Social distancing could be here to stay

Post lockdown world will be very different

Photo: Alvaro Serey

When Cayman comes out of lockdown, it will be into a new world of heightened sanitation, continued social distancing and ongoing monitoring of public health.

Business and government leaders are cautiously optimistic that the coronavirus can be contained and eliminated within the islands, while the borders remain shut to visitors.

But they warn that even when that goal appears to have been achieved, it will not be a return to business as usual.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization is urging countries not to be complacent and to “double down” on the safety measures that are helping to contain the spread of the virus.

Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO Health Emergencies Programme, said last week that some countries were in a position to begin thinking about an exit strategy.

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Michael Ryan, executive director, WHO Health Emergencies Programme

But, he warned, “You can’t replace lockdown with nothing. You must replace lockdown with a very deeply educated, committed, empowered and engaged community.”

Cayman’s exit strategy

Cayman Islands Premier Alden McLaughlin said Tuesday that Public Health England and local health officials had advised that if Cayman can achieve 14 consecutive days with no new positive cases, it will be feasible to begin lifting restrictions.

He said this would be done carefully and on a “phased basis”.

The premier said Cayman’s officials were following what other countries were doing and analysing what approaches had worked elsewhere.

Spain and Italy, two countries that have been severely affected by COVID-19, are both proposing phased reopening of their economies as cases begin to decline.

“We want to see how that goes; there are major concerns that if you reopen too early, you wind up with massive spikes in the transmission of the virus and you have to go back into lockdown again,” McLaughlin said.

It was better for Cayman, both economically and from a health perspective, he said, to suffer through the current period of soft and hard curfews, rather than reopen too soon and risk being in and out of lockdown measures for the rest of the year.

Any reopening would have to come alongside continued containment measures, including social distancing, restrictions on numbers in any one place and possibly the use of masks, he said.

“We are considering all of these things,” McLaughlin said, “but because we have bought ourselves so much time, we are able to watch what is happening around the rest of the world and see what works, what doesn’t work, what is necessary, what isn’t necessary.”

He added that any reopening would come alongside a continued strategy of widespread testing to ensure the virus did not resurface.

Business focus on hygiene

Woody Foster, president, Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce

Woody Foster, chairman of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, and Theresa Leacock-Broderick, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, have both made similar statements, suggesting businesses will need to evaluate how they operate before they can reopen.

From a customer perspective alone, Leacock-Broderick said consumers would expect to see an increased focus on hygiene.

Speaking to the Cayman Compass as part of a live debate earlier this month, she said the crisis could be treated as a “portal” from the old world to the new, with new approaches and new expectations, particularly in sanitation, hygiene and health management.

Foster, speaking during the same debate, said there would have to be much discussion about what standards would be required for businesses to reopen, when it becomes safe to do so.

“We need to find a way to open up safely,” he said.

“It is not going to simply be ‘OK, the hard/soft curfew is over, everybody, go back to work now’. There needs to be a discussion on what that means, how are we going to do that, because we have got to keep people safe.”

He said businesses may require some sort of sanitation accreditation or other measures to ensure hygiene and social distancing.

WHO advice

Ryan, of the WHO, addressed the issue during a press conference Monday.

He said people across the globe deserved great credit for sticking to social distancing and stay-at-home orders but warned they could not be eased yet in many cases.

“Now is the time for vigilance, now is the time to double down, now is the time to be very, very careful,” he said.

“That does not mean that countries cannot begin to create an exit strategy, it doesn’t mean that countries shouldn’t be actively planning to do that…”

But he said government should not move straight from lockdown to business as usual.

“We are going to have to change our behaviours for the foreseeable future.”

He said people across the world had embraced those new rules and, for the most part, there was self-enforcement from a responsible and aware public.

Ryan said physical distancing and heightened community awareness would need to continue for a long time alongside targeted testing in order to “find the virus”. He said locating where the virus was present would enable communities to be more targeted in their approach, rather than requiring everyone to stay home.

“The only way we find the virus is to identify those people who may be infected and test and isolate, find contacts and quarantine contacts… 

“Community empowerment, community involvement and public health intervention through the use of case finding, isolation, contact and quarantine is the alternative to having lock-down,” he added.

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  1. Ryan makes no mention of a vaccine. There are several hundred labs and research teams working on this around the world. If a reliable vaccine is found and researchers are confident it will, and we are able to administer it on a world wide basis then we can all return to a normal life which people are increasingly craving for. His reference to “changing our behaviours (sic) for the foreseeable future” is unnecessarily pessimistic and alarmist.

    • It gives false hope to rely on a vaccine. So far we have never yet been able to create a vaccine for any other coronavirus to date. If we do manage to create one, it may be only as effective as the annual flu shot, and give short term or limited immunisation.
      The same with the immunity from having actually had the virus, that too may only be short term, and we get it again next year, like the common cold.
      So unless a working vaccine can be found that can be administered to the entire world on an annual basis, we may have Covid around the world for good now.
      Every time you get it, you become weaker, your heart and lungs more damaged until eventually you succumb to the next time you get it. Maybe I’m pessimistic, but I think the long term outlook is rather bleak. I hope I’m wrong.