Sunday 20 September, 2020

Caribbean revising border policies. What does this mean for Cayman?

Tourism employs nearly three million people in the Caribbean region (World Travel and Tourism Council). With so much on the line economically, reopening isn’t really a choice for the leaders of the region.

“Keeping our borders closed indefinitely is not reasonable, sustainable and cannot continue from an economic standpoint," says Cayman's Tourism Minister, Moses Kirkconnell.

But with recent surges in cases amid regional border reopenings, how confident can Cayman be around opening its own borders on September 1?

Here are some examples of the risks.

Bahamas' Prime Minister Hubert Minnis announced a complete lockdown of the Bahamas for the next two weeks, as of 10 pm last night, due to a spike in COVID-19 infections after the international opening of borders on July 1.

As per revised border policies, anyone arriving in the Bahamas will be required to quarantine for 14 days at their own expense at a government facility with a negative COVID-19 test before they can leave.

In Barbados, where borders were officially reopened for tourism on July 12, the Ministry of Health reported that the island recorded 24 new cases of COVID-19 over this past weekend. 

This spike caused a revision in Barbados' visitor protocols. The updated protocols identify risk categories for selected countries, updated requirements for entry, protocols for arrival for all risk levels, available testing options, and procedures for visitors upon arrival. The updated protocols come into effect today. 

One of the earlier examples of tourism-related spikes in COVID cases was Antigua and Barbuda which opened its borders on June 1. Thirty-nine tourists who tested positive for the virus were advised that they would need to be placed under a 14-day mandatory quarantine. 

Jamaica, which opened its borders to international travelers on June 15, has had more than a dozen recent travel related/ imported cases from the United States.

What does this mean for the Cayman Islands?

It goes without saying that Cayman needs to jumpstart economic activity in every possible way in the aftermath of what has been a highly successful suppression strategy against COVID-19. But how can we keep ourselves safe while balancing the need to rebuild the economy?

“You don’t really fear about opening up to other low risk destinations," says Professor Clive Landis, Chair of the University of the West Indies COVID-19 Task Force. "The difficulty comes when you start opening up to moderate risk such as the UK or Canada, or high risk such as the US or Brazil. And if you take a risk-based approach then these risks can be managed."

Cayman at least for now, appears to be keeping its doors open to US travelers but is planning to manage these risks with the need for a negative COVID-19 test, taken three days before travel, 5 days of lockdown and the enforced wearing of a health and geofencing monitoring tool called a bio-button. Further, Tourism Minister, Moses Kirkconnell has advised that there will not be more than around 600 arrivals per week during the initial stages of the reopening of borders and entry will be managed by the centralized Travel Time system.

"Credible studies have shown that countries who have implemented successful widespread and repeated testing, remain better placed to keep their borders open and protected," says Chargé d'Affaires of the Eastern Caribbean States Embassy to Belgium and Mission to the European Union in Brussels Desmond Simon.

This has been one of the greatest weapons in Cayman's arsenal against COVID-19, and will serve us well in the uncertain months going forward. 

But what has really kept us safe in these months, as cases have surged throughout the world, is government's priority of lives over livelihoods.

“We can and we will rebuild our economy and our society. But what we cannot do is bring people’s life back. We can rebuild, but we cannot re-create new life," said Bahamas, Prime Minister Minnis in the aftermath of the country's surge in travel-related cases.

“Safety and security will remain the main drivers in decision making,” says Kirkconnell.

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