Restrictions are being lifted on Cayman Brac after a large percentage of the island’s population tested negative for the coronavirus.
At the daily COVID-19 briefing on Thursday, Premier Alden McLaughlin said new specific regulations had been drafted for the Brac and would come into effect this evening.
The beaches will reopen, restaurants will be allowed to serve food to diners outside, and fishing and boating can resume, with a restriction of no more than two people on a boat at any one time.
Gatherings will be restricted to 25 people, and social distancing must be maintained. Churches will be allowed to reopen, with this limitation on numbers.
Bars will remain closed until at least 50% of the population of the Brac has tested negative, McLaughlin said. So far, 400 residents, out of a population of about 2,000, have been tested and have returned negative results.
The hard curfew has been lifted on Sundays, but a night-time curfew from 8pm to 5am remains in place for the Brac.
Deputy Premier and Cayman Brac legislator Moses Kirkconnell said it would be a big relief to Brackers to get back to some form of normalcy, especially fishing and boating.
Though air restrictions remain in place between the Brac and the main island, he said a longer-term option for the Sister Islands would be to offer staycations.
There is currently no change to the restrictions on Grand Cayman, and both the premier and Police Commissioner Derek Byrne said they were concerned about the amount of people on the road.
Two new cases
Meanwhile, health officials reported two new cases of the coronavirus after the latest batch of 76 results were reported.
One of those cases was linked to travel and one was a contact of someone who had previously been reported as positive for COVID-19. There have now been 80 positive tests in total.
Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, said screening tests were going well and the bulk of medical personnel had been tested.
“We are already well into phase two, which includes frontline people, such as supermarkets, RCIPS, Fire Service, quite a bit of the prison has been done,” he added.
He said the testing was vital so anyone who had COVID-19 could be isolated and a protective ring put around them.
Lee said there were some concerns around people not turning up for testing appointments.
He added that health officials wanted to be able to test hundreds of people a day, but it was more difficult to get to people in the private sector.
For larger companies, he said public health officials were prepared to go directly to the businesses and take samples at their premises.
If a frontline worker is confirmed as having the virus, he said, that would not create unmanageable complications for contact tracing.
He said the criteria to be classified as a ‘close contact’ was for someone to have had a ‘concentrated experience’ with the infected person. Only people who have been within six feet of the individual for more than 15 minutes would need to be traced and contacted, he said.
“A brief encounter” wouldn’t qualify and in the case of supermarket workers or police officers, that would mean too many contacts to manage.
Of the 80 positive cases in Cayman, one has died, nine are symptomatic, 33 are asymptomatic, two are in hospital for unrelated conditions, and 35 have fully recovered, meaning they have been cleared after two negative tests.
The police commissioner, in his update at the briefing, said crime was down, despite some signs of gang tensions in West Bay, including a shooting and a machete attack in which a man’s hand was almost severed.
He said armed officers were out in the district and the police had a good handle on what was going on.
He also highlighted that police had caught 34 people in breach of curfew in the past week and said enforcement would be stepped up amid concerns that people were starting to relax.
He said the “most serious cases” involved six people snorkelling in the West Bay area, a group of people playing dominoes at a licensed establishment, and someone running a barber shop illegally.
He said traffic appeared to be almost back to pre-COVID levels and warned that the easing of restrictions on Monday seemed to have been a “lightbulb” moment for some who had taken it as licence to roam freely around the island.
He said police would clamp down hard on curfew breakers, and businesses which operated in breach of regulations would be reported and have their permission to work revoked.
Overall, police have found 592 breaches of both curfews, resulting in a mix of tickets and warnings for prosecution.
Byrne acknowledged in the “chaotic environment” of the early days of the curfew, some tickets had been issued that should not have been, and those would be revoked as the file-review process continued.
No cruise return
Kirkconnell, appearing via Zoom from Cayman Brac, said he was thrilled that restrictions were starting to be lifted on the island.
He said the reopening was balanced with social distancing and other measures to prevent the virus from potentially resurfacing.
Kirkconnell, who is also tourism minister, again addressed reports that cruise lines were marking Cayman as a destination on their calendars for later this year.
He said Cabinet would likely keep the borders shut to passengers until 1 Sept. at least and suggested there would likely be no cruise ships returning until next year.
“The tourism industry is not going to be able to recover and the world recovers around us,” Kirkconnell added.
He noted it would take some time for the major airlines to get back into operation and there would be no quick fix.
With the restrictions loosening on the Brac, he said, staycations could be a temporary option.
He said the tourism industry was at the bottom of its ‘free fall’ and was starting to look at ways to climb back up.
Governor highlights border concerns
Governor Martyn Roper highlighted “the reality” that Cayman’s borders will be closed for some time, noting that a vaccine for COVID-19 appeared to be a long way off, and instant testing was not yet scientifically proven.
“It is the reality that we face in the extreme times we are in,” he said.
He added, “The scale of international travel that we were all used to pre-COVID-19 is unlikely to return for a long time.”
He also took issue with a Cayman Compass article that quoted passengers on an evacuation flight airing concerns about conditions on a British Airways plane – including a lack of social distancing, lack of masks for crew or passengers, and no enhanced hygiene measures.
The governor said he understood why people were concerned, but social distancing of six feet would mean 24 seats would be required for every four passengers.
Though some airlines have attempted some COVID-19-management measures, including leaving middle seats empty and requiring staff and passengers to wear masks, the governor said it was not practical to implement social distancing on an aircraft.
He said there was an “element of risk” to air travel and suggested the article should have been more balanced.
The governor was quoted in a Compass article from Monday’s press conference, briefly addressing similar concerns about the BA flight that were separately brought to the attention of his office.