St Helena Island’s battle to keep Covid 19 out of our fragile community is dominating local news in March and April 2020, as it is across the world.
SHG formed the Incident Executive Group (IEG) to manage the island’s response to the new Coronavirus and began weekly press conferences at the Castle. Bradley’s Camp underwent a conversion from airport construction workers’ accommodation, to an isolation and quarantine site, as well as an emergency hospital in anticipation of a Covid-19 outbreak.
Other stories making the news over this period included a fire at the popular restaurant, Anne’s Place, in Castle Gardens; the ongoing drought situation and whale shark tagging by the St Helena National Trust.
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Transit Ban Via Johannesburg to St Helena from UK
SHG Press Release, 19/3/20
The South African Government has imposed strict border controls to contain the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).
We have been in touch with the South African Government to understand what the new entry and transit controls are, as there has been some confusion.
Our understanding of the new controls that affect St Helena (as of Thursday, 19 March 2020, at 4pm) are as follows:
- Non South African nationals arriving from any listed banned country (e.g. China, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, Republic of Korea, Spain, Switzerland, USA or United Kingdom) cannot transit Johannesburg airport or enter South Africa. This is interpreted as including people planning to transit through Johannesburg to St Helena.
- We have been assured that all persons leaving St Helena will be allowed to transit through Johannesburg Airport on this Saturday’s flight.
- We cannot confirm, if arriving from St Helena, you can enter South Africa, unless you are a South African citizen or resident. We are making further enquiries about entry to South Africa for non-South Africans, especially in relation to routine and emergency medical journeys.
As air travel arrangements around the world are changing on a daily basis, we cannot guarantee the weekly flight to and from St Helena beyond this Saturday.
We therefore advise anyone thinking of leaving St Helena in the near future to consider booking on to Saturday’s flight. Please note that you are advised to book onward connecting flights too, as it is unlikely that you will be allowed beyond the transit area of Johannesburg airport.
Bank Freezes Commercial Loans & Offers Free Online Banking
The Bank of St Helena (BOSH) are offering a three-month freeze on commercial loans to customers directly linked to tourism, and free online banking for three-months to their personal account holders.
These measures are in response to the coronavirus crisis and anticipated impacts caused by the closure of the airport to non-essential travel and the promotion of social distancing.
BOSH is also happy to work with businesses not directly linked to tourism, but will be impacted by the current situation.
“What this will mean,” says Bank Manager, Joey George, “is the period that is frozen will be added to the end of the loan period. The freeze is being agreed for both capital and interest repayments. I am sure this will be welcomed by the business community.”
The free online banking service to personal customers starts 1 April and will reduce the need to visit the bank.
The use of debit cards is being strongly advocated to reduce the need for using physical cash.
To minimise the gathering of crowds at the main branch, the bank is also looking at increasing their remote banking service.
All Schools Closed For 1 Week Because of Flu
SHG Press Release 18/3/20
The Education Committee has made the decision to temporarily close all schools on Friday, 20 March, through to Friday, 27 March 2020, as staff and student attendance is low due to influenza.
Harford Primary School will remain closed tomorrow, Thursday 19 March 2020.
All schools are in the process of creating homework packs for all students to take home so that their learning can continue if they are well enough to do so.
Parents and guardians are encouraged to listen to the local radio for information on whether all schools will re-open on Monday, 30 March 2020.
If further information is required, parents and guardians are encouraged to contact the Receptionist at the Education & Employment Directorate on tel: 22607.
St Helena Airport Closed To Non-Essential Travel
In a press conference yesterday SHG announced there are no suspected cases of COVID-19 on St Helena, and that the airport is closed to non-essential travel.
With immediate effect a number of preventative measures have been put in place:
- Nobody will be permitted to fly to St Helena unless they are exempt from immigration control (eg. citizens, residents, long-term entry permit holders, temporary contractors), sponsored Technical Cooperation Officers, travellers to Ascension and persons authorised in advance by the Governor.
- Everyone arriving by air must self-isolate for 14 days.
- SHG are encouraging ‘social-distancing’ to reduce contact amongst the community.
- Anyone with high temperature must self-isolate for 14 days
- Anyone who exhibits symptoms should call the hospital (25707) and self-isolate. Do NOT go to the hospital.
Social-distancing includes: no handshakes or hugs, the avoidance of crowds and close physical contact.
