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Multiple businesses closed or scaled back operations as the news began to break Monday that the Cayman Islands was closing its borders.
Further announcements are expected in the coming days as businesses scramble to unravel the implications of a blanket ban on travel.
The airport closure is initially for 21 days, but with a 60-day cruise ship ban also in effect, many retailers, operators and hoteliers are looking at long-term loss of custom.
Kirk Freeport confirmed the closure of seven of its 21 stores on Monday, impacting approximately 50 staff.
Kirk Freeport’s Chris Kirkconnell said no-one was losing their job but some staff would be asked to take a temporary leave of absence. He said overseas workers would be given an extra week of paid vacation, allowed to use their sick leave, and asked to consider going home for 90 days until the crisis blows over.
He said the business was shuffling around staff and trying to keep its other stores open as long as possible.
“We are trying to hold out as long as we can,” he said.
Robert Hamaty, owner of Tortuga Rum, said he was closing at least four stores, including two on the Royal Watler pier, and may scale back hours at other locations.
He said the priority was to keep the company’s 170 employees paid.
“We came though 9/11, we came through Hurricane Ivan and the financial crisis. We will come through this,” he said.
He added that he hoped banks would give mortgage holidays and offer breaks on loan repayments.
“This is an invisible enemy,” Hamaty said of the coronavirus. “How can you fight a war when the enemy doesn’t wear a uniform?”
One business that has had to shut down completely is Caribbean Marine Services, which runs tender boat services to the cruise lines.
David Carmichael said seasonal staff, who would have left in April anyway, would have to be let go. He said the salaried staff would be kept on, possibly with reduced wages, to allow them to survive until the crisis abates.
He said it was unclear how long the impact would last.
“Our revenue has dropped to zero overnight,” he added.
Dive industry facing ‘slaughter’
Aaron Hunt of Cayman Eco Divers said there were lots of tears shed over the weekend at Rackam’s bar, where members of the dive industry gathered to process the painful months ahead.
“Everyone is laying off employees left and right. It’s kind of the end of diving for the next 60 days, 30 days at least,” Hunt said. “It’s slaughter out there right now.”
He said there have already been difficult discussions and layoffs by most of Cayman’s dive operators, especially those along the George Town waterfront that depend on the cruise business.
“Pretty much every operator out there is either telling everybody, ‘you probably need to go home’ or ‘we’ll try to offer options to help you avoid being homeless while you’re here’,” Hunt said.
“But where the hell are people going to go? Where are they going to fly to?”
By forcing workers to return home during a global pandemic, he feared current work permit holders would be put at a health risk as they navigate crowded airports and home countries that may already be badly affected.
Elsewhere, gyms began to feel the impact.
Ryde spinning gym at Camana Bay announced it was closing till at least 30 March, and Anytime Fitness, also in Camana Bay, said in a Facebook post that it was closing temporarily.
Samuel Young Jr, owner and managing director of World Gym Fitness Centre, said group classes had been suspended as the gym was limited to no more than 50 people, including staff, at any one time.
He said all surfaces are cleaned several times daily, using hospital-grade disinfectant and sanitiser in spray bottles.
Lobster Pot open as normal
At the popular waterfront restaurant, the Lobster Pot, staff has been reduced but owner Marcus Cumber said the establishment is continuing normal operations, for the time being.
With border closures and travel restrictions being announced all over the world, Cumber said it is not a viable option to tell staff to simply go home.
“To say to our staff, ‘Hey, you should go back to Germany or go back to the Philippines’, we can’t. They’re trapped,” he said.
At his other business, Island Air, he said operations have been busy. The company, which services private and commercial aircraft, processed more than 20 planes on Friday and Sunday, and just under 40 on Saturday, Cumber said.
He said the flow of traffic has been standard for this time of year, when many come down to the island for spring break.
“A lot of people were caught with their pants down and didn’t see this coming,” he said.
He disputed recent headlines alleging that there has been a spike in the wealthy jetting off to Cayman, in an effort to escape COVID-19.
He estimated about three-quarters of private aircraft were coming to Cayman to take people off island, adding that many have arrived empty of passengers with the intention of transporting clients back to the US.
About two-thirds of passengers who left over the weekend through Island Air were visitors, and about a third were individuals who have vacation homes here.
He added that private aircraft are subject to the same security, immigration and customs protocol as all other arriving flights.
-Kayla Young contributed to this story