The Cayman Islands has eight new cases of the coronavirus after the latest round of testing, public health officials said Wednesday.
Seven of the new cases had recent travel history or contact with people who had travelled.
Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, said there were now 22 cases confirmed on the island spanning “east to west'”.
He said the age range of those impacted ranged from people in their early 20s to those in their 80s. He said most were still doing well.
One of the people reported today is an inpatient with respiratory symptoms at the Cayman Islands Hospital.
Some of the additional cases are household members of positive cases previously announced.
Lee said more cases were inevitable as contact tracing and testing were done and family members were found to have spread the virus between them.
“As we go along and do contact tracing and test the close contacts of everyone who is positive, we will naturally find the numbers will climb,” he said.
“We have quite large households that are being contact-traced and tested and we are seeing people with mild symptoms in those households testing positive.”
Lee said the measures in place, including the mandate to stay home, now needed to be followed more than ever
“If you stay at home and stay away from other people, you can’t catch it.”
He emphasised that essential workers who started showing symptoms should not go to work, despite the importance of their roles.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said the numbers were not surprising but the Cayman Islands was now in a “very dangerous position”.
He said government was giving very careful consideration to extending the division of the island alphabetically for supermarket shopping to all activity – essentially implementing an alternating daily lockdown for half of the island.
“We are still hopeful that we can contain this,” he said.
The premier said he was deeply disappointed by the “thousands of requests for exemptions” from businesses who wanted to operate during the curfew.
He also took issue with calls from the Chamber of Commerce for a greater focus on economic recovery, saying it was an implicit criticism of the government’s approach.
McLaughlin said the government was working behind the scenes on measures to help small businesses. He said government was choosing “life over economics” and anyone who wanted to hammer him or his government for that could do so.
The Chamber, in written responses to the Cayman Compass Wednesday, backed the government’s measures but suggested attention also needed to be given to economic stimuli to help prevent a humanitarian crisis as the tourist-based economy collapses.
Governor Martyn Roper meanwhile confirmed that the planned British Airways flight would arrive on Tuesday. He said 109 Cayman Islands residents had requested to be evacuated to London on that flight.
Despite the UK’s own problems handling coronavirus, he said he could reassure residents that the UK was fully committed to supporting Cayman and the Overseas Territories and that medical supplies would arrive on that BA flight, possibly including new testing equipment.
The governor said his office was pursuing links with South Korea to increase testing capacity.
He also said his office was targeting fake news and has set up a “rapid response unit” to shut down rumours.
“We have serious concerns about people in the community trying to find out who the COVID-19 positive cases are and where they live,” Roper added.
“This is simply unacceptable and patient confidentiality is absolutely essential.”
Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne said compliance with the curfew was going well .
Three people were found to be in breach of the hard curfew overnight and one was arrested.
He added that there were still too many people on the roads during the day, though most who were stopped by police were going to the pharmacy, supermarket or bank.
Byrne said the hard curfew, which officially expires on Friday, would likely be extended.
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 supermarkets or exercise for 90 minutes.
A near total lockdown remains in place from 7pm until 5am daily, 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 or visit the bank.
The islands’ borders have been closed since 22 March, 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 soft curfew 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.