By Premier, Hon. Joseph E. Farrell
Good day listeners,
As a Government it is our intention to provide regular updates on key developments and decisions in a timely manner. We want to ensure that you are kept abreast of what is happening across Government and indeed the wider Montserrat community. That is why I am here this morning, as I wish to update you on a number of government activities taking place now and in the coming weeks.
Tomorrow is Wednesday March 17—a significant day for us on Montserrat for more reasons than one. It is St. Patrick’s Day, but it also marks one year since the Minister of Health and myself had the unenviable task of reporting Montserrat‘s first positive case of Covid-19 last year (in 2020). As we are all aware, following that confirmation, and over the following months we recorded 12 cases and unfortunately one fatality. Our thoughts and prayers are always with families who have suffered loss as a result of COVID-19.
Following that first wave of the virus, the island did not record any new cases for a seven-month period; and we were one of the few countries in the world to boast of such an achievement. But this did not happen coincidentally; but rather a collective effort by the hard working professionals in the Ministry of health and you the law abiding citizens of this country, who in spite of the discomfort caused by the various measures and protocols put in place, understood that they were in your best interest and you complied.
The island experienced a second wave of the Coronavirus in early February 2021 and again because of the quick action of the Ministry of Health team and the cooperation of persons in the public and private sector to include all essential services, the number of exposed persons were swiftly identified and the necessary precautionary measures were taken to protect the rest of the population. I know it has not been easy for any of us and so I must thank you for your support.
The country is safely back to where it was at the beginning of February 2021 and our wish is for it to remain this way but it demands a response from all of us.
- We must still practice all the safety and precautionary measures;
- Wearing of face coverings, frequent hand-washing and social distancing;
- And we now have access to a COVID-19 vaccine and this is our hope.
There is a light at the end of those dark days of 2020 which resulted in the disruptions of our lives, we now have a chance for Montserrat to revert to normality. If the border is to be fully opened, if we are to welcome back tourist to our shores and if other economic activities are to take off, we must first protect ourselves, our loved ones and the entire population.
“THE VACCINE IS AVAILABLE”, “IT IS FREE”! And “IT IS SAFE” Together let us restore hope to this country— Please register and take your Vaccine.
As of Friday March 12, a total of 1078 persons have registered to receive the vaccine. 1001 persons have received their first dose and 130 persons have received their second dose. I am included in those numbers.
We now need another 422 persons to register to be vaccinated, so that none of the doses in this first batch goes to waste. Additionally, I wish to remind everyone that we do not have a set date to receive more vaccines and as such I urge you to not allow this opportunity to protect yourself and others past.
As I said earlier, it takes all of us working together to keep Montserrat save from COVID-19, and as a Government we are actively looking at ways to address any gaps in our systems, processes and protocols which may result in more cases. We know that travel must continue, although currently at a low level, and so we must ensure that arrivals into the island are monitored more closely so that any potential case arriving is kept isolated from members of the community. In this regard, I can confirm that the Government is considering and exploring a designated quarantine facility which will be monitored and will allow for quick isolation of any new cases entering the island. We will update you on this as soon as an agreement is reached.
We have also placed an order for quarantine detection wrist bands, for persons in quarantine and these are expected to arrive on island shortly. We are doing everything within our power to protect the people of this country.
Now I will update you on some key projects and initiatives:
Payments have already commenced under the Unemployment Support Programme and the Child Support Programme. And I can inform you that as of, Friday March 12, 2021
The Number of adults who have received financial support is 280
The Number of children who have received financial support is 290
The Total spent so far is $595,752.00
Payments are continuing, and I understand some persons are indicating that they have not yet received the payments, but I can assure you that it is coming.
Persons are asked to call the Social Services Department from Monday to Friday on 495-5306,495-3895 and 495-7491 if you or your household :-
- have received assistance previously (in 2020) under the Business–employees support programme and have not received a salary of $900 from your employer(s);
- have not received a salary from your employer for a month of February;
- have not received assistance from Social Services Department previously and the criteria outlined applies to you;
- Received assistance from the Social Services Department previously and have not received a call.
