Caricom in a regional statement had urged the CoI to make every effort to ensure that the constitutional functions to be carried out by the Government can be undertaken without hindrance.
However, despite these calls, CoI Secretary Steven Chandler told Virgin Islands News Online (VINO) on July 7, 2021, that the inquiry will be moving full speed ahead and unhindered due to a time limit.
This position came following more community calls for the Fahie administration to voluntarily suspend its participation in the CoI and focus on the pandemic and the people of the Virgin Islands.
In response to the outbreak, CoI Commissioner Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom in a July 7, 2021, press notice announced strengthened COVID-19 measures for COI hearings including limiting access to the Arbitration Centre via keycard, the ability for witnesses to appear virtually, and the removal of witnesses’ lawyers from appearing in person at hearings.
“They [Witness Lawyers] will not be able to attend in person even if a witness (whom they represent) decides to give evidence in person,” Mr Chandler said in the notice.
However, a new July 9, 2021, press update, indicated that witnesses will now be mandated to appear only virtually before the commission, which could mean challenges for witnesses without access to a stable internet connection.
According to the notice, “In line with the current health advice, further to the measures then announced, with immediate effect, witnesses will now not be able to attend hearings in person. They will instead attend remotely via video link. Relevant documents will be sent to them and any legal representatives electronically,” Chandler said.
It should be noted, that the VI CoI continues to be executed even as UK Prime Minister Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson has rejected demands for an immediate inquiry into his government’s handling of the pandemic, so that his government can focus on the pandemic.
Johnson in his reasoning said, 'we will learn lessons in due course’, but now is not the right time to divert government resources.
Despite local calls, the VI CoI has not paused even as the territory in the past week alone has seen an over 600% surge in COVID-19 cases with the pandemic claiming two lives on July 8th and 9th respectively.