SHG’s Live Q&A Information page advises:
“Gatherings in public places and businesses are still permitted as there remains no indication of COVID-19 on the Island. This decision will remain under regular review. Organisers of planned, large events in the next three months should make their own judgement on meeting public expectations on these occasions.”
An Incident Executive Group (IEG) has been set up that has three phases of planning to manage the COVID-19 threat:
Prevent – Keep COVID-19 off-Island
Contain – Limit the spread of Coronavirus on St Helena
Delay – Reduce the number of serious cases
For more information check the Live Q&Q page on the SHG website.
Community Takes The Lead With Covid-19 Social-Distancing
Posted: 17/3/20 (updated 18/3/20)
The general public on St Helena seized the initiative today in implementing social-distancing safety measures in light of the escalating concerns over the spread of Covid-19 across the world.
Although the virus is not yet identified as being present on St Helena, one by one, a series of community events and activities were voluntarily postponed or cancelled to proactively reduce future risks.
One of the first events to announce its postponement was the Miss St Helena programme, due to begin in early April. A press release was issued by organisers yesterday.
First thing this morning, the Jamestown Rifle Club closed all activities until further notice.
This trend continued throughout the day as local radio stations broke the news of each decision as the community sent in their updates.
SHAPE cancelled all visits and pre-arranged tours until further notice.
Robert Peters’ (pictured) tour service, ‘History on Wheels’ cancelled all tours.
Creative Saint Helena postponed the ‘Mama Mia’ musical, planned for April at High Knoll.
Youth group, New Horizons suspended all activities, including closing their gym in Half Tree Hollow.
Roots Hair Salon closed its doors.
The Yellow Fins Swim Club suspended their activities, as did the local Scout, Cub and Beaver groups.
The Judo Club closed until further notice.
All Sunday golf competitions have been suspended, including the upcoming AGM.
Mantis Hotel’s bar & restaurant closed to the public immediately.
Following these steps taken by the community groups and local businesses, SHG later announced at an afternoon press conference that they are today launching a social-distancing campaign.
Today’s swift reaction on the part of the general public was probably also driven by last night’s report of three possible Covid-19 cases identified on Ascension Island.
3 Possible COVID-19 Cases on Ascension Island
Three possible cases of Covid-19 have been identified on Ascension Island, as announced today in an Ascension Island Government press release.
‘The three individuals returned to Ascension on the SA Airlink flight on Saturday 14 March,’ said the statement.
All three reported typical Covid-19 symptoms by telephone to the hospital and as a result have now been asked to self-isolate for up to 14 days, along with 12 others who have been in close contact with them.
Other passengers from the weekend’s flight have also been asked to monitor their conditions and if symptoms show, to report by phone and self-isolate.
One of the passengers on Saturday’s flight to Ascension Island was HE Governor Dr Philip Rushbrook, on an overnight visit, returning to St Helena the next day. Part of Governor Rushbrook’s itinerary included seeing first-hand the Coronavirus (COVID-19) preventive arrangements the Island’s administration had put in place.
Ascension Island, like St Helena, does not have test kits to verify suspected cases at this time.
There are no known cases identified yet on St Helena.
Tests for all three individuals have returned negative results.
Whale Shark and Tuna Interaction Caught on Camera
Whale shark season is well underway here on St Helena with daily sightings of around 7-11 animals, allowing tourists a bucket list experience swimming with the world’s largest fish.
It’s also an exciting time for Marine Conservation of the Saint Helena National Trust, who partners with Georgia Aquarium in the US, for intensive research and data collection of these elusive ocean giants.
Deployment cameras attached to the whale sharks, have captured some amazing footage this season:
- A shot of a male and female showing what appears to be the initial signs of mating interaction – just seconds before the camera popped off!
- Tuna fish shadowing whale sharks and occasionally bumping against their body and dorsal fins.
- Some tuna have the yellow and orange tags of the Blue Belt programme carried out last year.
Beth Taylor, Head of the National Trust’s ‘Marine Conservation’ told Inside St Helena, “It’s fascinating to see a whale shark’s perspective underwater and the tuna interaction. We think the tuna are bumping the whale sharks to knock off parasites, like a spa treatment as it were!”
The cameras were either 5 or 24 hour deployments with galvanic releases, whereby the clamps dissolve so the device pops-up, to be retrieved via a GPS locator.
Further cameras and tags were expected this weekend from Georgia Aquarium and the Monterrey Bay Research Institute, however, travel disruptions due to the Coronavirus have delayed this for now.
