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Hundreds of returning students will be temporarily housed in hotels in Cayman to allow them to isolate without impacting their families.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said the measure was being put in place as an option to prevent entire households from having to be isolated.
He said this was a particular concern where there were essential workers in the family, for example police officers or nurses.
Health officials have warned that anyone returning to the island must self-isolate for 14 days in case they have been exposed to the virus. If they return to their homes, their families must isolate as well, which would risk taking essential staff out of service.
The special measures for students, many of whom will be returning from the UK or the US where the virus is present, are optional.
Any returning students or essential workers wishing to use the isolation facilities can call a dedicated hotline on 1-800-534-6555 or email [email protected]. Students should call before they get back to Cayman.
It will mean they can’t be in physical contact with their families and have to be bussed directly to the participating hotel.
In cases where younger children are returning from boarding school to the home of an essential worker, the Premier said the worker would be offered alternative accommodation as the hotel sites will not be able to accept young children
The Premier said government wanted to ensure its citizens could return home during this “global crisis”.
And he thanked hoteliers for offering their support to ensure they could do so without risking taking much-needed frontline staff out of the workforce.
He said three hotels had offered support, but did not name them at this point, with logistics being worked out.
He said there would likely be two facilities – one for students who may have been exposed and did not want to put their families through the inconvenience of home isolation, particularly where family members were needed in frontline roles.
Another location will be for essential workers who had not been potentially exposed to the virus but may need to stay separate from family members who have returned from overseas and are in isolation.
Hundreds of young people are expected to return to Cayman over the next few days, with the airport set to close to traffic on Sunday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said isolation was imperative for returning students and other residents and their families.
“For students returning home – this is isolation. It is not a group activity. It is something you have to handle on your own for the safety of the island.”
The Premier also announced a stipend to all Caymanian bus, taxi and water sports operators of $600 to cover the month of the airport closure. He said they would reach out to everyone on the list of licensed operators.
“They don’t need to do anything.”
He confirmed that teachers would continue to be paid.
“There are no civil servants that have to worry about their salaries,” he said.
He praised the business community for their response. Butterfield Bank has offered a mortgage holiday to its customers and several hotels, including all Dart’s properties, are continuing to pay their staff despite closing their doors for now.
Governor Martyn Roper said talks were continuing to maintain an “air bridge” with the UK during the shutdown. This would be for supplies, equipment and possibly emergency personnel but not travellers.
Premier McLaughlin was in talks with British Overseas Territories Minister Baroness Liz Sugg Wednesday morning. He said it had been agreed that Cayman was best placed to operate as a hub for the other territories, using Cayman Airways if necessary to distribute resources to other territories.
In response to questions from the public, Dr. Lee also reassured that there is no current evidence that pets can spread the virus.
Cayman’s first and so far only coronavirus case was confirmed Thursday. The victim – a 68-year-old Italian man who was taken from a cruise ship to Health City with heart problems – died from complications associated with the virus on Saturday. Around 30 hospital staff, who had come into contact with the patient were placed in isolation and tested for the virus and the East End facility was closed temporarily as a precautionary measure. Health officials announced Monday that 19 of those tests had come back negative with others still pending.
There are 44 cases that have been tested and are awaiting review. A further 20 tested negative and are awaiting confirmation from the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
Government has put in place drastic emergency measures to prevent the virus from spreading rapidly in Cayman.
Bars, gyms and restaurants will close to customers from Sunday.
Cruise lines have been banned from the island since last Monday and that will be extended to include yachts as well.
Public gatherings of 50 people or more are outlawed.
Cayman will close to all passenger air traffic from 11:59 p.m. Sunday for three weeks. After that no-one will be allowed in or out of the country, save for in exceptional circumstances.
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