A phased reopening of Cayman’s domestic economy is expected to begin Monday after encouraging results from hundreds of screening tests for COVID-19 this week.
Public health officials announced 200 negative test results and no new cases of the virus at the daily press briefing Wednesday.
The announcement continues a heartening trend of results. As it stands, Premier Alden McLaughlin said, restrictions would begin to be eased Monday.
The first phase will involve the reopening of some money-transfer operations and an expansion of the businesses that will be able to deliver goods and services, potentially including pool maintenance.
Phase two will follow two weeks later, and could include the reopening of construction sites – assuming the positive trend in test results continues. That phase will likely be accompanied by a mandatory order that masks must be worn in public, the premier said.
More negative tests
The latest batch of test results included a mix of ‘screening tests’ of frontline healthcare workers, as well as patients who have reported symptoms.
The tests are being carried out at both the Cayman Islands Hospital lab and a new lab at CTMH Doctors Hospital.
Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, said phase one of the new broader testing strategy involved sampling healthcare workers and residents in care homes. The Sister Islands are already onto phase two, which involves testing frontline workers in other professions.
On Little Cayman, more than 100 people have already been tested, which is the bulk of the population of the tiny island. The samples are taken in Little Cayman and flown to Grand Cayman for processing.
There have been 73 positive coronavirus cases in total so far – 72 on Grand Cayman and one on Cayman Brac. A total of 1,535 tests have been done to date.
There are currently around 200 people in government isolation facilities on Grand Cayman. Lee said some of these had been required to stay quarantined for much longer than expected because they were still testing positive for the virus beyond the expected 14-day period.
Other patients have been required to remain in home isolation for longer.
“There are some people who have been there for a long while. It is a question of not knowing enough about the disease,” said Lee.
“We don’t know if they are infectious, but because viral particles can be detected in the samples we are testing, we are being cautious.”
Economic recovery plan
At Wednesday’s briefing, the premier rounded on critics of his government’s response to the unfolding economic crisis.
Responding to accusations on a radio talk show that government had no plan for business recovery, he produced a document titled ‘Cayman Islands Economic Assessment and Stimulus Plan’, which he said Cabinet had been working on for some weeks.
“A lot of real hard work has been done by the Economics and Statistics Office and others to provide Cabinet and caucus with very strong recommendations about the way forward,” he said.
He added that government had very clear ideas on how to proceed, which it would be considering in detail. Finance Minister Roy McTaggart will be part of the press briefing panel next week to address some of those questions.
McLaughlin acknowledged that some of the analysis from the ESO was quite bleak in terms of GDP loss and “unemployment which we have never seen before”.
While the key imperative remains suppression of the virus, he said government would be announcing more policies to deal with the “stark reality” of the new economic conditions.
“We are going to have to do a lot ourselves, with the borders remaining closed for quite some time, to keep money in people’s pockets, food on people’s tables and businesses open, while depending principally on the domestic market,” the premier said.
He said government had a dedicated team of people looking at the economic situation, which he described as “grave”. They were considering longer term how to help the tourism industry, which he said was in the “doldrums”.
“We have to keep thinking about what we can do to make sure these people and those businesses can survive until they can reopen and return to some semblance of what used to be,” McLaughlin said.
He added, “Much of it hinges on the containment and management of the virus in other countries on which Cayman depends for business.”
He said the discovery of a viable vaccine or fast, reliable testing that could be used at entry points could also help facilitate the reopening of the border.
Restrictions to the soft curfew will begin to be lifted from next week. The premier said there would be a phased reopening, with different tranches of the economy opening at different times.
The first phase will not include the opening of public spaces, but will involve an increase in businesses allowed to deliver goods and services.
If test results continue to be encouraging, the premier said, a second phase of reopening could begin on 18 May. That could include the opening of some construction sites and will be accompanied by a mandatory requirement that masks are worn in public.
He said a mandatory mask order might have been put in place sooner but it was not clear that there were enough masks available to the public to make that a feasible option.
Money-transfer service to reopen
The premier also revealed that an agreement had been reached to allow the reopening of money-transfer services, which enable foreign nationals to send cash to families in their home countries.
He said this could happen from Monday but each individual remittance business is required to submit ‘bespoke’ plans to government and have these approved before they can open.
“It will be up to each of the money-transfer businesses to ensure they have submitted their operational plan and have received approval from the competent authority,” McLaughlin said.
They will be subject to the same alphabet-based attendance restrictions as supermarkets.
A second flight has been arranged to La Ceiba, Honduras, for 8 May, Governor Martyn Roper confirmed. Anyone who wants to be on board must submit a medical certificate showing they do not have COVID-19 symptoms. Those who wish to book a seat on that flight can call Cayman Airways on 949-2311.
A charter flight to Canada, which can include pets and extra baggage, has been confirmed for 22 May. That flight is organised by a private citizen and details are available on social media, the governor said.
He also confirmed that a flight to Costa Rica would be possible, and that work is ongoing to organise a flight to the Dominican Republic. Attempts to persuade the Nicaraguan government to allow a flight from Cayman were unsuccessful, the governor said.
He confirmed that a UK military ‘security team’ had arrived on island on Tuesday’s British Airways flight and was going through a 14-day quarantine.