The Cayman Islands has ordered 200,000 coronavirus test kits from a supplier in South Korea and will be able to begin mass testing soon.
Premier Alden McLaughlin made the announcement Thursday, saying the kits would assist with the next phase of the strategy in fighting COVID-19.
Once those arrive on island, he said Cayman will be able to begin a policy of mass testing, isolation and contact tracing of positive cases. He said the curfews and social distancing measures already in place were phase one of a multi-pronged approach.
Testing on any scale has not been possible, until now, because of a shortage of supplies.
The premier said 1,700 test kits were already scheduled to arrive on the British Airways flight from the UK Tuesday. The South Korea order was placed Thursday and efforts are still under way to get those tests to the islands.
McLaughlin said, “Once the British Airways plane arrives we can get aggressively into the testing part of the programme, particularly with respect to frontline staff – police, people who work at the supermarkets, those who have regular interface with others.”
Once the additional supplies arrive from South Korea, he said, the island would have the capacity to test the entire population if necessary.
“That will give us more than enough supplies, should it come to that, to test every single person in the Cayman Islands and then some.”
He said countries that had been successful in fighting the virus had imposed strong curfew measures and followed up with rigorous testing plans.
Governor Martyn Roper, who has been involved in securing the supply line with South Korea, welcomed the announcement and said he hoped Cayman would soon be able to follow the World Health Organization prescription of ‘testing, testing, testing’.
He said, “It is very exciting that we have placed that order with South Korea for 200,000 tests and that will allow us to test people on the frontline, test our emergency services and eventually to test everyone on the island.
“Suppression and testing is the way out of this, but we need all of you to cooperate with us on the advice we are giving you if we are going to be able to achieve that.”
Both the premier and governor urged people to follow the curfew and shelter-in-place measures and to maintain social distancing as the primary ways to fight the virus.
Roper said the tests would not arrive on the British Airways flight next week.
“Moving anything around the world is incredibly challenging,” he said. “Everybody is trying to get their hands on these kits. There was not enough time to get them on the BA flight so our next challenge is how to get them here.
“We have good options and we are confident we can do this.”
The South Korean kits will be the same polymerase chain reaction tests that are currently being used by the Health Services Authority to determine if patients are positive for the virus.
CTMH Doctors Hospital is also expected to have its virus-testing lab up and running shortly.
Though the Cayman Islands will, if all the orders are completed, have many more tests than people, there are often patients that need to be tested more than once, for example to ensure they are free of the virus before they are released from quarantine.
Equally, anyone who tests negative could later develop symptoms and need to be tested again.