NIA CHARLESTOWN NEVIS (March 26, 2020) — The following is the full text on a statement made by Hon. Mark Brantley, Premier of Nevis on COVID-19 from his office at Pinney’s Estate on March 26, 2020.
My dear brothers and sisters,
I have decided today to forego my monthly press conference and make a statement instead on our ongoing efforts to confront the threat of Covid-19 in our island home.
As you are aware, this crisis is now far more than just a health crisis. It now threatens our economic survival, our food security, our social mores and our very way of life.
In a few short weeks, this pandemic has changed the world and has destroyed any of the hitherto accepted health, social and economic norms. It is not an exaggeration to say that we are truly now living in a new world.
Each day new information comes to light. Each day our news is replete with new developments and new dangers. We are as an island, a Federation and a region in completely uncharted territory for which there is no established playbook.
I have taken the decision to update you often as I believe that only through calm and sober communication of accurate information our people can be properly informed going forward.
I have before updated you on steps being taken by the Nevis Island Administration in collaboration with the Federal Government on the health and safety of our people.
As of yesterday we heard the news that our Nation has now confirmed two imported cases of Covid-19. While there are still no confirmed cases on the island of Nevis, we are one Federation, one people, one family and we must expect that it must now be only a matter of time before we record cases in Nevis as well. As a result, we have continued daily to prepare our island for that possibility.
I wish again to go on record to thank our Chief Medical Officer Dr. Hazel Laws and her team on St. Kitts and Dr. Judy Nisbett and her team on Nevis who have thus far given exceptional service going well beyond the call of duty to ensure our safety and security. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
I confirm that we have been engaging in ongoing COVID-19 testing in Nevis and the wider Federation. Tests are done based on whether a person presents with symptoms which fall within the definitions set out by PAHO [World Health Organisation] and that person is referred for testing by his or her physician or at one of our hospitals.
Tests are undertaken in St. Kitts and samples sent to CARPHA [Caribbean Public Health Agency] in Trinidad for a secondary test to ensure that results are verified. Thus far we have tested some 39 persons, 29 in St. Kitts and 10 in Nevis. We now know that we have two positive results as of yesterday.
There are 288 persons currently quarantined as a precautionary measure due to their travel history. Of those 81 are in Nevis. I emphasize that persons are being quarantined due to their travel history not because they have any symptoms or because they have tested positive. The 81 persons quarantined in Nevis are a precautionary measure.
I have listened carefully to the concerns expressed by many about closing our borders and about social or physical distancing as it is being called, and the need to prevent the opportunity for spread of Covid 19 by maintaining an appropriate distance between each other.
Social or physical distancing has serious implications for our schools, our churches, our bars and restaurants, our hotels and even funerals and other social gatherings. Indeed, we are being asked to change our very way of life and our propensity to commix and commingle as human beings.
I agonize especially over our elderly and infirm and those who live alone who more than most need human contact to shield them from the despair of loneliness. Sadly these remain the most vulnerable in our community to the dangers of Covid-19, and I appeal to us all to remember such persons in our prayers even as we seek to maintain our distance for their continued safety and security.
For this reason our restrictions on visits to the Flamboyant and St. Georges Homes and the Alexandra Hospital remain stringently in place. We ask as always for the patience and understanding of the Nevisian public.
I continue to encourage our people to adhere to all information and guidelines issued by our teams of government experts including maintaining social and physical distancing, and that means trying to stay six feet apart from each other.
In this regard, and consistent with the position communicated at the Federal level, all schools in Nevis were closed yesterday March 25th, 2020, for the Easter holidays and until further notice. I also wish to make it clear that this closure applies to all public and private schools and that includes all pre-schools and day care facilities.
We recognize that students will miss some classes before the originally scheduled date of closure for the term. We recognize also, that many parents who are working will have the added burden of finding care for their children while they are at work. We apologize for this difficulty but reiterate that our priority now as a government and as a community has to be the continued safety and security of our people.
