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CoI pushing ahead despite severe COVID outbreak in VI

CoI pushing ahead despite severe COVID outbreak in VI

Even as the Virgin Islands (VI) continues to experience the worst hit of the COVID-19 outbreak since the global pandemic started a year ago, the United Kingdom-sponsored Commission of Inquiry (CoI) has indicated it will still move ahead with its work.

This position comes amidst calls for the government of the VI to suspend its participation in the CoI to focus attention on the deadly pandemic, which has seen a record number of cases locally.

624% increase in cases in 1 week


The VI has a staggering 659 confirmed COVID-19 cases as of July 7, 2021. Just a week ago on July 1, the cases were 91 active conformed cases, representing an increase of 624% in just 7 days.

Health authorities have also hinted that the figures could be higher given the unwillingness of some persons to get tested.

National Epidemiologist Harmony Brewley-Messiah indicated that some persons were ‘sick like dogs’ yet refusing to seek help, while regional body CARICOM in a statement expressed concern that the CoI may also be preventing the democratically elected government from effectively carrying out its constitutional responsibilities.

Radio talk show host Claude O. Skelton-Cline has called on the Virgin Islands Government to suspend its cooperation with the UK-sponsored Commission of Inquiry so that more focus can be placed on the pandemic.


CoI has a deadline – Chandler indicates


However, despite the worrying situation, Secretary to the Commission Steven Chandler, speaking to Virgin Islands News Online (VINO), said the inquiry will forge ahead. This is even as the UK Government has rejected a CoI into its handling of the Coronavirus pandemic over concerns about COVID-19 infections.

“The Commissioner [Sir Gary R. Hickinbottom] remains sensitive to the situation concerning COVID-19 in the Territory. He was appointed to conduct an Inquiry with specific terms of reference within a limited time period,” Mr Chandler told VINO.

As such, he said Mr Hickinbottom will continue to work to that end, and has taken steps, to strengthen the COVID-19 measures already in place for CoI hearings.

Regional body CARICOM, in a recent statement, expressed concern that the CoI may also be preventing the democratically elected government from effectively carrying out its constitutional responsibilities.


Witness lawyers for virtual-only appearance


According to the CoI press notice, some of the steps include limiting access to the Arbitration Centre via keycard, the ability for witnesses to appear virtually and the removal of witnesses’ lawyers from appearing in person at hearings.

“They [Witness Lawyers] will not be able to attend in person even if a witness (whom they represent) decides to give evidence in person,” Chandler said in his notice of July 7, 2021.

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