Minister of Health, Hon. Carvin Malone disclosed that on Saturday, August 1, he signed into law the Public Health (COVID-19 Control and Suppression Measures) Order (No. 4), 2020.
He said the subsidiary legislation was made under the Public Health Act for the purpose of protecting public health and for the prevention, control and suppression of the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The Order reintroduces several familiar provisions such as limitations on all gatherings to one person per sixty-four square feet, not exceeding fifty persons at any given time; and in the case of vulnerable persons, the gathering shall be limited to a no more than ten persons.
Exemptions are made only in the case of faith-based services; graduation ceremonies; wedding ceremonies; and funerals where gatherings which shall be limited to one person per sixty-four (64) square feet and shall not exceed one hundred persons at any given time.
Where the organisers of an outdoor event anticipate that the event will exceed a gathering of fifty persons, he or she is required to make a written request to the Ministry of Health, seeking permission to hold the event.
The Order also extends the closure of schools and all school related extra-curricular activities except for the purpose of engaging students online; and preparing for, or sitting standardised exams in senior grades.
Every business and other establishment is required to put in place such physical distancing protocols and sanitisation measures as are specified in the Order, and ensure that all staff and customers adhere to such physical distancing protocols and sanitisation measures.
The legislation also requires that every person shall wear a face mask, at all times when in a public place, including at any establishment, gatherings and on public transportation.
The wearing of a face mask is not required in certain circumstances, such as when a person is:
(a) in open air settings and maintains a physical distance of no less than six feet from any other person who may be nearby;
(b) driving alone, or is with members of his or her household;
(c) obtaining services at a healthcare facility, and is directed by an employee at the healthcare facility to remove his or her face mask or face shield;
(d) is consuming food or drinks;
(e) in an assigned office, which consists of an enclosed room and is not shared by other persons;
(f) at an assigned office space and specified physical distancing protocols are being adhered to; or
(g) required to remove the mask or face shield in order to ascertain his or her identity or for security purposes.
A face shield may be worn instead of a face mask in certain circumstances, including by the following persons:
(a) a child twelve years and under, who may have difficulty wearing a face mask for a prolonged period;
(b) a person who has a health conditions which may cause breathing or medical difficulties if the person wears a face mask for a prolonged period; or
(c) a person who has intellectual or developmental disabilities.
Every establishment including offices, businesses and organisations must also ensure that all staff and customers wear a face mask or face shield, as the case may be, when inside, or in line, to access goods or services at the establishment and shall ensure that the measures specified in the Order are being adhered to.
The Health Emergency Operation Centre will develop further guidelines that will be published on the Government’s website at www.bvi.gov.vg/covid-19.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is important to note carefully that the Public Health (Covid-19 Control and Suppression Measures) Order (No. 4), 2020 introduces a range of penalties and enforcement provisions that supplement existing provisions under the Public Health Act.
Where a police officer or an Environmental Health Officer reasonably believes that a person or an establishment is contravening or has contravened these Orders, the officer shall:
(a) in the case of an individual,
(i) for the first breach, issue a verbal warning;
(ii) for a second breach, issue a fixed penalty notice requiring the person to pay a fine of one hundred dollars and to attend such mandatory training as may be specified in the notice;
(iii) for each subsequent breach, issue a fixed penalty notice requiring the person to pay a fine of two hundred dollars;
(b) in the case of an establishment,
(i) for the first breach, issue a verbal warning;
(ii) for the second breach,
(A) issue a fixed penalty notice requiring the owner or operators to pay a fine of one thousand dollars, and
(B) a notice for temporary closure, subject to such mandatory training and to implementation of such corrective measures as may be specified in the notice;
(iii) for the third breach,
(A) issue a fixed penalty notice requiring the owner or operators to pay a fine of two thousand dollars; and
(B) order the immediate closure of the establishment and the revocation of the Environmental Health Certificate.
It is my hope that not one citation will need to be issued, not one fine levied, and not one business to be forced to close. This can only be the case if we hold each other accountable to do the right thing for each other’s protection.
However, the Environmental Health Officers and Police Officers are now better equipped to enforce these sensible Public Health measures wherever and whenever required, without fear or favour.
Serious times call for serious measures. Or as the Honourable Premier like to put it, “We are not playing around with COVID-19 because COVID-19 is not playing around with us.”