Cayman Islands leaders are taking time to ensure the island’s reopening plan is “as close to perfect as possible”, tourism director Rosa Harris said Friday afternoon.

Explaining the decision to delay the reopening of the islands’ air border until October, Harris said Cayman was reluctant to risk reintroducing COVID-19 to the island. The reopening of cruise tourism is an even more distant goal, with a ban on visiting ships extended until next year at the earliest.

She was speaking during a panel discussion at the Chamber of Commerce’s Cayman Economic Outlook conference on Friday.

Asked what a successful reopening plan would look like, Harris said, it would be “to open and remain open”.

Department of Tourism Director Rosa Harris

She added, “The last thing we want to do it to open and have to close. If it takes just a little longer to get it right, we want to be as close to perfect as possible.”

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Several countries, including the Bahamas, have reopened their borders only to close them again and institute new lockdowns after fresh outbreaks of the virus.

Harris said Cayman was determined to avoid that fate and was watching and learning from other countries in the region.

In a recorded speech earlier at the conference, Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell made a similar point, saying, “The delay in opening our islands’ borders, though regrettable, is allowing us to learn from the experiences of other jurisdictions, and is ensuring that our arrivals and screening processes are informed by international best practice, and based on the latest industry standards.”

Harris warned that even when the borders do reopen in October, it would be with strict quarantine measures in place and with the use of technology to monitor visitors’ health status.

She acknowledged that the Cayman Islands government, at some point, would have to take a “greater risk”, but suggested it could not do so with any confidence until the virus was under control in the US.

She added that the initial reopening would be “a very scaled approach”, with a focus on specific groups, like vacation-home owners, friends of residents, and long-stay tourists.

A ‘global citizens programme’ that allows wealthy individuals and their families to live in Cayman and work remotely is also under consideration.

Harris accepted that there would not be “droves and droves” of interest from tourists in visiting Cayman while intense COVID-control measures, including an application process, quarantine period on island, and requirement to wear remote health monitoring devices, were in place.

Businesses suffering

Speaking on the same panel, Marc Langevin, general manager of The Ritz-Carlton resort on Seven Mile Beach, said the situation was currently unsustainable for tourism businesses.

He called for urgency and innovation to be applied to finding a way to allow some tourism to return and for businesses and people to get back to work.

“We can’t keep pushing back and pushing back; at some point, we have to make a hard decision,” he said.

Marc Langevin, general manager, The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman

“We can’t wait for the perfect solution, that is a dream.”

He acknowledged it was “extremely complicated” to invite tourists back and keep the island and its guests safe from COVID-19.

But he said the economic threat of an extended closure was severe for many businesses, most significantly for small Caymanian operators.

At some stage, with COVID-19 expected to be an ongoing global health threat, he said Cayman would have to decide what level of risk it was prepared to take.

“If success is maintaining zero cases, we might as well wait until next year, or 10 years – who knows? We have to be careful and set the expectation clearly – what is success, allowing for certain risk?”

Harris said she believed tourists and businesses would ultimately appreciate Cayman’s careful approach.

“When we do open our borders, we want to send a message of confidence,” she said. “Remaining closed now gives us time to get it right.”

Theresa Leacock Broderick, president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, said a lot of its members were struggling.

But she backed government’s approach and said seeing other islands open their borders, only to be forced to close again, had created a sense of confidence that government was doing the right thing.

Tech solutions

At an earlier panel during the same conference, the expert behind the ‘BioButton’ or ‘BioSticker’ devices, that will be used to track the vital statistics of visitors, gave a rundown of how the technology works.

Dr.  James Mault, CEO of BioIntelliSense which created the device, said it can transmit data on individuals’ temperature, breathing patterns and heart rate to alert medical professionals to early signs of infection.

One concern around allowing visitors to come back to Cayman is the incubation period of the virus.

The BioSticker on-body sensor for scalable remote care. – Photo: BioIntelliSense, Inc

Even with testing, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said it would be possible for some COVID-19-positive patients to slip through the net.

He said requiring two tests (several days apart) alongside the use of health monitoring technology, like the BioSticker, would enable a ‘safer reopening’.

“We are going to have to find a solution that includes technology pretty quick because sustained and prolonged closure of the island would be crippling for the economy,” he said.

One of the issues the BioSticker is designed to get around is the high number of ‘asymptomatic cases’.

Mault said the device was essentially an “early warning system” for the subtle signs of infection. He said it would pick up evidence of infection that an individual may not notice themselves, such as fluctuations in heart rate.

