TORTOLA — Three days of limited shopping meant to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus by keeping British Virgin Islands residents apart began with massive, tightly-packed crowds Thursday as the territory’s residents rushed to buy everything they will need for the next two weeks.
With only a few hours to go before curfew Thursday, a crowd of more than 250 shoppers waited outside the Onemart Supermarket on Tortola, including some residents who had been in line since 10:30 a.m.
Measures meant to keep the crowds small, including allowing only one person per household, and only residents with last names beginning in A through L, weren’t enough to keep the crowds at bay.
In response to Thursday’s crowds, the BVI government extended the shopping window for supermarkets to 9 p.m. tonight and Saturday.
Starting at 9 p.m. Saturday, BVI residents will be confined to their homes until 6 a.m. April 18.
After a decision made at a Cabinet meeting Wednesday, Premier Andrew Fahie called on residents to stock up for 14 days starting Thursday.
On Thursday, only essential workers and persons shopping for the vulnerable residents were allowed to shop from 6 to 8 a.m. Then, individuals with surnames A-L were allowed to shop.
Today, surnames J-R will be allowed to shop from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and on Saturday residents with surnames S-Z will be allowed out.
Limited basic services — pharmacies, banks, gas stations, private medical facilities, fisherfolks, farmers, bakeries, office supply stores, money transfer services, hardware stores and mini markets — will be required to close by 8 p.m. and are urged to offer online shopping for curbside and home delivery.
No one under mandatory quarantine is allowed to leave his or her home.
A client support services center has been established for persons quarantined due to COVID-19 and The Deputy Governor’s Office and the Health Emergency Operations Center are coordinating with private security companies to serve quarantined individuals.
Persons in the vulnerable categories must also remain at home and receive their essential and basic supplies through home deliveries.
Persons who have to shop for seniors during the 6-8 a.m. windows are required to show proof that they are shopping or doing business for them.
Burials are only allowed through Saturday, with a limit of 20 individuals attending the services, and no burials will be allowed thereafter through April 20.
The Government has partnered with Family Support Network to assist persons facing hardships to get groceries and can contact the network at 284-499-0999 or 284-542-2085.
“This is good news for persons who have been laid off and would not have had enough funds to shop for these 14 days, or persons who were not working or whatever the hardship may be, as long as you can prove it, so that you can get the help through your government, via the Family Support Network,” Fahie said. “This is to be able to shop for your family, to be able to have groceries for the 14 days.”
“Persons who are permitted outside their homes to use essential services [from 6 a.m to 6 p.m.], must only leave their homes to go directly to those places of business and go straight back home,” Fahie said.
Fahie said no home deliveries will take place after 6 p.m. Saturday.
Saturday “starts a period of 14 days lockdown for 24 hours daily. For legal purposes, the curfew will end on April 16. However, it is your government’s intention to ensure, based on scientific data, to get 14 consecutive days of lockdown in order for us to try to beat this virus,” Fahie said. “So therefore, there will be the need for an order to be done to stretch for at least three more days to give us those 14 days starting from this Saturday.”