Cayman could see a further lifting of COVID-19 restrictions as early as next week after a month of no new coronavirus cases.

The Pan-American Health Organization on Wednesday changed Cayman’s transmission level from ‘sporadic’ to ‘no cases’.

While Premier Alden McLaughlin welcomed this change in status, he said government will not be letting up its guard when it comes to keeping Cayman safe from the virus.

“I am gratified that Cayman has now been declared COVID-19-free by PAHO, one of a very few countries in the world to have achieved that status. This is testament to the careful thought, expert advice and effective execution of the Government’s strategy, coupled with the cooperation of the general public,” he told the Cayman Compass.

On Thursday, head of the Premier’s Office Roy Tatum confirmed that conversations on further reducing restrictions commenced this week.

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“It is expected that Cabinet will consider this issue next week,” he told the Compass. “The decision will be based on the advice of Public Health and [Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee]. The announcement by PAHO is significant as it recognises what those of us who live here are starting to believe – that we have won the initial battle against COVID-19.”

Cayman’s latest batch of COVID-19 tests on Thursday all returned negative as the country’s screening tests crossed the 32,000 mark.

Lee, in his latest update, said 220 COVID-19 tests have been carried out since his report on Wednesday, and they were all negative.

This is the 31st consecutive day that Cayman has recorded negative coronavirus tests.

The last two positive cases were reported on 13 July, and since 24 July there have been no active cases. As of Thursday, 32,212 COVID tests have been conducted.

According to Lee’s latest update, the total number of people currently in isolation, either at a government facility or in their homes at the request of the medical officer of health, is 228. This was an increase of 70 individuals, due to the arrival of passengers on board a Cayman Airways flight from Jamaica on Wednesday.

The premier told the Compass that isolation rules will continue to be enforced.

“We therefore will have to insist on very strict rules regarding isolation. We are working hard on trying to put in place a system which will allow for proper monitoring of people in self-isolation, but we’re not there yet. Until then, the rules on isolation will have to continue to be strictly enforced,” the premier said.

Lee told the Compass, via an emailed response to queries Thursday, that PAHO’s announcement was a positive step in Cayman’s COVID-19 battle; however, he remained cautious.

“The news of PAHO updating Cayman’s status to reflect the length of time that we have been without COVID-19 cases is very welcome. At the same time, I note with concern the fact that there have been recent outbreaks of the coronavirus in New Zealand and Vietnam following long runs declaring ‘no cases,’” he said.

New Zealand had gone 100 days with no new cases, but earlier this week went back into lockdown after four members of the same family, with no travel history, tested positive for COVID-19, and by Thursday, 13 other people had tested positive. In Vietnam, by 24 July, the country had gone 99 days with no locally transmitted cases, but since then 438 cases have been reported.

Tatum pointed to Auckland’s current situation as reminder that COVID-19 is unpredictable.

“As we have seen recently in New Zealand and in neighbouring countries in the region, this battle has been won locally but the war still rages around us with COVID 19 proving a challenging foe. So any celebrations must be tempered with caution and pragmatism,” he said.

Lee: No time to relax

A total of 203 cases of coronavirus have been reported in Cayman since the virus was first confirmed locally in March.

However, Lee cautioned that the possibility of positive cases still looms.

“Cayman has continued to operate a degree of international air travel since our first airbridge in April, which presents an ongoing risk, albeit mitigated by our isolation efforts – we continue our cautious approach. The current Public Health Regulations still stand, although they are under constant review,” he said.

At present, Cayman remains in suppression level two (minimal suppression), which includes a certain degree of restrictions. The next level is level one (all clear) where all restrictions are lifted.

Governor Martyn Roper, in a brief statement, welcomed the news of PAHO changing Cayman’s transmission status. He said it puts the country in a “comfortable position” compared to many jurisdictions within the region and across the world.

“The change in the PAHO transmission level for Cayman is clearly good news and well-deserved international recognition of the success of the government’s strategy in tackling COVID-19. Everyone in our community can be proud of their contribution in carefully following guidance, especially early on during the lockdown, which was a challenging time for everyone on our islands. That hard work has paid dividends,” he said.

While the governor was pleased with the transmission status change, he urged the public to continue to follow current health guidance.

Thus far, health officials have only recorded one COVID-19-related death in Cayman, that of an Italian cruise ship tourist in March. He was the first COVID-19 case to be recorded in Cayman.

The islands’ borders were closed shortly after his death.

Last month, government unveiled plans to reopen borders on a phased basis, beginning 1 Sept. However, on 7 Aug., the government announced an extension of the border closures until 1 Oct., a decision that was supported by the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce.

On Wednesday, the Government Information Service confirmed that no press conference will be held this week. Government last held a COVID-19 briefing on 17 July.

What do the various WHO/PAHO transmission levels mean?

Cayman is the third British Overseas Territory in the Americas region to achieve the ‘no COVID-19 cases’ transmission level. The other two territories are Anguilla, which has recorded a total of three cases, and Montserrat, which has reported 13.

According to the World Health Organization, this change in transmission level is achieved when there are no reported cases for a certain amount of time.

It is one of four levels – the others being ‘sporadic’, (one or more cases imported or locally acquired), ‘clusters’ (most cases of local transmission linked to chains of transmission), and ‘community transmission’.

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