The new tags were an upgraded 3.0 version that work at a depth of 6,000m, at the bottom of the ocean. When deployed, they could confirm the theory that whale sharks are the only known fish in the world that use the entire water column. Most fish are either surface, middle of the column or bottom feeders.
St Helena is an interesting place of study says Beth, “there’s still so much unknown about whale sharks.”
Whale sharks are migratory animals and St Helena’s seasonal visitors are interesting for two factors; they are mature individuals (7-12m long) and are of an even gender split.
St Helena is also one of the only places where whale sharks have been witnessed mating. There are two anecdotal reports of mating from local trustworthy sources, although photographic evidence is required to back this up. Shame for this season’s early camera ejection!
Due to the late rains Beth thinks the peak whale shark season hasn’t yet been reached.
“Given the connection between nature and the environment some are of the mind-set that perhaps the numbers will come later. We’ve just started to see the food in the water pick up. A lot of the time whale sharks are seen feeding here.”
Last year there was a mass aggregation of 75+ in February.
“I’m hoping end of March early April we might see more numbers. We always encourage tour operators and fishermen to let us know of their encounters. It’s all about communication and citizen science,” says Beth.
The National Trust team will continue to monitor sightings until the end of March.
Historical sightings data indicates that whale shark season starts in December and can go into May.
“Really Bad” Fire At Anne’s Place
Emergency services responded to a “really bad” fire this afternoon at Anne’s Place (Restaurant) in Castle Gardens, Jamestown, which had onlookers concerned by its ferocity, but there was also relief that no one was hurt in the incident.
A column of thick black smoke could clearly be seen rising from James’ Valley from as far away as Alarm Forest.
The cause of the fire is still to be determined, however, witnesses suggested the blaze began sometime around 3.20pm.
Anna Crowie, a ‘Children and Adult Social Care’ worker, spotted the smoke whilst walking through Castle Gardens on her way to see a client and quickly raised the alarm by calling the Fire & Rescue services and then proceeded to evacuate residents.
As the fire service continued to douse the flames, Anna recounted what happened for Inside St Helena:
“I was by the fish pond and I saw the smoke, so immediately I phoned for the fire station.
“I was amazed at the quick response that we had, because immediately the fire brigade was there.
“During that time, before they came I vacated everybody from SAMS, (media office nearby) telling them to get out, and made sure everybody was out from Anne Sim’s, in the area there. And then I went into the library because everything was up in flames.”
“It was really bad, I’ve never seen a fire like that for a long, long time.”
Councillor Jeffrey Ellick, himself a former Deputy Chief of Police with disaster management training experience, was alerted about the fire whilst he was shopping in Thorpe’s, and quickly went to the scene and began assisting with traffic control and crowd management. Mr Ellick said:
“There was a lot of black smoke billowing out from the Consulate area. But as I came down the street I could see that it was coming from Anne Sim’s Place.
“As I came down I saw one fire truck there and also saw Gary Henry and he was trying to do so much himself, and he said to me, there are gas cylinders round there, we need to get the people out. So what we wanted to do was move the people out of the area of Main Street here.”
Councillor Ellick also praised the assistance given by other members of the public, Mia Henry, Jamie Ellick and Luke Bennett in helping to divert traffic and keep people at a safe distance.
With the main fire now well under control by the fire service, Inside St Helena was given a quick update at the Castle Garden entrance, from Chief Inspector of the St Helena Police, David Price:
“We got a report that Anne’s Place was on fire, the fire service was deployed. Everybody’s been accounted for and everyone’s safe.
“The fire service are just fighting the fire at the moment because there’s gas cylinders in the back, that’s their main concern.
“Most of the fire’s already out now but they’ve got to cool the gas cylinders down because obviously we don’t want to take any risks with them. So the fire commander’s just doing an assessment of the situation at the moment and when he’s happy that the situation’s safe we’ll get an update from him.
“It’s his staff that’s been fighting this and to be fair, they’ve done an absolutely brilliant job.”
Chief Inspector Price also paid tribute to the public for their “understanding” and being “supportive” during the incident.
Connect Saint Helena Ltd, the island’s utility company, were also on scene and isolated electricity supplies to properties in Castle Gardens.
From our limited vantage point, the fire appeared to be at the back of the premises, away from the main restaurant area.
Anne’s Place is a very popular restaurant, established by Anne Sim over 30 years ago as a refuge for visiting ‘yachties’ and ship passengers. Specialising in St Helenian cuisine, the restaurant is now operated by Anne’s son Richard and daughter-in-law, Jane.
