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An emergency British Airways flight will travel to Cayman via Bermuda next week to help evacuate any residents who need to get out of those two territories amid the deepening coronavirus crisis.
It will also carry much-needed medical supplies to the Cayman Islands, Governor Martyn Roper said Monday.
The flight from the UK will also be available to take Caymanians and Bermudians stranded in London back to those territories, though they will be required to isolate on their return.
Roper said the date for the flight was yet to be determined, but it would be in the early half of next week. He said tickets would be sold on a first-come, first-served basis.
“This is a statement of significant support from the UK to its Overseas Territories,” he said.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said police now had the resources to ensure that people were isolating and warned it would be a ‘tragedy’ if anyone who returned from the UK failed to follow the mandate to stay away from others for 14 days.
This was echoed by Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee, who said people with coronavirus symptoms, or who were living with people with those symptoms, would be dealt with by police if they did not abide by self-isolation regulations.
Alphabet system for banks
The premier also highlighted improved compliance with the curfew and other measures in place to restrict movement around the island, adding that the alphabet system which was put in place this week to control numbers of people visiting supermarkets was working well.
He announced a similar alphabet system for banks, beginning tomorrow (Tuesday).
Anyone with the surname starting with A-K can go to the bank Mondays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays and Thursdays are reserved for those with surnames L-Z. Friday is open to all customers.
No new test results
There were no new test results to announce, but Lee said an increase in cases could be expected over the coming weeks.
McLaughlin highlighted the alarming growth of the virus in the US and warned that Cayman’s borders would not be opening any time soon.
“This is going to be a much longer-term event than most people actually grasp,” he said. “It is going to be quite a while before we can bring visitors back here.”
He said Cayman Airways could potentially be used to help stranded foreign workers from the region to return to their homelands, if their destinations were in reach of CAL’s planes.
He expects more overseas workers to leave, possibly on chartered flights, as the economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis deepen.
Asked about economic stimulus for small businesses that are suffering as a consequence of the shutdown, the premier said that was not something government was doing right now.
“We want people to stay home,” he said.
He added that a lot of companies had stepped up and were paying staff who were not working, but he acknowledged that could not continue indefinitely.
“There is only so much that even the strongest of companies can do in the longer term,” he said.
“We are hoping the suppression measures we have put in place will allow us to get back to some semblance of domestic normalcy,” he added.
Border opening a long way off
He said that opening the borders was still a long way off and that Cayman’s key industries of financial services and tourism would be hit hard for a long time.
Lee said science would likely dictate the timing of when the borders could reopen.
“I think the answer is probably going to come from science and developments around testing and vaccination,” he said. “I don’t see this disease burning itself out through the entire world for quite some time, but if we get to a point where we can test people and know if they are immune to it, that is a point where we could relax a lot of the things we have in place.”
McLaughlin said he drew some comfort from the fact that every country in the world was facing the same issue.
He said there were brilliant minds working on the answers all over the globe.
Police Commissioner Derek Byrne, speaking at Monday’s press briefing, warned of multiple reports of cars speeding on the empty roads, but said the curfew was otherwise going well.
He said there had been “almost full compliance” from businesses that had been required to close and the crowds at the supermarkets had eased and were being well managed. Activity on the beaches has also improved, the commissioner said, with no reports of sunbathing or gatherings.
Byrne did warn there had been seven cases of domestic violence on Sunday night and said it was a situation the police were monitoring carefully.
In terms of curfew breaches, he said there had been 83 interceptions overnight in Grand Cayman, but only two people were found to be in breach of curfew, including one man who was charged with drink driving.
The Cayman Islands is operating under a fluctuating soft and hard curfew.
‘Shelter in place’ regulations were passed Saturday allowing a select few essential businesses, including supermarkets, pharmacies and healthcare facilities, to operate in the daylight hours. Those regulations also allow limited movement for residents to visit the store or to exercise for 90 minutes.
A near total lockdown remains in place from 7pm until 5am, with all but the most essential workers confined to their homes.
Residents have been divided alphabetically and allocated days when they are allowed to shop. Anyone with a last name beginning with the letters A-K can visit the supermarket Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Those with surnames starting with the letters L-Z can shop Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday.
As of Sunday, the island had 12 confirmed cases of the coronavirus.
The islands’ borders have been closed for the last eight days and it is hoped that if Cayman can limit the local transmission of COVID-19, it can prevent any loss of life for its inhabitants.
The curfews and restrictions on movement will be in place until next Tuesday (7 April) at least, and could be renewed after that. If the infection rate remains low, it is possible that the island could reopen for business internally.
The borders are likely to remain shut for the foreseeable future, however. With the COVID-19 crisis escalating in the US, any easing of flight restrictions could risk the reintroduction of the virus to the Cayman Islands.
- With reporting by Kayla Young
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