Premier Alden McLaughlin announced Friday that Cayman has set up a ‘Reopening of Borders Committee’, consisting of 10 government agencies and ministries to work on allowing international tourists to return to the islands.
The premier said much careful consideration would go into plans and policies before the borders reopen – currently slated for 1 Sept.
He made the announcement at Friday’s press briefing, at which Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee stated that, for the fourth time in the past week, there were no positive cases of COVID-19 among the latest results.
The Reopening of Borders Committee will be guided by advice from the International Civil Aviation Organisation, through its Aviation Recovery Task Force, which is helping airports throughout the Americas and the Caribbean to safely operate during the COVID-19 crisis, McLaughlin said.
“It is essential that when our borders reopen, the process is managed in a reassuring, methodical and responsible way,” he said, adding that Cayman had to make sure that the many efforts and sacrifices made in the past three months were “not squandered”.
Even as Cayman explores how it will be able to start accepting international travellers at its airports and sea ports, the premier said he was “disheartened but not surprised” by reports that Florida, Texas and Arizona were pausing their reopening efforts due to spikes in COVID-19 infections.
He acknowledged that there were many challenges to reopening Cayman’s borders, especially if cases in the US continue to escalate. Describing Miami essentially as a “suburb” of the Cayman Islands, he noted that Florida has an infection rate of about 30% currently. Based on that information, “How can we possibly contemplate opening the borders to the US now?” he asked.
He added that Cayman would watch how the spread of the virus progresses in the US and “adjust plants as things evolve”.
Agencies that will be involved in the Reopening of Borders Committee are: the Ministry of District Administration, Tourism and Transport, the Governor’s Office, the Civil Aviation Authority, Cayman Islands Airports Authority, Cayman Airways, Department of Tourism, Port Authority, Ministry of Employment and Border Control, the Ministry of Health and the Health Services Authority.
So far, 22,657 people have been tested for coronavirus in Cayman. The latest negative results come from a batch of 391 samples.
Of the 196 positive cases recorded since March, only nine of those are considered to be active. All nine are asymptomatic.
Lee said 129 people are currently in government isolation facilities and 22 are isolating at home.
Referring to antibody tests, Lee said 383 results – mostly from healthcare workers – have been recorded so far, and the positive rate is 1.6%. He said this rate was lower than he had expected, especially as most of those tested were frontline workers who may have been exposed to the virus before Cayman was even aware the COVID-19 was present on island.
He said the aim of doing the antibody testing, which will determine if a person has ever had COVID-19, is to help establish how much the virus has penetrated the general community.
Lack of compliance at bars
The premier said he had received reports that a number of bars were not following regulations and were in breach of their liquor licensing conditions, as well as public health provisions.
He said in some instances, it was reported that well in excess of 100 people were gathering in parking lots of licensed premises, where DJs were playing, adding that a complete lack of social distancing was evident.
In response to this, the Department of Commerce and Investment will be stepping up the presence of its officers at venues to check that rules are being followed.
McLaughlin said he was worried about the behaviour being seen at some licensed premises, which he said ran the risk of undermining the work done in the Cayman Islands in controlling the spread of COVID-19.
He said the Liquor Licensing Board has asked him to address the lack of compliance seen at a number of bars this week.
“There have been numerous reports and complaints about certain local bars and in several other hot spots on Seven Mile Beach. It would seem the establishments are under the impression that the approval they have, has exempted them from adhering to all laws, including the Public Health Law,” he said.
He said proprietors of such premises would be held responsible for breaches of licensing and public health laws, even if the parties and gatherings in question were held outside the licensees’ establishments and whether the licensee was present at the time of the offence or not.
The premier said licensees were risking the suspension of their licences if breaches continues.
McLaughlin added that no extension of opening hours are being granted at this time.
The next press conference is scheduled to be held on Friday, 3 July. The premier said it was likely that, going forward, there would only be one press briefing a week.