diseases. Advocacy in health should be the standard operation of every Region, State, and organisation. Sustaining Health and well-being is one of the very few universal desires.

Regardless of creed, culture, or any other divisive line – all organised bodies have a responsibility to promote health. Further to this, we need to take the time to look after ourselves and our families and communities.

Simple actions – increasing our intake of local produce, reading labels of processed foods to make informed decisions, scheduling regular exercise – these actions will drastically improve the health and quality of life of our people.

Working together to this end, will lead to healthier minds, healthier bodies, and a Caribbean that exudes wellness.

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Opposition Leader says: Government Failing with the Re-opening of Schools

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#TurksandCaicos, September 13, 2021 – There is nothing more important for a Government to do than to protect its citizens, especially the most vulnerable and the young.  The Government exist to protect its own citizens. to protect their Health and wellbeing, and protect the economy.

And we know how critical it is to get our children back to school. It is especially critical for their mental health and their development. In achieving this, the Government must ensure that schools can open with confidence, both in capacity and in the broader public health indicators that exist. Safety of our children and our families should be driving the decisions of the Government every step of the way.

Our first job must be to care for our children, and provide a safe learning environment. However, the PNP Administration’s readiness for the reopening of Schools this week was frightening to observe. All occurrences showed that this PNP Administration was not adequately prepared, and did not provide the schools, through the Department of Education, the much needed budgetary support in human resources, adequate safety materials and supplies. In addition, they did not provide the schools with any enhanced and improved health and safety guidelines.  They should not put your child and your family at risk.

The Three questions that are being asked are; Have all our schools been made safer for our children to return? Have all the schools and classrooms been inspected, and their safety protocols reviewed, to ensure adherence to the established COVID mitigation rules? The third question that is being asked is: have all school transports in good working condition for those schools that have a school bus to transport our students safely with the necessary health protocols in place.

I was expecting to see a new or enhanced plan for overcrowding and social distancing being employed at our schools? Why haven’t class occupancy been cut down to about 12-15 students? Why isn’t there staggered lunch breaks, chording of students, staggered class start times? Or does the Government think that the Pandemic is over with, and we could get by with doing the bare minimum?

The Government had every opportunity to be more than ready to mitigate against all the known challenges that the Pandemic presents. It would have been in everyone’s best interest if the Government has budgeted for the hiring more teachers, and more staff for the schools, which would enable decreasing class sizes, hence providing our students and teachers with a safer environment.

They should also consider hiring of additional custodians and cleaning staff. There are many persons out of work who would happily fill these positions.  School Nurses should also be hired at all schools; for providing disease preventing and screening services, and for ensuring the proper functioning of the school health programs. Budgetary provisions should be made in order to specifically provide materials and supplies for school clinics (sick-bays). Instead we are hearing a shortage in the number of teachers and staff members across our Islands. Why was this shortage not address long before schools opened?

I was also expecting to see additional layers of protection being added to the Governments School Reopening Plan, which ensured the further protection for our children and the staff at all school levels. This should have included budgetary investments for improving the air quality and air ventilation systems in our class rooms. It is not too late to address this, simply reallocate funds, and get it done.

Temperature checks has continued, but is this still a reliable and effective indicator for CoVID-19, especially in young people who are usually asymptomatic?

Mask wearing is good, and it continues to be in the protocols. However, why has there been no budgetary investment in providing the students free access to a higher quality of mask. This should now be routinely provided at all schools for all our children. I hope that is would be considered and agreed on.

I was also looking for policy or plan for the monitoring and screening of the students and teachers, especially those who may be asymptomatic. Where are the screening kits, along with quality PPE for all schools?  What effective protocols were implemented in the schools for detected and preventing possible outbreaks, and what are the improved school based surveillance systems in place? What are the triggers for action, and the contingency plans in the event of a spike in cases at a school?  Has all this been communicated and disseminated to parents, teachers, and students?  Are the schools capable of ensuring that children wear their mask, keep social distancing, and wash their hands for seven hours a day. We know that our little ones are not the ideal group to dictate strict guidelines to. All this should have also been comprehensively thought through and acted on.

We expect the Government to continue to act, invest, and add new layers of protection in order to ensure that all classes are safe for our children and the staff. They must execute the best decision in the best interest of our students, including those under the age of 12, who are not allegeable for vaccination.

As our children return to school, and as schools around the world are reopening, many scientists are warning of an increase number of COVID cases, and also warning that the greatest number of new cases will be in children, as many of our adults are now vaccinated. We are all aware that children spread viruses amongst themselves on a normal basis, in preschools, daycare centers, primary and secondary schools. And then they bring it home to the family. And if their family members are immunocompromised, or have certain disorders, or is unvaccinated the results could be life-threatening.

In some countries where schools have already reopened, COVID cases have already spiked, particularly in those under the age of 18, as the Delta variant is increasing in circulation. However, those countries are reporting of not seeing an increase in hospitalizations in that group.

Due to this increase in children mixing, which increase to increases in adult mixing, an increase in transmission opportunities will be presented to any coronavirus present.

The good news is that even though coronaviruses do affect children, those between 1-18, have far much lower rates of hospitalization and death, compare to other age groups. They often don’t develop any symptoms at all, and those that do tend to be mild such as a cough, low grade fever, of fatigue, and the majority would make a very rapid recovery. However, we must keep our guard up, and continue to be vigilant, and continue to monitor the symptoms, disease manifestations and severity that new and re-emerging variants present.

I encourage us all to continue to lift up in our prayers all parents of school aged children during this difficult time period. Also prayers for the students, asking for them to be provided with the resilience and the energy to overcome all these changes and disruptions.  And prayers for the principals, teachers, administrators, asking strength for their continued dedication and effort, and for their personal safety.

We need to get it right, and safely open and operate our schools, and protect our students, teachers, and staff, and keep community transmission low, or not occurring at all. We must Protect our Future.

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