Premier Alden McLaughlin has urged Caymanians to sacrifice their usual Easter celebrations and services and have a quiet holiday at home.
The premier said that Good Friday and Easter Sunday were sacred days in the Christian calendar and historically important days for Caymanians.
But he said it would not be possible to celebrate in the usual way this year.
“I know not being able to observe Easter the way we are used to is going to be very difficult for many people,” he said. “It is a sacrifice we have to make to ensure we live to see a brighter Easter next year.”
He urged people to stay at home and not to go to holiday homes on Cayman Kai or Rum Point.
Governor Martyn Roper echoed those sentiments, urging everyone to enjoy the holiday to the extent possible while following the strict limits of the curfew.
“There is hope that if we lock down for the next two weeks and continue to suppress this virus, we will be in a different situation,” he said.
The governor also confirmed his office was working with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to secure new ventilators for the island.
The premier confirmed that Cayman had been able to secure the shipment of ventilators, masks and other items that was blocked from export in the US Wednesday. He said the fact that the order had been placed “well before” the US export ban was in place had meant the container was allowed to travel to Cayman.
“We are fortunate, quite frankly, that we have managed to get these here,” he said.
He added that, for now, it still seemed possible to transship products through the US, but there was no future certainty about that in the current climate.
The premier said the Cayman Islands had agreed to sell 35,000 of the 200,000 test kits it procured from South Korea to Bermuda.
He said Cayman had more than it required and had moved to help a sister territory in a time of need.
A private jet brought 165,000 of the kits to Cayman on Wednesday morning from Seoul via Alaska. The rest were due to arrive via London.
But the premier said those would now go to Bermuda.
“We have well in excess of what we need,” he said. “We bought 200,000 because that is the smallest amount they were prepared to sell.”
He said where Cayman could help its “brothers and sisters in the Overseas Territories”, it would do so, and sending those test kits to Bermuda was an example of that.
He added that Bermuda Premier David Burt had offered reciprocal support in other areas if Bermuda is in a position to offer it.
“That is how it works. As we say, one hand washes the other.”
Pension holiday under consideration
McLaughlin said work was still going on behind the scenes to set up a “virtual meeting” of the Legislative Assembly to allow government to make changes to the pension law.
He said there was broad agreement by legislators that there should be a “payment holiday” of at least six months. He added there was also agreement that people should be allowed to access some of their pension funds in this time of emergency, but the details needed to be worked out for how that would happen and to what degree.
No cruise return for now
Asked about the fact that cruise lines have announced they will begin sailing again in May and that they have included Cayman as a stop on published itineraries, the premier said this was “premature” on their part.
“They are optimistic, and they have made these announcements without any consultations with us,” he said.
McLaughlin added the airport and seaport would be closed until at least the end of May, except for cargo shipments and emergency flights.
Quarantine breakers to be pursued
Authorities will pursue charges against anyone who is being tested for coronavirus and breaches the requirement to quarantine at home, health officials advised at the daily press briefing Thursday.
There were no new test results to announce during the briefing. Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said the Cayman Islands Hospital lab had been occupied testing the new equipment from South Korea.
“They all passed their validation with no problems whatsoever,” he said.
Lee said anyone swabbed for COVID-19 was legally required to isolate and could face a $1,000 fine or jail time if they did not do so.
“We will pursue people if they breach their isolation requirement,” he said.
The Public Health Department was maintaining surveillance on all those in quarantine, but could not provide their names and addresses to police officers, Lee added.
“If a query were to come to Public Health, we would raise that issue with the law enforcement agencies,” he said. “There is covert work being done if we have credible reason to suspect that people are not complying with their curfew.”
Cayman has had 45 positive cases of the coronavirus so far, and the results of 65 tests are pending.
Police Commissioner Derek Byrne, in his daily update, said compliance with the curfew remained good, with just a handful of people caught in breach. He emphasised that Easter Sunday was a full lockdown day, and only emergency services and officially authorised essential workers will be allowed on the road.
McLaughlin added that the ‘curfew team’ that is processing requests for exemptions would be closed through the holiday to give the staff a break after working back-to-back for the last several days.
The Cayman Islands is operating under a fluctuating soft and hard curfew to contain the spread of the virus. The hard curfew, now in place from 7pm to 5am and all day Sunday, limits movement to essential workers only.
The soft curfew restricts movement during the daylight hours while allowing people limited freedom to visit the supermarket or pharmacy or to exercise.
As of this week, further limits are in place. Anyone with the surname beginning A-K is only allowed to go to the supermarket, bank or gas station on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.
The L-Z group is able to do the same on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Exceptions are made for 90 minutes of exercise, which is still allowed every day except Sunday, as well as for trips to the pharmacy or medical facility.
Police now have the power to issue on-the-spot tickets for breaches of the soft curfew. Penalties range from $250 for failing to maintain six-feet social distance in a public space, to $500 for supermarket shopping outside of people’s allotted day, and up to $750 for opening a business without exemption. Byrne said there were still logistics to sort out and ticketing would not start until next week Tuesday.