High-speed COVID-19 testing could be the ‘game changer’ that potentially allows Cayman to open its borders to tourists before the end of the year, government leaders believe.
Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said Cayman was investigating the possibility of partnering with a healthcare provider to provide on-the-spot testing at gateway airports.
The Cayman Islands already has a GeneXpert machine, which can analyse swabs and deliver results within 45 minutes.
Kirkconnell said the reopening of Cayman’s borders would likely involve using this or similar technology to clear visitors before they get on a plane.
He added that a new 18-minute antibody test, available at Health City, could also play a role in facilitating travel.
In the absence of a vaccine for the virus, Kirkconnell believes advances in testing provide the best opportunity for some tourism to resume.
“We are thrilled that the FCO (UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office) has found a testing machine that they are sending to the Brac that gets results within 45 minutes,” he said. “That, we believe, could be a game changer.
“We will investigate if we could station it [in Miami] and use it to test people coming on vacation.”
Kirkconnell said Cayman would move forward slowly and cautiously and only on advice from public health leaders.
Though other jurisdictions may see a swifter return of tourists through more liberal policies, he believes protecting and enhancing the territory’s reputation as a safe place to visit will pay off in the longer term.
“Our overarching way of doing business has been to make it easy for people to get here and to make it safe. That is still the way forward,” he said.
Owen Roberts International Airport is closed to passenger traffic until the end of August at least.
It is probable that period will be extended, but Premier Alden McLaughlin said Tuesday that tourists may be coming back to these shores sooner than some had feared.
“Frankly, at some of my lower points I didn’t see us reopening (the borders) until early next year… now there are so many positive things happening with respect to testing, with what seems to be happening with the virus and its potency and ease of transmission, we might be able to see a bit of recovery of the tourism industry before the end of the year.”
He acknowledged that other jurisdictions were opening up sooner and said Cayman would be “looking very closely at those experiments”.
Kirkconnell said the situation was changing fast and there were new breakthroughs every day that could make travel safer.
He added that post-COVID-19 tourism would be different to what we have been used to. He said Cayman had to deliver a safe, welcoming environment for health-conscious guests.
“We have to have best-in-class testing equipment and build that into the type of high-class product we must continue to offer,” he said.
To achieve that, he believes, Cayman will have to work with other airlines and gateway airports to ensure consistent COVID-19 screening and other health measures are followed for everyone coming into the territory
“We are going to get to a point where we are comfortable that the virus has been treated and that we understand the exposure in the Cayman Islands,” he said. “We have no control over what happens in the US or Canada and where they are on the curve.”
Despite the troubles facing the industry, he is optimistic that tourists want to visit as soon as they can.
“Once we show internationally that we are back, that it is safe and easy to get here, people are going to come back to Cayman,” Kirkconnell said.