Thank you Premier, Good evening Turks and Caicos.
In supporting the Premier, I thought I’d make three points this evening. The first is to say something – from my perspective - about Emergency Regulations. Second, to say something about the UK’s support during this time on national security and health and finally to close with the two really big points both the Premier and I want to make sure have landed with you.
First, I want to amplify what the Premier has said, in my own words, around the State of Emergency, its genesis and how it’s been operating.
Your elected representatives realised early on – not least drawing on their experience of dealing with the 2017 hurricanes - the extraordinary nature of what we faced and also recognised they had to move rapidly and decisively. The route to do that was through the Governor’s Emergency Powers. I think the results that were achieved – and that we witness today - justified that first decisive act by your elected representatives.
The TCI is fortunate amongst the Overseas Territories that it has a modern Constitution which bounds Emergency Powers within an accountable and democratic framework. Two examples of this. The first is the proclamation of Emergency Powers expires after a month and must be renewed. The second, is that any regulations made under Emergency Powers (and the oddity of Emergency Powers is that it is the Executive that creates the law) is that those regulations expire after 21 days if they are not put before the Parliament and must be confirmed by the legislature.
It’s that part of the Constitution that I believe gave your elected Government confidence that these powers could be used on your behalf – on the nation’s behalf. Worth saying we have just revisited whether those powers are still required and – at the elected Governments request – we have collectively agreed to extend them to 1 June when we will review again. Our intention is that these powers lapse as soon as is possible.
This ask from the elected government to utilise Emergency Powers on behalf of the people - not have these Emergency Powers imposed on them - was particularly important to me because it was obvious from the very onset of this pandemic that this was going to be a slow burn and long term crisis and that it would have very serious impacts on the people of these Islands. The democratic legitimacy of the government of the day – who are accountable to their electorate – seemed to me to be essential if the public were to be involved as serious partners in this great challenge we face.
As a result, since the introduction of Emergency Powers there has been no deviation in the way normal Cabinet and ministerial government has functioned. There’s been no need to change the way we govern because Cabinet remains the best possible way to make decisions during this time.
All decisions in Cabinet have been by consensus and all proposals put to Cabinet have come from the elected ministers talking to their portfolios; Health – under the Honourable Edwin Astwood - has clearly been very much in the lead. My chairing of Cabinet has been exactly that – as it has been from my first day – a facilitating role to help the government of the day achieve their lawful objectives.
And so to my second point, the UK offer.
Where I think the Governor’s Office has been helpful in supporting this health emergency has been through the constitutional responsibilities the Governor has on internal and national security. And it is important to stress that this remains a health crisis; not a national security crisis. ‘Health’ is, and will remain, an issue devolved and controlled by the local government and therefore local government leads during this crisis.
What has again been helpful, even in terms of supporting the national security offer to this health emergency, is the shared approach to leadership on national security by the Governor’s and Premier’s Office. We have been using newly established national security structures and a whole of government approach has been quickly developed.
We have been working together to increase our Police Force by 31 special constables who have been sworn in from Immigration, Customs and DECR which have helped – more than helped – enforce the lockdown and curfew and also bring all our maritime assets together under the Maritime Police.
As of yesterday evening – and with the full moral support of the TCI Government - we now have a total of 47 British military personnel on the island and two UK Police Officers. Reinforcements – of 29 royal marines who arrived last night from Four-Five Commando in Scotland – and who started quarantine today - will be in direct support of our counter-illegal immigration operations and are here to ensure - over the coming months - we stop illegal entry from Haiti during this time of COVID-19 emergency. As you’d expect the UK is paying for this deployment and support.
The military team that is already on the Island – and now out of quarantine – put in the groundwork to allow this reinforcement but have also been working in close collaboration with the hospital and Ministry of Health looking to help us build capacity at the hospitals while logisticians have been helping set up a hub here in TCI which provides us with a land bridge for vital supplies coming from the UK.
With regard to on-island testing capability – a PCR machine’ arrives with us soon gifted by the UK. That provides TCI with a very significant capacity for gold-plated clinical testing. The UK is also sending out an extremely hard to source Cepheid Testing Machine which can very rapidly test for the virus to a clinical standard but in smaller numbers.
On the same flight should come six ventilators – with four more to follow – and other vital medical supplies. Much Personal Protection Equipment has already been delivered. A key component for testing, that globally is in short supply, “swabs” arrived with the military yesterday. When you are down to your last 100 the arrival of 2,800 is welcome news.
Now to my final point. You know the virus is here on the islands and had you done nothing you also know what the virus would have done to our community.
You have seen the havoc it has delivered in my own country where over 26,000 are now dead. That is only counting the dead in the Hospitals. An unknown but very significant figure – in the many thousands – have died in care homes for the elderly.
Once it grips you know how it spreads: at a rate of one person infecting around 2.2 people. I’ve said this before but it’s worth repeating. One case becomes two, two becomes four, four becomes eight, but because it’s an ‘R’ number – a reproduction number - not just of ‘two’ but of ‘2.2’, eight becomes seventeen and seventeen becomes thirty-seven and so on. Just one uncontrolled case could have overwhelmed our health capacity in a heart-beat.