In this regard, we have asked that study plans be developed, and our officials in Education are working with the principals to ensure that mechanisms are finalized to allow our children to continue get their education even if this ultimately is to be done through an online platform.
I congratulate our principals and teachers for their efforts thus far in ensuring that all high school and primary school public students in Nevis already have revision packages to take home over this period.
I recognize that the closure of pre-schools and day care facilities will cause hardship for parents with children in need of care. In this regard, all public servants in Nevis who have children in pre-school or day care shall be required to take vacation due to them immediately. Those who have no vacation time due to them will be asked to obtain the written permission of the relevant ministry for which they work to proceed on leave so that they can stay at home with their infants.
The NIA will continue to pay the salaries and wages of such persons for the initial period of six weeks subject to further evaluation. I urge the private sector to partner with us and do likewise.
I encourage other parents similarly affected who might have vacation time to take their vacation. This will allow them to care for their children at home but also help enforce the physical distancing recommendations.
I also encourage other public servants, many of whom have accumulated holiday, to take those holidays now and to liaise with their ministers and ministries in that regard.
Consistent with the social distancing concerns, I have also asked our Permanent Secretary of Human Resources and his team to advise urgently on the composition of our various government ministries and departments, to determine how we can best limit face to face contacts among government employees and among government employees and members of the public.
We shall shortly be able to advise what departments will have reduced hours and which workers will be required to work from home.
I have also spoken just this morning, to the leaders of the Christian Council and the Evangelical Association, and I am aware that some churches have already taken the decision to stop services in the face of this threat.
Being conscious of the need for the continued prayers and comfort of our church, I have directed that our local television station NTv provide a greater platform to all of our churches which might wish to bring their message to us via television.
I encourage those that can move services online to do likewise. The church is not a building but a people. I therefore encourage our people even as we practice social distancing to continue to pray for each other.
Further, in regard to social and physical distancing, I this morning also made contact with the local operators of a website www.caribeshop.us. This is an online supermarket which allows you to shop for groceries from the comfort of your homes. It is available in Nevis and in St. Kitts and your groceries will be delivered to you on the same day or the following day. Please contact them at 669-2729 or 663-2729 for additional information.
I am proud ladies and gentlemen, of our young entrepreneurs who have developed such technology which can now assist us greatly in maintaining social and physical distancing even while ensuring that our groceries are delivered to our doorsteps.
I continue to appeal to our people not to congregate unnecessarily. Avoid handshakes and other close contact with other persons and remember to practice good hygiene, washing hands with soap and water frequently and using hand sanitizers with at least 60 percent alcohol content when soap and water might not be available.
We must seek to avoid crowded buses. Stay at home as much as possible. Already one ferry service between St. Kitts and Nevis has cancelled its services.
I have asked the Nevis Air and Sea Ports Authority to take a careful look at the ferry services between our two islands going forward.
My brothers and sisters, this is a rapidly evolving situation and I am aware that the Federal Cabinet is even now considering other measures. We in Nevis will be guided as we must as one nation remain on the same page in this fight. I ask you then to listen to media outlets for additional information as and when it comes.
I am also to advise that consistent with the decisions taken at the Federal level and confirmed by the Nevis Air and Seaports Authority, Nevis effectively closed the island’s borders last night at 11.59 p.m.
We shall not be accepting any ships, yachts or passenger aircraft into our seaports or into the Vance Amory International Airport for the initial period until April 7th, 2020. Our ports will only be open for cargo and emergency traffic with special permission.
I commend NASPA which has already developed new protocols for the handling of cargo during this time. We recognize that this is unprecedented for our island and our country, and that many including some nationals and residents abroad seeking to return home will be affected. We sincerely apologize for the terrible inconvenience but again emphasize that our sole priority at this time is the safety and security of our island and our people.
My brothers and sisters, I am well aware that many of you work in the tourism industry and allied services. I have spoken to so many who have expressed grave concern as to their ability to survive given their loss of jobs or their severely reduced hours.