It could also be used to help with contact tracing if new cases do emerge, he said.

Kirkconnell, in his speech at the conference, said the technology would play a key part in the reopening plan.

Millions of people worldwide are accustomed to wearing devices such as Fitbits linked to smartphones, and smart watches to passively track fitness activity and sleep patterns,” he said. “In this instance, the health monitoring device would provide the wearer and public health officials with heightened reassurance that any cause for concern will be picked up at a very early stage, allowing public health officials the opportunity to intervene as soon as possible.”

He said Cayman’s long-term goal was to replace quarantine and isolation with technology as it reopens in stages.

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  1. The COVID-19 virus has presented a challenge maybe never before encountered. Coupled with an economy such as that of Grand Cayman the stress on the community and community leaders has to be horrendous. From all I have read to date, I can’t commend the Grand Cayman community leaders enough. Surely, the entire island of Grand Cayman is not in an envious position. I’m confident it will all work out.

  2. The country needs tourists. No doubt about that. Certainly stay over tourists.

    But the coronavirus makes our previous business model impossible. The average tourists come here for about a week, second homes owners typically for longer.

    Tourists can certainly be tested at the airport before getting on the plane. But they could still pick up the virus at the airport or in the day or two before departure and not show up as positive on the test.

    When here they can be asymptomatic and spread the disease to others. Who will then spread it to many more people and our months of lock down will have been a waste of time.

    In my opinion the Biosticker will not work for several reasons.
    How does it differentiate between a heart rate increase as a result of exercise and that coming from illness?
    Could a perceived temperate increase result from sunbathing? And who wants a Biosticker mark left from blocking the sun anyway?

    It’s a tough problem but let’s start by welcoming back second home owners, with appropriate, supervised quarantine in their homes.

  3. I can only say this saddens me more than I can convey. I am not in CI, but I love to go there. Here in the Southern end of Texas – life goes on, wear your mask, don’t hug your Mom or Aunt. But we are going out to eat, fishing, and pretty much life is going on as normal. I have many friends who have been sick with the virus. All have been thankfully very mild or asymptomatic.

    The news here is painting a desperate situation but it not so. 50% of the deaths have been in nursing homes, regrettable yes, but many of these people are very sick, unhealthy, and would not be in the home in the first place if they were healthy.

    There is a good chance there will never be a vaccine, and a 100% chance any vaccine we get will not be 100% effective. The flu vaccine isn’t 100% effective either. What is the plan if a vaccine is only 50% effective?

    I fully respect Cayman to do what they think is best. But we all know the commercial flights will be pushed back because there will be no stomach for opening for commercial flights on December 1. The tourists will flood the landscape and then CI will have Corona for Christmas. Everyone knows this even if they won’t say it.

    I have given up on seeing your beautiful island until 2021.

    Could anyone please tell us CI lovers, property owners, and general scuba nuts what is going on? Is Duke’s still open, how about Eden Rock, Lighthouse Point, Boggy Sands Grill, Sunset House, Rumpoint, Da Fish Shack? Has anyone spoken to them to see if they will be in business in another 4 months?

  4. Balancing the health of individual residents vs. the health of the country’s economy is certainly a challenge, but sadly it seems CIG has chosen to go down the path of splendid isolation rather than careful integration, while mouthing platitudes such as “lives before livelihoods”. I would suggest it is not that clear cut, and point to Bermuda as another overseas territory with similar resources, who is managing to control their COVID despite having had an open airport since July 1. The key is testing, tracking and reduced quarantine. Any traveller to Bermuda must fill out a pre-arrival checklist and show a negative test to get on the plane. They are tested at the airport in Bermuda and then must quarantine at their residence until receiving their test results the next day. If the test is again negative, they are free to move about (subject to standard mask, sanitation and distancing requirements) however they must test again at 4 days and at 10 days. If any tests are positive they must quarantine for 14 days. There are obviously administrative and tracing issues if anyone tests positive on day 4 or 10, but the result for Bermuda thus far is movement across the border of residents and visitors with minimal new cases. Cayman might consider such a plan of action, perhaps for residents and owners only at first, and even include the previously suggested 5 day home quarantine for good measure. The current status, of complete border closure until Nov 1 or Dec 1, with minimal access to repatriation flights, coupled with 2 weeks alone in a room thereafter, seems an unnecessarily draconian solution in light of the resources, knowledge and funds available to CIG.