Curfew measures will be extended and toughened up after five new coronavirus cases were confirmed, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced Thursday.
From next week the alphabet system, used to restrict the days people can shop at supermarkets, will be expanded to all activity in the Cayman Islands, with the possible exception of daily exercise.
Residents whose surnames begin with the letters A-K will be allowed out of their homes only on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and those whose surnames start with L-Z Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Under the ‘soft curfew’ conditions, people will only be allowed to go out for essential services on their allotted days. They will be under full lockdown for the other days of the week.
Sunday will be a ‘hard curfew’ day for everyone.
The premier said those measures would be passed in the coming days to coordinate with the extension of the overnight hard curfew. They will start Monday and last at least two weeks.
The premier said the ‘shelter in place’ regulations were still being refined and it was possible that people may still be allowed exceptions to exercise every day.
“We try to get that balance right because we know cooping people up is tough for everybody … We can suffer a little now or suffer a lot for a long time if we get this wrong.”
He said the goal was to avoid a lockdown lasting several months and the prospect of having to watch family funerals on live-stream.
“This is a national cause, it is about saving our own lives,” he said.
The premier said the curfews were part of a multi-pronged strategy to suppress the virus. The next part of the strategy involves widespread testing and he said government had successfully procured 200,000 test kits from South Korea. Once those arrive on island he said Cayman will be able to begin mass testing.
Governor Martyn Roper said the next key element was ‘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 and eventually to test everyone on the island … Suppression and testing is the way out of this,” he said.
Both the premier and governor emphasised that everyone must still do their part by staying home and social distancing when they go out.
Public health officials reported another rise in coronavirus cases in the Cayman Islands with five more people testing positive.
An additional case, which was previously described as inconclusive, was confirmed as ‘positive’ by the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
The results, announced Thursday, take the total number of cases on the island to 28.
A total of 265 tests have been carried out since the crisis began.
Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, said all the new cases were “direct household” contacts of previously reported cases, including four from the same household.
He said there were now ‘clusters of cases’ within the community and it was largely a moot point as to whether people had travelled or not.
He said there was evidence of community transmission and people just needed to stay home to protect themselves.
And he emphasised that anyone who tests positive was legally required to self isolate.
“People are required under law to stay put if they have tested positive. If there is any report that they have left their household we will be asking for assistance from the police.”
McLaughlin said he was “increasingly concerned” about the “state of play” on the island.
He said he took some comfort from the fact that the new positives were related to other cases.
“At present there is still no significant evidence of widespread community transmission. It is still possible to contain this virus in these islands and to avoid widespread transmission.”
Asked about food security, he said he was assured that the supply lines remained open. He acknowledged it was “not impossible” that the US could close its ports but said the supermarkets had alternate supply lines in South America.
Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said there had been continued good compliance with the curfew measures. A total of 125 vehicles were stopped in Grand Cayman overnight and all were essential workers carrying out their duties. Two pedestrians were warned for prosecution.
Meanwhile seven people were found to be in breach of the soft curfew Thursday morning and will also be prosecuted.
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.
The islands’ borders have been closed since 22 March.
The borders are likely to remain shut for the foreseeable future. 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.