COVID-19 Not On St Helena Yet But Impacts Being Felt
As the World Health Organisation yesterday declared Coronavirus is now a global pandemic, there are still ‘no suspected cases of Covid-19 on the island’ according to a SHG press release, dated (Wed 11 March).
But concern on island is growing.
Earlier this week an announcement of ‘face masks and hand sanitiser’ being available from Philip John’s shop, resulted in the entire stock being bought up within a few minutes by St Helena Government.
Councillors Derek Thomas and Anthony Green, have now cancelled plans to travel this weekend to attend the Joint Ministerial Council meeting in London, as a health precaution.
The island’s Director of Health, had said back on 4 Feb that “Test kits for Coronavirus should arrive this weekend,” however, this week’s press release (5 weeks on) stated ‘…we cannot yet conduct conclusive testing for COVID-19 on the Island. A COVID-19 finger prick test will arrive in the next two weeks, and a more advanced test kit is expected on-Island in the next two months.’
The government has acknowledged there is a shortage of hand sanitiser on the island, but has repeated global advice that includes ‘practice good hygiene’ and to ‘stay away from crowds.’ Advice is also being given to ‘keep up other healthy lifestyle practices.’
The first positive cases of Coronavirus in South Africa was confirmed on 5 March. Reports today indicate that number has now risen to 17.
St Helena’s air service is directly linked to OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
SHG have been informed that all passengers at OR Tambo, can now ‘expect to go through a minimum of two Port Health screening points before reaching Immigration Control.’
Restricted access to the island for visitors coming from the worst hit countries, were put in place this week by SHG. These countries include ‘Wuhan City and Hubei Province (China), Iran, Daegu or Cheongdo (Republic of Korea) and Italy.’
SHG have said they will ‘restrict’ cruise ship visits to St Helena. (A senior-level source within government has confirmed this means a complete ban.) The situation will be reviewed after three months. The first cruise ship affected is MV Astor, which was due on 31 March, 2020. Another three were due in April.
Inside St Helena has been told by a government representative that, “…stringent checks for yachties, before coming ashore, are now in place.”
Data released from SHG’s Statistics Office for Jan 2020, shows a total of 576 arrivals, of which 463 (80%) were by air and 113 (20%) came on yachts.
A ‘live’ Q&A page concerning Covid-19 is available on the SHG website.
Gibraltar International Bank to Support St Helena
SHG Press Release, 9 March 2020
Gibraltar International Bank (GIB) has agreed to formally support St Helena Government’s (SHG) and Bank of St Helena’s (BOSH) initiative to provide easier access to international banking services for St Helena residents and businesses.
This means that St Helena residents and businesses can now apply to open an account directly with GIB where they will be able to access online banking services and a debit card that can be used for online purchases/payments and used abroad.
The GIB bank account would be similar to having a UK bank account and can be used for payment transfers (in/out) and opened in various currencies to facilitate foreign transactions.
The GIB bank account would be ‘located’ in Gibraltar, and there would be no legal relationship between the bank account holder and SHG or between SHG and GIB. SHG is not promoting GIB and does not warrant in any way the services offered by GIB.
Financial Secretary Dax Richards said:
“This piece of work has been ongoing for a while and the outcome is a real positive for St Helena. With the rise in the requirements for payments by debit/credit cards most people and businesses on St Helena would have found it difficult to buy items or pay for services online. Having the option of opening a bank account with the Gibraltar International Bank will enable people to obtain a card which will make these transactions easier.
“When travelling overseas, residents without an overseas bank account or debit card would have had to transfer money to a family member’s bank account or carried large amounts of cash which as we know is not safe and advised against. The option of opening a bank account with Gibraltar will complement the work being progressed by the Bank of St Helena to address the banking needs of the people of St Helena.
“Furthermore it is hoped that businesses will soon have the option of acquiring a point of sale platform capable of accepting payments by debit and credit cards. This will go some way in supporting the local private sector to maximise revenues from visitors to the Island and ensure businesses are able to take advantage of future e-commerce opportunities.”
To express an interest in opening an account with the GIB, persons and businesses should contact GIB directly, the account opening process will be subject to the usual know your customer checks. A trial has been undertaken and from submitting an application through to opening the account and receiving a debit card through the post took around 6-8 weeks.
Those interested in opening an account can contact the following members of staff by email:
Kevin Gonzalez – Relationship Manager
Gerald Danino – Head of Client Relations