Thursday 22 October, 2020

A jittery but COVID-free Cayman moves to open borders in October

Premier of the Cayman Islands Alden McLaughlin addressing a press briefing Tuesday, August 25.

Premier of the Cayman Islands Alden McLaughlin addressing a press briefing Tuesday, August 25.

The Cayman Islands Government is currently working on measures to facilitate a limited opening of the country's borders on October 1 while protecting the population from the novel coronavirus.

Premier Alden McLaughlin outlined during a press briefing Tuesday afternoon a number of the measures being considered to welcome a certain kind of visitor without jeopardizing the health of islanders.

The move appeared aimed at striking a balance between proponents of the borders being opened for travel and economic reasons and those who oppose such a move out of fear that the deadly virus would devastate the community. 

The premier noted that the issue had been exercising the mind of every department of government and disclosed that a “massive team of people” is currently looking at what “can and cannot be done”. 

“We are not today in a position to make a formal announcement with respect to what all of those protocols will be,” said McLaughlin, “but I can say that the 1st of October date as a phased reopening date for the borders is still very much in play.”

McLaughlin said the next British Airways flight to the territory on 17 September will contain a small number of people which be easier to monitor and that this will be a test of how well protocols will hold up ahead of October 1.

Of note is the fact that the Cayman Islands — which has been successful in managing community spread of the deadly virus — will be accepting flights from the UK which has been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. To date, the UK has recorded 41,000 deaths from the virus and over 300,000 infections.

By contrast, Cayman recorded just over 200 coronavirus cases and one related death.

Still, the premier assured a jittery public that only a particular category of persons will be allowed entry into Cayman. In outlining the safety measures being formulated, McLaughlin said these travellers will have to isolate in a way that is more acceptable to them than is the current case of being isolated in a government-run facility.

He said these visitors will have to remain in their own premises and allow for medical personnel to monitor their health until they are cleared to move about the general population.

“We have concluded that there is no one measure that can effectively do that and so the plan must necessarily involve a layer of requirements and protocols to ensure that we reduce to as close to zero as possible the chances of someone who has the virus actually getting out and mixing with the broader community,” said the premier.

The measures being considered

He said that the measures being contemplated would also involve the traveller returning a negative test result for the virus within 72 hours of departure to the island. The traveller would then receive a bio button that would allow for the monitoring of respiration, temperature and the number of times per day he or she coughs and sneezes. 

The measure would also see the use of a device that would allow for geo-fencing. This device would allow the authority to determine whether the person breached the perimeter of the place within he or she is isolating.

Another test for the virus would follow approximately eight days after the traveller arrives on the island.

“In a broad stroke, that’s the sort of protocols being considered plus a significantly beefed up public health safety unit,” McLaughlin said.

He said the plan also calls for an increase in the number of persons available to physically check whether the traveller is where he or she ought to be.

“So those are the measures that are being contemplated, and as I said, we are way down the track with respect to that. Some elements of that need to be refined, some technology being looked at,” he added.

The premier disclosed that the government should — within a couple of weeks — be able to say with some degree of certainty what the trial programme will look like.

And then based on the results of those trials, which will be piloted with those arriving on British Airways on 17 September, the authorities will have to “make some refinement” before moving to “the second trial” which will be the arrival of British Airways passengers on October 1.

All are not welcomed

At the same time, the premier moved to clarify the travellers who would be welcomed into the island.

“This is not a question of us opening wide the border and saying all you who want to come and visit our beautiful Caribbean island please come. This is aimed at those persons who either own a place here or have access to a place here and who intends to stay for significantly more than two weeks because I believe the average time spent here for tourists is between five and seven days. This is not going to attract that category of visitors,” McLaughlin outlined.

He added: “We will have an opportunity over this period to see how well all of this works… What we are trying to do is to slowly reopen this aspect of our tourism. Most of the people in that category, who will come and stay for extended periods of time tend to be the persons that have, quite frankly, more money and will spend more readily in the economy over a longer period of time while we continue, not only in Cayman but around the world, to figure out how do we continue to navigate this virus.

“We can't stay static and we can’t sit on our hands, we have to try to find ways of boosting revenue, employment opportunities, businesses and keeping the economy moving.”

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