Cayman Islands pension account holders will be allowed to withdraw a lump sum of $10,000 from their funds under proposed new legislation to help them get through the coronavirus crisis.
Beyond that initial $10,000 withdrawal, people will be allowed to take out up to 25% of the rest of their pension, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday.
His comments came as public health officials announced five new cases of the coronavirus in Cayman, and Governor Martyn Roper revealed plans for a British military team to arrive on island next week to support government’s efforts.
The right to withdraw from the pension will not be restricted to those who have been made unemployed. It will apply across the board to anyone with a private sector pension account, that is not already drawing down their pension.
McLaughlin recognised there was a ‘downside’ in that retirement savings would be depleted, but he said it was necessary to help people and businesses survive.
The premier estimated the move could put around half-a-billion dollars into the local economy.
The legislative changes are going to Cabinet Tuesday and will go to the Legislative Assembly on Thursday for approval.
McLaughlin said there would also be a six-month payment holiday on contributions to pension funds.
He said anyone with an active pension account containing $10,000 or less would be able to withdraw the whole amount. Anyone with a larger account will be able to take out $10,000 and 25% of the balance. For example, if you have a $100,000 balance, you could withdraw $10,000 and then 25% of the remaining $90,000, for a maximum of $32,500.
The premier said he felt the measures struck the right balance between maintaining savings and allowing people emergency access to funds during the crisis.
“None of us know how long this will last,” he added.
The premier warned that some may get a shock when they look at their funds as the values may have decreased due to the impact of the coronavirus on global financial markets.
Changes are also planned to the Traffic Law to allow people to be approved to renew their vehicle licence without an inspection in times of crises.
British military team heading to Cayman
Governor Martyn Roper confirmed that a flight had departed Cayman for Canada on Monday, and another flight from London was now confirmed for 28 April. That flight will return to the UK via Turks and Caicos the following day.
The Canada flight evacuated resident work-permit holders who had lost jobs and has brought 34 Cayman Islands residents back to the island. They have gone into isolation facilities at empty hotels.
Medical supplies, as well as a military team from the UK, will arrive on the BA flight, the governor said.
The team will include nine military personnel and three civilians, and will assist with logistics and planning around Cayman’s response to the coronavirus crisis. They will also support the islands’ hurricane preparedness plans.
The governor said the team members would be quarantined for two weeks before coming into active service on the island. They will be able to help with logistics, including sourcing medical supplies, among other things. He said they could also help mentor the leaders of Cayman’s new regiment.
Roper said the UK had already dispatched a military team to the Turks and Caicos and would do the same for other territories.
“It is simply a small team that will come and help us with planning and assessments,” he said.
“We have logisticians on the team that can help us with sourcing some of the supplies of medical equipment, help on hurricane preparation…”he said. “It is simply a precaution to help make sure we can deal with any eventuality that we might face.”
Five new cases
Meanwhile, the Cayman Islands has five new cases of the coronavirus, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee confirmed Monday.
Announcing the results of the latest batch of 76 tests, Lee said four of those new cases were “locally acquired”, while one was a contact of someone who had previously tested positive.
Five COVID-19 sufferers are currently in hospital receiving treatment. One patient who was intubated with breathing difficulties no longer requires that treatment.
A total of 29 other patients are showing symptoms, 19 are asymptomatic and seven have fully recovered, Lee said. Five have “clinically recovered”, which means they are no longer showing symptoms but have yet to test negative for the virus.
Overall, Cayman has tested 778 people and has had 66 positive cases.
Lee added that 40,000 swabs, part of a larger order of 150,000 swabs, would be arriving this week and Cayman has more than enough tests now on island for a ramped-up schedule of testing.
He said mass testing would begin soon; however, he identified “extraction kits” as a weak link in the supply chain. Cayman has around 3,000 and is working on getting more imported.
He said the protocols had already begun to be relaxed to allow for “screening tests” to take place, characterising this as a “soft launch” of a more widespread testing strategy.
“When we start screening, we are looking at hopefully healthy people … people who don’t think they have it,” he said, adding that this approach would give Cayman a very clear indication of where it stood in terms of the infiltration of the virus throughout the community.
Lee said the CTMH Doctors Hospital lab would work within an island-wide testing strategy. He said there were some legal and administrative hurdles that needed to be ironed out before the lab would begin testing patients.
Police tase suspect after dominoes game
In his daily crime update at the briefing, Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne said armed police were called after officers broke up a dominoes game in West Bay Friday.
One of the men involved in the game threatened police with a machete. Armed police were called to the scene and the man was “tasered and subdued”, the commissioner said.
The ombudsman has been informed of the incident and an internal police investigation will take place with the report sent to the ombudsman’s office.
Police also broke up a cock-fighting ring on Saturday, arresting around a dozen people.
The premier said he was still receiving correspondence from people who believed that it was wrong to restrict civil liberties in an effort to save lives. He said this was “selfish and narcissistic” thinking, and insisted government’s strategy of lockdowns and curfews would continue.
“The reality is we cannot relax these protocols until we have a better understanding of where the virus is in the community and how prevalent it actually is,” he said.
He added that a strategy of widespread testing, which is already beginning, would help achieve that.
- This article has been amended to correct the date of the planned British Airways flight