Some restrictions on movement and carrying out business could be lifted as early as Friday, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Monday.
The premier said he was “increasingly optimistic” that Cayman could achieve its goal of eradicating the coronavirus after public health officials announced more than 200 negative COVID-19 tests and no new positives.
He cautioned that “we have not succeeded yet” and warned that countries that had reopened up their economies too soon had faced a recurrence of the coronavirus.
McLaughlin emphasised that Cayman would be ‘moving slowly’ and insisted that any relaxation of lockdown measures would not include the reopening of the beaches in the first phase.
Another 600 samples are currently being tested for COVID-19 and the results will help determine the next steps. The premier said he would be happy if they all came back negative but accepted this was unlikely.
The soft and hard curfew regulations, currently in place officially, expire Friday.
The premier said, “We are hoping that if test results continue on the current path, we will be able to make significant changes to the shelter-in-place order and we will be able to allow a number of activities which are currently restricted or prohibited to recommence.”
Little Cayman could come completely out of lockdown if the island is found to be virus-free after testing is completed this week. Cayman Brac could also have more restrictions lifted sooner, depending on testing.
McLaughlin said full resumption of business in Grand Cayman would take longer because of the size of the population but he is hopeful that restrictions can begin to be eased.
He said government had a multi-phase plan for the various stages of reopening.
“It is contingent on how well the results pan out,” he said, adding that the more testing was done, the better idea government would have of the prevalence of the virus.
“We will go slowly and reopen areas where there is minimal risk of person-to-person contact.”
He said that would not include the opening of the beaches until it was shown to be safe for people to gather in groups. He said this was because of the way people had behaved when the beaches were left open.
“We pleaded with people to be reasonable about how they operated on the beaches… It became impossible for the police to be able to properly monitor what was happening on the beaches.”
He added that swimming pool maintenance would be one of the first services that could reopen.
Evacuation flights update
Governor Martyn Roper confirmed new evacuation flights to Honduras and Toronto.
A flight to La Ceiba will go out early next week for Honduran nationals. Anyone on board must first obtain a medical clearance certificate from their doctor showing they have no symptoms of the virus.
A small number of Caymanians and permanent residents will come back to Cayman on the return flight. They will be required to isolate at government facilities for 14 days.
A planned flight to Mexico, for people pre-approved by the Mexican government, will now depart on 1 May. The Cayman Airways flight will not bring any passengers back to the island.
A charter flight, organised by a private citizen, is planned to Toronto, Canada. That flight will allow pets and extra baggage and costs $1,300. Details are on social media, the governor said.
He added that discussions are under way over flights to Costa Rica and Dominican Republic next week.
Two flights to Miami scheduled for 1 May are sold out. The latest British Airways flight from London arrives in Cayman Tuesday and leaves Wednesday.
The governor said his office had been able to help sort out transit visas to allow 40 members of the Filipino community to travel through London.
208 negative tests
Public health officials reported 208 negative COVID-19 tests Monday.
The results include all of the passengers who returned to Cayman on the British Airways air bridge earlier this month, according to Dr. John Lee, the islands’ chief medical officer.
He said the 208 tests included a mix of tests done for medical reasons and screening tests of frontline workers.
In total, Cayman has carried out 1,148 tests, with 70 positive cases.
Ten are considered ‘fully recovered’, meaning they no longer have symptoms and have tested negative for the virus in two ‘exit tests’.
There are currently five people hospitalised, none on ventilators.
Lee said testing was taking place on the Sister Islands and a “different approach” may be possible once that exercise is complete.
He said if there were no cases on Little Cayman after sample testing is completed, likely this week, restrictions could be lifted sooner. The same could take place on the Brac, once it goes through testing.
Lee said those were essentially isolated islands and, because of the small populations, it would be easier to test quickly and ease restrictions if there were no cases. The same plan is in place for Grand Cayman, but broader testing will take longer because of the size of the island.
Post office opening
The premier also announced that one post office on each of the three islands will be allowed to open two days a week from next week.
He said that would mean the mail could be sorted and distributed to mail boxes around the island.
Downside of evacuations
McLaughlin also cautioned that the number of work-permit holders departing the islands would have an additional negative effect on the economy.
He said Caymanians should have the first choice of jobs in the islands, to the extent that they are willing and able to do them. And, he said, government wants work-permit holders that don’t have jobs to return home, where possible.
But he warned this reduction in population would have a knock-on impact, with Cayman losing people who paid rent and bills, bought food, and formed the clientele of businesses throughout the islands.
“Our system is based on consumption,” he said. “With the loss of thousands of people, we are all going to be in for leaner times.”