PPE kits arrive in Cayman
Workers at the Owen Roberts International Airport offload a shipment of 30, 000 Personal Protective Equipment kits Thursday afternoon. Photo: Health City Cayman Islands

A shipment of 30,000 personal protective equipment (PPE) kits arrived in the Cayman Islands from China on Thursday as part of efforts to ensure the continued safety of the islands’ frontline health workers.

On Thursday afternoon, a chartered cargo flight, made possible through a partnership between government and Health City Cayman Islands, touched down at Owen Roberts International Airport carrying the much-needed protective gear.

The full PPE kits consists of a protective coverall, goggles, face shield, KN95 mask, nitrile (synthetic rubber) gloves and shoe covers.

“Receiving these PPE kits now is extremely important as the Cayman Islands continues with a large-scale testing and screening program, as well as vital insurance if we were to have an outbreak,” Health City’s director of business development Shomari Scott said in a statement.

“We’ve spent countless hours, sleepless nights and early mornings dealing with different time zones and all of the logistical hurdles. But with the kits arriving here, it was all worth it.”

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Health Minister Dwayne Seymour, who was at the airport when the gear was offloaded, said he welcomed the public/private partnership.

“After realizing quite early on in the procurement process that there may be problems with sourcing PPE kits for Cayman’s frontline medical personnel due to the global shortage on the production of these items, I gave my full endorsement to the HSA and Health City Cayman Islands to work together on this vital effort,” he said.

Together, Seymour said, HSA and Health City focussed on securing this critical protective gear for frontline medical staff in the fight against COVID-19.

From left, Shomari Scott, director of business development at Health City Cayman Islands; Dr. Samuel Williams-Rodriguez, medical officer of health at the HSA; Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose; and Health Minister Dwayne Seymour are pictured on Thursday after receiving a shipment of 30,000 PPE kits from China. – Photo: Health City Cayman Islands

Health City, the statement said, is assisting the Cayman Islands government and the HSA with further shipments of medical equipment needed to fight COVID-19. Two further shipments will arrive over the next two weeks.

According to the statement, getting the PPE gear to Cayman was “fraught with logistical and political challenges”, given the struggle globally to source equipment in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Large quantities weren’t moving after being ordered due to the size of demand and internal issues in China, where most of the equipment is currently manufactured. Additionally, while individual items such as KN95 masks or gloves were available separately, the Cayman authorities could not access any full kits. Larger countries were being given priority due to greater diplomatic reach and buying power,” the statement said.

Scott said he reached out to Seymour and Cabinet Secretary Samuel Rose, as well as HSA CEO Lizzette Yearwood and CFO Dawn Cummings, to offer assistance in procuring the  medical equipment.

Health City, building on the relationships that parent company Narayana Health had fostered with Chinese manufacturers, stepped in to help the Cayman government source PPE kits, the statement said.

“Due to these over-a-decade-long partnerships, Health City was able to get a quick production slot with the manufacturers ahead of much larger countries.,” Scott said, adding they were able to get 30,000 of the full kits.

He said Health City worked with government manufacturers to ensure Cayman was getting authentic – not counterfeit – medical supplies.

Flight challenges ahead

Faced with the prospect of the US seizing the shipment if it was flown through Miami, Scott said, the charter flight instead flew from Zhengzhou, China to Grand Cayman via Mexico.

A Boeing 787-9 aircraft made the flight from Zhengzhou to Mexico, but this plane was too large and heavy to land at Owen Roberts, so after refuelling and changing crew in Mexico, the plane flew to to Kingston, Jamaica.

“Based on the amount of freight on the aircraft – weighing over 17,000 kg and measuring 148 cubic meters, it would then have to be broken down and reloaded into a B737 freighter plane, which would then make two back-to-back cargo trips from Jamaica to Cayman,” the statement said.

But, first they had to deal with other logistical hurdles, Scott explained. There were issues with transporting the supplies to the airport in Zhengzhou, which required packaging and shipping the cargo from the warehouse in that city to an airport in Shanghai.

However, the Chinese government then came out with a new rule mandating that all supplies would need to be inspected by officials prior to being shipped.

“This was great on one hand, as it gives a higher level of comfort with regard to the quality of the supplies. However, it could have really slowed us down as the inspectors could come anytime from one day to 14 days or longer after your cargo is ready to fly,” Scott said.

He said that Rose worked with Governor Martyn Roper and Head of the Governor’s Office Matthew Forbes to use their diplomatic channels to help garner an inspection spot within five days of delivery to Shanghai and the flight’s scheduled departure.

Finally, the inspectors gave the seal of approval and the flight left China on Tuesday. As planned, upon arrival in Jamaica, the shipment was broken down and loaded into a B737 freighter to make the first trip to Cayman. That flight arrived at 11:30am Thursday.

The cargo was offloaded, and the plane made a return trip to Kingston to pick up the remaining cargo and flew back to Cayman with the last of the supplies at 3:30pm the same day.

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