EDITORIAL-The Zika virus and other ‘listless’ threats

“If your mind becomes calm, you can think in front of the tiger. If you can think in front of the tiger, you will surely succeed.”

– Mencius


The Cayman Islands are at the top of many lists: lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches; lists touting enviable household income; lists showing off our standard of living, to name a few.

But in spite of every “best of” listing we earn, there’s a “worst of” list that unfairly, and too often unthinkingly, lumps Cayman in with bad actors or casts our country in a negative light. Those lists, primarily, are generated from organizations or institutions that find fault with tax-competitive or tax-neutral offshore jurisdictions, such as the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the European Union, or the Tax Justice Network.

They vary in shade and hue, from pure black to the proverbial “50 shades of gray,” but all are harmful and extremely difficult to remediate.

And so it was welcome news to hear that after months of lobbying from Cayman Islands public health officials, the U.S.-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has crossed us off its Zika advisory list – a list we should not have been on in the first place.

We “made the list” last year after local transmission of the virus was reported in Grand Cayman. No local transmissions have been reported this year, leading the CDC to clear our name. The fear, of course, was that the Zika virus would infect pregnant women who would then give birth to children with microcephaly, a condition where the baby’s brain does not develop properly and the infant’s head is much smaller than normal.

There was never a single case of Zika-related microcephaly in the Cayman Islands, and yet our tourism director got ahead of the story when she made the following public statement: “We are concerned for the future and the impact of Zika and how that might affect certain groups that travel to the Cayman Islands. We know that we are very attractive to the couples market, and for those that are in the phase of their lives that are having families, this directly impacts that group.” This from our tourism director?

And then, of course, the CDC piled on, and our tourism numbers began to fall ….

The hyperbolic reaction to Zika was only the latest in a series of “sky-is-falling” crises propagated and amplified by media outlets in search of compelling content. Ebola! Swine Flu! Bird Flu! Crimeageddon! Carmageddon! Snowpocalypse! Porkocalypse! (These last three refer to traffic gridlock that failed to materialize in the Los Angeles area during road construction in 2011, an East Coast snowstorm in 2009 that turned out to be far from catastrophic, and a short-lived hysteria over an anticipated global shortage of bacon in 2013.)

Now it seems the Zika panic has run its course as well, not just in Cayman and Florida but just about everywhere.

To be clear, we are not suggesting that the threat of epidemics or even pandemics should not be taken seriously. Of course they should, but it is precisely because they are so potentially serious that extra calm and caution are called for to ensure that the message does not get ahead of the science.

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