Premier: Full lifting of local COVID restrictions weeks away

Measures will depend on encouraging results trend continuing

Virtually all restrictions on movement, business and gathering could be lifted within a few weeks if COVID-19 testing results remain encouraging, Premier Alden McLaughlin said Tuesday.

There were five new cases announced from the latest batch of 690 screening tests. But most patients in Cayman remain asymptomatic.

Bars and restaurants reopened this week and the premier said more restrictions could be relaxed shortly.

“By this time next week, I think we will have a pretty good idea whether that reopening has, in any way, impacted the infection rate,” he said at Tuesday’s COVID-19 briefing.

Assuming all goes well, he said government should be able to lift “all the current restrictions with respect to gatherings”.

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He said gyms and salons would likely be able to reopen, and domestic helpers and carers could return to work. Children could also be allowed to use playgrounds again and inter-island travel may also be sanctioned, he added.

All that is contingent on there being no spike in cases over the next two weeks.

“If we wind up with a massive outbreak, it is going to change everything,” he warned, as he urged people to be patient. He added that Cayman could live in a relatively safe “bubble” if all goes according to plan.

“We should really return to normal activities within the next few weeks, albeit that the borders remain closed,” he said.

The premier said his government would work through those issues with the hope that high-speed testing could soon bring tourists back to the islands. He said Cayman was an “incredible success story”, but warned that COVID-19 remains a “killer disease”.

“We have got Cayman in a relatively good place locally. We have to now focus on how we reopen the borders without creating a great risk of introducing a potentially more virulent strain and undoing the good work done so far,” he added.

Governor Martyn Roper echoed those sentiments, saying Cayman had now tested almost a quarter of its people – the fourth highest rate in the world in terms of the percentage of population tested.

“I think we are all feeling a real sense of optimism,” he said. “The positive cases we are getting don’t give us great cause for concern at the moment.

“We are now getting very close to the point at which we will be able to ease many of the restrictions and that, of course, is very welcome.”

He said social distancing, hygiene and masks would become even more important as people start to interact more.

Latest results

Dr. John Lee, Cayman’s chief medical officer, announced five new COVID-19 cases at the press briefing.

A total of 176 positive cases have been confirmed since the crisis began, with 104 people fully recovered and one death.

The vast majority of cases remain asymptomatic, with only one patient out of 71 active cases displaying symptoms.

Lee said the results were encouraging. Though there continues to be new positive cases, he said the fact that so few people had symptoms suggested the virus was “burning itself out”.

He said every step taken in Cayman thus far had “bought time” and kept the most vulnerable people on the islands safe.

Lee said there were encouraging developments globally, including the approval of a licensed anti-viral therapy for treating COVID-19 patients. He is hopeful a vaccine can be found soon.

He said Cayman was making great progress, but social distancing, face masks, hand hygiene and working from home would be the new normal for some time to come.

Lee added there was a good prospect of some elements of normalcy, including churches and all sports reopening, returning soon.

“We all have that on the horizon,” he said. “I am really pleased that is just a little way away. We will be there soon.”

Despite mixed reports from World Health Organization officials over whether the virus could be spread by asymptomatic patients, Lee said it was clear that had happened on island.

“Every day since the end of April, all of those people that have come forward, bar possibly one, have not had symptoms; we must assume they have been asymptomatic or had such mild symptoms that it didn’t stick in their memory,” he said.

He added that, in the vast majority of those cases, contact tracing had showed that the virus had been spread by asymptomatic patients.

Civil service return

The governor delivered a statement from Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who said he would be meeting with chief officers and heads of departments on Friday to discuss the return to work of civil servants.

Manderson pointed out the Civil Service had adapted its working processes during the COVID-19 crisis and staff had been delivering services remotely or in person when necessary.  Friday’s meetings will address how the Civil Service can get back to “full force” and resume normal activities, provided it is safe to do so, he said.

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