I assure you that we have been listening and meeting with our teams internally both at the Federal and local level to determine what we are able to do to help. Of course, the sudden drop in business means that the Nevis Island Administration is equally suffering a significant reduction in revenue. The Cabinet however felt that we must do all that we can to assist.
You would have heard the address of our Prime Minister Dr. Timothy Harris during his press conference of Tuesday 24th March, 2020. Our Prime Minister set out a number of measures to provide some economic relief to our people and our businesses and to convey clearly the message that as a government we care deeply about the welfare of our people.
I have consulted at length with our hoteliers in Nevis and with the combined representatives of the Chamber of Industry and Commerce in both St. Kitts and Nevis. Most of our hotels are closed and we anticipate that others will close as well. This has caused and will cause tremendous financial hardship for our workers and their families.
The Cabinet of the Nevis Island Administration expresses its deep appreciation to the Federal Government for those initiatives that will positively benefit the people and businesses on the island of Nevis.
We have gone further and sought to provide our own additional relief to the people of Nevis most affected by this COVID-19 crisis.
To this, end I am pleased to report that the measures taken at the national level which will positively impact the people and business community in Nevis are:
Reduction of corporate income tax by 24 percent from a rate of 33 percent to a rate of 25 percent for the initial period of April to June 2020, for those businesses that retain and continue to pay at least 75 percent of their workers.
Reduction of the unincorporated business tax by 50 percent from 4 percent to 2 percent for the period April to June 2020, in the first instance. This will provide much needed relief to our small business sector over this initial three month period.
Funding of some $12 million to the Severance Fund to ensure that workers claiming severance payments are paid promptly.
Provision of an additional $5 million to the Poverty Alleviation Programme for households that might now fall below the $3,000 per month threshold due to a loss of jobs and income caused by this crisis.
A moratorium on all loan payments to commercial banks including the Development Bank of St. Kitts and Nevis for six months as agreed to with the Eastern Caribbean Central Bank together with a waiver of all late charges and fees.
I am delighted to report that the Credit Union in Nevis has agreed to offer similar relief to its customers.
I urge all bank customers to speak to their banks to get details of what relief might be available to them.
Social Security has agreed to pay $1,000 to each affected worker or affected self-employed individual registered with Social Security. Where persons have been laid off this $1,000 will be paid to them. Where they are still working but on reduced hours and earning less than $1,000 then their pay will be topped up to bring them to $1,000.
Social Security will pay sickness benefits to any worker who has to be quarantined as if that person was sick even where quarantine is only a precautionary measure.
I urge persons to speak to the Social Security office in Nevis for guidance.
In addition, the Nevis Island Administration Cabinet working with various statutory agencies owned by the NIA, has approved the following additional relief for those resident in Nevis and adversely affected by this pandemic:
- Property tax payments for the period June to September, 2020 will be deferred.
- Water payments for persons laid off over the period April to June 2020 will be waived. In other words water for those affected workers over the next 3 months will be free.
- Persons who have been laid off or who are on reduced hours can apply to Social Services for additional benefits including the $500 poverty alleviation programme.
- NEVLEC [Nevis Electricity Company Limited], our electricity company will defer electricity payments for hotels, restaurants and other businesses directly affected by this pandemic, and will reduce electricity bills by 50 percent for all workers laid off for an initial period of 3 months from April to June, 2020.
- The Nevis Housing and Land Development Corporation will waive all payments to the corporation for those homeowners paying the corporation for an initial period of 3 months from April to June, 2020.
- Hospital and related fees for anyone sick from the Coronavirus will also be waived at this time.
Additionally and in our continued emphasis on the food security of the island, the Cabinet has decided to make additional concessions to our farmers and fishers:
- Registered farmers will not pay for water for six months from April to September, 2020.