Under the Child Support Programme the Government of Montserrat is providing support to all children.
- All children (0-17yrs) will receive $150. 18 years and up will receive $900.00 if they meet the criteria outlined under the Unemployment Support Programme.
- Persons whose child(ren) are not attending school, government Daycares, Nurseries or private unregistered sitters, are asked to call the Labour Department from Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. on 491-4010 or 491-4020 to register your child or children for the $150.00
Airport Runway resurfacing
Earlier this year It was anticipated that work on the resurfacing of the runway at the John A. Osborne airport would have commenced on March 12th with a ten day down time for air travel. However, over the past weeks, there has been delays in the arrival of the hot mix plant and consequently the starting date has been pushed forward to April 11 to 22, 2021. As a Government, we are very mindful of the inconvenience these delays are causing you the travelling public and we ask for your patience and understanding at this time.
I also promised that government would be providing a ferry service to provide continued access while the Airport is closed for the runway resurfacing process. In this regard, I wish to indicate that every effort was made to secure a ferry, but in the end the effort had to be shelved based on prevailing circumstances in some of our neighboring islands, coupled with the small number of persons travelling.
To this end, Cabinet took the decision to ensure there is connectivity between Montserrat and Antigua during the period of the airport closure, and this will facilitated via a helicopter service. The helicopter will be on standby to undertake medivac and passenger travel between Montserrat and Antigua.
Work on the New Hospital is progressing steadily; three options of preliminary designs have been presented to the Ministry of Health, in February. The Minister of Health and his team will be coming to you as soon as it is feasible to discuss the options and to seek your input, before Government makes a final selection. Your input is extremely valuable as together we decide on the final option, on what is best for us as a people and a country.
The Minister of Communication, Works, Labour and Energy announced that tender documents were sent out for the design and build of the Port at Little Bay. Those bids are due to come in within the next six weeks.
Only then will the government know what the construction cost will be. Further updates will be provided by the Ministry as the project advances.
At this time, I was fully expecting to announce the actual date for the presentation of the 2021/2022 budget, however, I must report that the address has been delayed and will therefore be late this year. This is not a situation in which the government wishes to be in, we are awaiting confirmation from the UK as to the level of budgetary aid we will be receiving for this year’s budget, this includes new spend requests. It is our understanding that the financial aid envelope for Montserrat is not yet approved, and so we must wait for this critical information before we can announce a date for the budget speech.
Increased Economic Activity
In addition to work already started at the Montserrat Secondary school in retrofitting the staff room, work on two other projects has commenced and will continue over the next several months.
Many of you would have noticed a buzz of activity taking place in Look Out in preparation for the 750 KW Solar Project , at the same time personnel have begun to arrive for the resurfacing of the John A. Osborne Airport runway.
Some forty individuals (non-resident technicians) will be coming on island to work on these two projects which would have significant economic spill off to the private sector. Businesses and individuals will benefit from home and vehicle rentals, supermarkets, shops and restaurant should also see increased sales. Also benefiting from the projections will be truckers, excavators and other heavy equipment operators, contractors, and labourers.
This is indeed a good start after those long, dark lock-down days of 2020.
St. Patrick’s Festival
Now as we are in the St. Patrick’s week of activities, I must end on that note.
This year St. Patrick’s celebration is taking the form of virtual presentations, and the traditional St Patrick’s Day slave feast will have a different approach as announced by the Montserrat Arts Council.
However next year 2022, we are anticipating the return of an in person St. Patrick’s Festival even bigger and better than before, so save the date in your calendars. Once countries around the world begin to reap the benefits of the vaccination roll out then St Patrick’s celebration will return to what it was pre COVID-19! We will be celebrate together.
I also want to go further, Festival 2021 is another date in my calendar and I want you to put it in your calendar as well, we can have Festival 2021 if we adhere to the rules; if we take our vaccine; if 80% of the population is inoculated, then come December 2021 we will all celebrate again. That is the hope I have for you. That is the hope I want you to have for yourself, but you have to help us to help you because together we can.
HAPPY ST PATRICK’S DAY to all of you!