The Dart group has donated $1 million as the first contribution to a new private-sector coronavirus recovery fund.
The economic toll of the virus and the measures to suppress it are already becoming apparent, with many tourism industry workers laid off.
Business leaders forecast that thousands of jobs will be lost across multiple sectors in the longer term.
Governor Martyn Roper made the announcement of Dart’s donation Saturday on a day when Premier Alden McLaughlin warned that Cayman’s borders may not open until next year.
Roper said Ken Dart had also agreed to a further $4 million in “matching funding” if a similar amount could be raised in the private sector.
“This morning, the premier and I met with Ken Dart and I am very pleased to see that there is a private sector-led effort to create a new national recovery fund,” the governor said.
The fund will have four main purposes:
- To support the government in procuring and funding personal protective equipment and other supplies;
- To support individuals in distress who have lost income and need financial assistance;
- To address immediate economic needs;
- To address longer-term economic-development needs.
“This is still at an early stage. We are very pleased that discussions are under way to set up a private sector-led fund,” Roper added.
“This signifies Mr. Dart’s long-term commitment to the Cayman Islands. which in times like this is a hugely valuable asset … We are pleased that the private sector is stepping up at this time,” the governor said.
McLaughlin also backed the fund and Dart’s initial contribution, saying he hoped others would join the effort.
“We are talking about a national recovery fund; it is not a Dart fund,” he said. “Hopefully, we can find other like-minded and other financially capable businesses across the community that will also provide support.”
The fund will be run by a private-sector board, with some representation from government.
The premier said government was also doing what it could to provide support to struggling businesses and employees, while urging work-permit holders who had been laid off to try to return home as soon as possible. Another British Airways flight is planned later this month, and flights to Kingston, Nicaragua, Miami and Toronto are all being discussed, according to the governor.
McLaughlin spelled out the stark reality for the tourism industry at Saturday’s press briefing, saying the borders were unlikely to reopen until a vaccine or on-the-spot testing was available.
Directly addressing businesses owners, he said, “It is unlikely that we will have a tourism industry or tourism business for the rest of this calendar year at least.
“If that has been your focus, you need, as far as possible, to think about how you can repurpose your energy, your assets, your resources, to do something else within the local economy which is not dependent on the influx of visitors.
“The borders are likely to stay closed for many more months.”
He said the only things that could change that dynamic were a vaccine, rapid tests that could be used at border checkpoints to see if visitors were carrying the virus, or antibody tests to check if people had already had the virus and built up immunity.
“Absent any of those three things,” he said, “it is going to be impossible to open the borders and say ‘visitors please come, investors please come’.”
He said if the virus could be contained and eliminated locally, the domestic economy could get back in motion.
The premier said there were lots of construction projects that were already funded that could get back up and running if and when it was safe to do so. But, he said, tourism business would not be back in the short to medium term, and reiterated that foreign workers who had lost jobs would be best advised to go home, and return if and when the industry bounces back.