US Virgin Islands puts brakes on leisure travel to battle COVID

The United States Virgin Islands (USVI) authorities have announced plans for closing the doors once again to leisure visitors  for at least one month in an effort to deal with the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Governor Albert Bryan Jr said that the territory will revert to the “Stay-at-Home” (Orange alert) phase of its COVID-19 response, for the next two weeks, following which there will be a re-evaluation of the situation.

He said from Monday, August 17, all non-essential businesses and churches have been ordered to cease operations and the public, including non-essential public sector workers, are ordered to stay at home.

Effective immediately, hotels, villas, Airbnb accommodations, guest houses, temporary vacation housing and charter vessels and similar businesses have been ordered not to accept or book any new reservations for 30 days.

The authorities said that effective August 19, accommodations providers are barred from admitting or checking-in any guests for 30 days unless the order is lifted sooner.

Reservations may only be accepted for business travellers, flight crews, emergency personnel, and government workers with written authorisation from the relevant government agency they are visiting.

Virgin Islanders in the territory and abroad are encouraged to travel only for urgent matters to help limit the contagion into and out of the US Virgin Islands.

Beginning Monday, August 17 and lasting until August 31 unless lifted earlier, all restaurants in the territory can offer only takeout, delivery or drive-thru service. All bars, nightclubs and cabarets are to remain closed as long as the territory remains in a State of Emergency.

“When we announced our COVID-19 alert system in May, I indicated at that time that we would retreat … to a more cautious state of alert if conditions warranted. Unfortunately, we have arrived at that point this week,” Governor Bryan said.

“The recent infiltration of the virus into our residential institutions that house vulnerable members of our population creates an alarming level of risk,” the Governor said, adding “this adds to the stress of the ongoing pandemic response that seemingly has no end in sight and is wearing out our health care and public safety infrastructure”.

As of Thursday, there were 682 positive cases, 197 of which were active and 476 recovered. Nine deaths have been reported since the start of the pandemic.

The authorities also disclosed that a Filipino sailor, who spent five weeks in a medically-induced coma, underwent 12 weeks of treatment at the Roy Lester Schneider Hospital’s COVID-19 unit before being repatriated to the Philippines COVID-free.

“We appreciate the concerns of our tourism partners and stakeholders, however, with the recent spike in cases we are seeing, especially in the St Thomas-St John district, we must reset, take stock, safeguard human life, and prepare for restarting our tourism economy at a later date,” said Commissioner of Tourism, Joseph Boschulte, as he spoke about the difficult but necessary decision.

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