But you stopped that. You did it! The rate of 2.2, the Minister of Health tells us, is now down to less than ‘one’. That’s a critical figure in terms of us being able to start to gently ease restrictions.
In congratulating ourselves let’s also be crystal clear – it doesn’t mean the virus is not present. It does not mean the virus has in some sense ‘given up’. The virus remains here in TCI. There is, if you like, still an invisible ‘tiger’ stalking the streets and as we lift off we have to do so treating that fact with respect, and being prepared to quickly step back if the medical advice is that we should step back. No problem if we do that, so long as we do it.
To use the analogy of driving a car, what we did around the 26th and 27th of March is we conducted an ‘emergency stop’. We slammed on the brakes and brought the vehicle to a rapid, controlled but dramatic halt.
What we now need to do – knowing the road remains dangerous, is to look in our rear-view mirrors, indicate properly, put the car in first gear, and very gently start to pull away knowing we can stop again – if we need to – but less violently and less aggressively because the vehicle is now travelling at a slow speed not foot down on the accelerator.
Yet while the vehicle is travelling slowly we can at least be certain it is travelling firmly in the right direction and to our destination. For the avoidance of doubt that destination is a vibrant tourism offer that tells the world that TCI is not only the most beautiful destination in the world but the safest destination in the world and if you are ‘safe’ you can come here, and we are going to look after you, like no other, because we know how to do that in this new “COVID19 normal”.
However before the Premier and myself sign off – and this is the first time we have been in the same room for months although we talk many times every day - we both want to reinforce – two final messages that guide all others.
First: the virus remains in the community. It will remain for a long time. We are now just entering the phase where we are going to have to start to learn to live with it. You now know – because you’ve been living a very different life - how you can live your lives differently and keep yourselves safe. You’ve been practicing for six weeks and you’ve adjusted your lives to take this into account.
Gently restarting the economy is far more complex than stopping it. To date, to help you make the right decisions – the law and the police - plus detailed exemptions issued by my office – have acted as handrails.
But as we start to now lift off these laws, regulations and exemptions are far too blunt an instrument to take into account every nuance. What will now save us, is you doing what we’ve seen you do – be extraordinarily responsible.
Social distancing is critical in this regard. If someone infects you, it will be because social distancing was not observed. Stay safe by staying distant. Reduce your risk by serious hand washing. If you are covering your face – in anyway – you are seriously reducing the risk to yourself and to others.
Don’t mistake here what we are collectively attempting to achieve: alleviating some of the growing poverty in the island by gently restarting the economy and allowing a little more recreational space for our overall mental wellbeing. We are not going back to normal. We are not saying the island is safe. We are saying we are all taking a managed risk that we may need to retreat from.
So this isn’t now the moment to travel across the Island to let cousins play with each other. This isn’t the time to bring multiple households – albeit in one extended family group – together - under one roof - to celebrate a birthday. Continue to look after your family by being very (very) cautious. This is the very best thing you can do for your family.
Second, this virus does not discriminate in terms of who it infects but, wholly unfairly, there is a discrimination in who it impacts the most. It is the elderly and those with an underlying condition that weakens their immune system. If I’m describing you, you are the most important people we have in society. You are the people we really must protect.
If even a small group of you were to fall ill at the same time we do not have the health capacity on this Island to care for you properly – and it’s a feature of almost every country that if there is an outbreak amongst the elderly and vulnerable the health care of even the most sophisticated economy cannot cope.
If you are in this group you really must make sure that you continue to observe the lockdown and the curfew. We do not intend to legislate that you ‘must’ – we see that as an over-reach in discriminatory powers – but we put the onus on you to do the right thing for yourself and for society by being hyper careful.
And if you are an employer of a person in this category we put a very heavy moral burden on you – not just in terms of protecting your employee but protecting the health care system for all - to do everything you can – including adjusting their job description if needed during this extraordinary time – to give them the opportunity to contribute to your business – or to government business – by staying at home.
With those two extraordinarily important points made let me end by saying this.
Monday 4th May is only the end of many phases that we will have to go through. For some this period will have had relatively little impact. But for many, and in many different ways, it was a period of tremendous hardship.
Because the virus didn’t grip and because the virus didn’t take-off, it may appear to you to have been far more about ‘pain’ than ‘gain’. That is emphatically not the case. You did a great job TCI in fighting back; in not allowing TCI to be a victim. Of giving us the best possible launch pad to start moving forward. Because from 4th May that is the now direction of travel: forward and upward.
But if we are to call this virus our enemy – and it seems to me that is not stretching the point to do that – that enemy is not dead – it is just seriously wounded. A seriously wounded enemy is still a threat and it needs our constant vigilance – as individuals, as families, as communities and as a nation, as we head to a future where the island again flourishes.
Serious Social Distancing, hygiene and covering our faces – in an improvised way if needed – is our defence. Common sense and social responsibility are the orders of the day. While we do that the Ministry of Health and hospital will continue to build; let’s now step carefully forward together - into the next phase - confident of what we did, prepared to step back if we have to, but knowing now it’s our own judgement – our own integrity - not ‘law and regulation’ - that will keep us truly safe.
God bless you all, and good night TCI.