- Registered farmers will be provided with seeds and seedlings for food crops from the Department of Agriculture for free over the three month period from April to June, 2020
- Backyard farmers will be provided with free seeds and seedlings to boost production of short term food crops over the next three months from April to June, 2020
- Registered fishers will be provided with fish pot wire at a 50 percent reduced rate with the first roll free over the next three months from April to June, 2020. I have directed that the Ministry of Agriculture immediately order more fish pot wire to satisfy this commitment
- Fees at the government abattoir will be waived for registered livestock farmers over the period April to June 2020
- All government fees on ploughing and preparing land for farming will be waived over the period April to June 2020.
- The government will provide free labour to help our farmers on their farms.
I take the time to commend Deputy Premier Jeffers and the Ministry and Department of Agriculture for the very proactive role they have played in ensuring greater food security for Nevis.
I am advised that our farmers are responding positively and we expect that much more land will be brought under cultivation in the days and weeks ahead as we ramp up.
I encourage our backyard farmers in particular to partner with us to ensure that we plant more food. Food security now more than ever must be an urgent priority.
To continue to encourage our financial services sector and to encourage on time payments of various fees, the cabinet has also decided waive all penalties and late charges ordinarily applicable to entities registered under the various suite of financial services legislation.
The Financial Services Registry has also now moved most of their functions online to better serve the industry without the need for face to face contact.
Brothers and sisters, I have sought to set out a number of initiatives that we feel able to undertake to provide some relief to our people at this very difficult time in the life and times of our beloved island.
I have emphasised in each instance that this is for the time frame stipulated in the first instance. I assure you that we shall work with the Federal Government and all other stakeholders to extend these concessions as the circumstances demand at the end of the initial time frames.
I take the time now to alert you that the hotline for Covid-19 has been set up. Please dial 311 or 661-5051 if you have any questions or concerns or if you are feeling unwell.
We have established the Nevis Covid-19 Updates Facebook page and will display timely and accurate information there, as well as on the Nevis Health Promotion Unit Facebook page.
The Ministry of Health will launch its Covid-19 dashboard shortly for up to the minute updates on this pandemic. Our goal is to get you accurate information in a timely and consistent manner.
I am also pleased to advise that we expect a contingent of six nurses and one doctor to arrive into Nevis from Cuba on Saturday to help us manage this situation.
I thank the Government of Cuba for their continued assistance to us and thank Minister Brandy and her team for their proactive approach in this regard.
Given the concern that the stress caused by this crisis might negatively impact not just the physical health but also the mental health of our people, I have directed that the Ministry of Health makes our counsellors and mental health workers available to the Nevisian public for counselling and mental health assistance as and if this becomes necessary.
Before I end allow me to issue a word of caution. It has come to our attention that some who have returned to Nevis and should be in self-quarantine as a precautionary measure have been seen out and about in the community. While these persons have no symptoms of being sick, our health authorities have mandated self-quarantine as a sensible precautionary matter. This is not a joke. This is a very serious matter where people’s lives might well be put at risk by the reckless behaviour of a few.
Indeed, such persons can be charged criminally and fined up to $8,000 for such reckless behaviour under applicable regulations.
I therefore urge our people to act responsibly. This fight against this pandemic is not just for the government or for the health workers. This fight is for all of us. Only working together in a responsible way can we hope to overcome this crisis.
I end my brothers and sisters as I always do, by asking for your continued prayers for our island and our nation. In these unprecedented times no government can foresee every circumstance or have the resources to deal with every situation. We must plan and we must prepare, but we should also know that only through God and His mercy shall we prevail.
I invite you then to pray ceaselessly for our people, for our frontline workers and responders, for our workers and our businesses who are hurting even now, for our aged and our infirm. I urge you to pray for each other and to remember that above all else we must continue to be our brother’s keeper and our sister’s helper.
Working together with prayer and supplication, I know that little Nevis that we all love and this blessed land of St. Kitts and Nevis that we call home shall overcome.
Thank you and God bless you.