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The Cayman Islands closed its borders at midnight Sunday with no certainty over when they will be reopened.
The British Airways flight to London that departed Grand Cayman just after 9:15p.m. Sunday was the last passenger plane to leave the island on a busy day at the Owen Roberts International Airport.
Hundreds of guest workers boarded flights to return to their home countries amid widespread closures across the hospitality industry.
Many of them said they hoped to return to the Cayman Islands soon.
But the ban on air travel in and out of Cayman could well be extended beyond three weeks, as Premier Alden McLaughlin acknowledged at a press briefing Thursday.
Both Owen Roberts International Airport on Grand Cayman and Charles Kirkconnell International Airport on Cayman Brac will be closed to international passenger travel for an initial 21 days. Cruise ships have already been banned since 16 March, initially for 60 days, and the premier confirmed late last week that ban also includes private boats.
With cases of the virus still rising in other countries, including in the UK and the US, where most of Cayman’s visitors come from, the three-week airport closure may have to be extended, McLaughlin said.
“It is impossible to sit here today and say what we will do in three weeks’ time. The most likely decision three weeks from now is an extension of the current state,” he said.
He added that the situation was changing daily and he was monitoring developments constantly.
“As soon as we open our doors, if the virus is still raging around us, it will be here again,” he said. “We have to really think much longer term than just the three-week lockdown. I don’t see this going away in three, six or even nine weeks.”
He said government had the finances to cope for the next several months, but the country and the world would need to grapple with a longer-term answer.
“I don’t think any country in the world has the answer to what happens beyond six weeks,” he said.
Scene at the airport
Hours before Owen Roberts was slated to close, the normally busy and bustling facility was already showing signs of slowing down.
The arrivals area was completely devoid of travellers.
Meanwhile, in the departures terminal, the last groups of outbound passengers were checking in.
The travellers had varying reasons for their departure. However, the one common theme among most of them was the urgency of leaving so as to avoid potential economic hardships.
“I work as a bartender and my restaurant is closed because we don’t have clients,” said Jose Andres Pintado, who is returning to his home in Cuba. “I’m hoping to be back in a month or two. We honestly don’t know how long this is going to take,” he said.
Patricia Leon Ramirez, who was also travelling to Cuba, said the emergency measures put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19 left her with little choice but to go home.
“I can’t stay here,” said Ramirez, who was wearing a face mask and blue gloves. “Everything is happening at the same time – all this coronavirus situation, my permit just finished, and I can’t apply for an extension, so it is better if I just go home.”
Restaurant worker Antonio Canamar was on his way back to Mexico. “Well, there are no tourists, and we work in the tourism industry, so there is no point in staying,” he said, adding, “This is also a chance for me to go back home and take care of my family and spend some time with them.”
Although Cayman’s airports closed on Sunday, at least in the afternoon there was no indication of overcrowding or a rushed exodus. This was partly because some passengers had departed earlier, as the airports in their home countries were closing. On Saturday, two flights from Owen Roberts filled almost to capacity, left for Jamaica ahead of the closure of airports there.
- Reporting by James Whittaker and Andrel Harris
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