Beaches could be reopened for exercise next week and the full Sunday lockdown could be lifted as early as this weekend, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Wednesday.
Cabinet is considering relaxing some of the shelter-in-place regulations and is looking at the issues of fishing, access to the beach, and the Sunday hard curfew, he said.
“We have certainly decided that the beaches should be reopened, but only for exercise.”
He said he was still concerned about people partying on the beach and stressed that it would be a limited reopening only.
“Assuming all goes well, we should see significant relaxation in the current regulations as early as Tuesday next week, or even Sunday in respect of the hard curfew,” he added at the COVID-19 press briefing.
Asked if the measures to be eased would include diving, he said they would not, but that could happen in the next phase – two weeks later – if everything goes as hoped.
He said there was real hope and promise that if results continue as they are, some normalcy could resume across the island in the coming months. There was one new case of the virus announced Wednesday, along with 328 negative cases, but health officials warned COVID-19 is still lurking in the community.
Reopening of construction sector
McLaughlin also highlighted the reopening of the construction industry as a significant boost for the economy.
But, he said, managing the “overwhelming number” of businesses and workers that would be coming back on the job was challenging and would have to be handled carefully and in stages.
Parts of the trade, including hardware stores, are scheduled to reopen next Tuesday under current plans, which are contingent on results coming out of the testing labs on a daily basis.
Testing of some construction workers is already taking place, and government is in talks with developers on protocols to ensure that sites can reopen safely.
By the beginning of next week, the premier said, a number of key projects that had been paused since the crisis began would likely recommence, providing a significant boost to the islands’ struggling economy.
COVID-19 still present in the community
As announced Wednesday, the Cayman Islands has just one new case of COVID-19, which Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said was community acquired.
Earlier today, Cost-U-Less supermarket announced that it had been informed that one of its staff members had tested positive in a COVID-19 screening test. Lee declined to say if that was the same case, but conceded there was a “striking alignment with the two announcements”.
Cost-U-Less said in a statement that the store had been deep-cleaned overnight and the employee was in quarantine. It said it was cooperating with all public health guidelines.
Overall, Cayman now has recorded 86 positive cases, including one death, and 4,807 negative cases.
Despite an encouraging trend of results, Lee said the fact that odd cases kept popping up showed “the virus is definitely still here”.
He said he was concerned there was a “hidden undercurrent of COVID still going through the community”.
He added, “We are still getting cases and we don’t really understand where they are coming from because our borders have been closed.”
Lee said he did not believe that people were breaking isolation procedures, but he accepted some could be avoiding contact tracers, who are trying to track the interactions of patients who had tested positive for COVID-19.
He said it was more likely that the virus was “smouldering away” in the community.
Asked if employers could make COVID-19 tests mandatory for their employees as the economy opens up, Lee said he thought that would not be possible, and that forcing a medical procedure on someone would be considered assault.
He said all organisations would need to do their own risk assessments and put protocols in place, especially hand hygiene.
The premier said the results showed the virus was still in the community and Cayman should not be lulled into a false sense of security.
He said the virus could still spread and overwhelm hospitals.
For that reason, he said the reopening of the economy would proceed with caution.
Governor Martyn Roper echoed the cautious optimism of others on the panel at the briefing.
He added his commendation to the civil service who, he said, had adapted well to working from home, suggesting this could be a template for the future for some roles.