14 July 2020
I last wrote on COVID-19 preparedness back in April. Since then, there have been a number of press conferences, live radio phone-ins, press releases, and updates. Thankfully, due to the measures adopted, the Island remains free of COVID-19.
In some ways, much has changed, yet much remains the same. We had our first direct flight to and from the UK. We can now test for COVID-19. We have had experience of contact tracing. We have additional medical staff in place, thanks to funding from the UK Government through the Conflict, Stability and Security Fund. Bradley’s Camp is operational with quarantine accommodation and a hospital medical facility to deal specifically with COVID-19 cases. Anecdotally, physical (formerly social) distancing measures helped to reduce instances of common illnesses, such as colds and flu. We have supplies of dexamethasone on-Island, the steroid drug used worldwide to treat the most severe COVID-19 cases. In my view, the Island is as prepared as it can be to deal with COVID-19 and I congratulate everyone involved in making this possible.
Sadly, there are repercussions; tourism numbers have plummeted, some local businesses have closed temporarily and money spent on-Island has decreased. Enterprise St Helena (ESH) and St Helena Government (SHG) have been supporting businesses with financial support schemes, but we all recognise this cannot continue indefinitely. At the last Incident Executive Group (IEG) meeting in June, some measures and practices were amended and social distancing suspended. Thoughts at the meeting also turned to preparing St Helena for the future and agreeing the need for a new flight. The IEG meets again on Monday, 20July, and will discuss what options may be possible to encourage people to once again visit the Island once the world situation becomes clearer.
I know that lots of you want to look beyond COVID-19 for future opportunities for the Island. Many people have remarked to me how important it was to see a direct flight arrive from the UK. We will see this again at the end of the month, with the arrival of a second UK charter. I am keen to see if or how we can turn this into a more regular operation to maximise our recovery from COVID-19 and enable greater economic growth, jobs and money for our Island. That said, any longer-term arrangement has to be commercially viable. The world is starting to open again. We need to ensure St Helena does not get left behind and we maximise opportunities where we can.
It has been positive to see the progress made in a number of other areas during the past few months, in spite of the impact of COVID-19. The energy contract with PASH Global has been signed. St Helena was successful in obtaining nearly £1 million in funding for three UK Darwin Plus environmental projects. The CAN France rockfall protection work has just finished. Work continues at pace on the cable landing station at Rupert’s. These are just some of the achievements of which St Helena can be proud. The DFID-funded Economic Development Investment Programme will continue to be progressed and I expect to see more projects approved in the coming months.
From September, the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office will officially be the new international department of the UK Government, combining the efforts of the FCO and DFID in the UK and overseas. A team is in place across both departments working on the finer details of the merger. The new department will mean that UK development and foreign policy is more unified and speaks with a single voice. St Helena has traditionally had representatives from both the FCO and DFID in the Governor’s Office, and I am confident we will continue to make the case for the merger to work in St Helena’s best interests.
Governor of St Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha
14 July 2020