Cayman has two new positive cases of the coronavirus, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said Wednesday afternoon.
Both involved travellers who recently returned to the islands and are in isolation facilities.
The two new cases were among 86 tests carried out since Tuesday. The results were announced at a government press conference during which details of the beginning of a phased reopening of the borders were also revealed.
Premier Alden McLaughlin said the continued prevalence of the virus both in the US and the Caribbean meant that Cayman would still be requiring a 14-day quarantine period for anyone arriving in October.
They will be able to do that at home, however, if they agree to wear a digital tracking bracelet.
Border reopening for CAL, BA only
McLaughlin said the initial reopening of the border would be limited to Cayman Airways and British Airways flights, and people would only be allowed to travel by application to Travel Time.
In the initial phase, the reopening is aimed at Caymanians, permanent residents, work-permit holders, people who own property here and those planning to spend an extended amount of time on the island, the premier said.
The ‘global citizen initiative’ that will allow people to live in Cayman and work remotely overseas as ‘digital nomads’ should also be in place, allowing for a small influx of new long-stay residents.
McLaughlin set a modest target of 800 arrivals for October, stressing Cayman was not opening its borders to commercial flights. He acknowledged the ‘reopening’ may not look that different to the current situation.
Anyone coming into the islands will be required to wear a digital tracking device and self-isolate at home for 14 days. They would also have the option to stay at a hotel.
They will be tested on arrival at the airport and be taken by approved transport providers to their accommodation.
The ‘BioButton’ – which government previously indicated would be part of the process and which tracks symptoms linked to the virus – is not considered necessary at this stage as the full 14-day isolation period is still required and a negative PCR test will be needed by all arrivals before they are cleared to move freely around Cayman.
Initially, government had considered shortening the quarantine period to five days and using the BioButton technology to help monitor people’s health.
“We will not be allowing a shorter quarantine period so the use of the BioButton will not be needed,” the premier said.
He said the US is getting “more dangerous, not less” and the idea of shortening the isolation period, even with the use of the BioButton, was too risky.
Instead, arrivals will be required to wear a ‘geofencing’ bracelet that triggers an alarm if they break their quarantine. Breaches will be treated as a serious offence, the premier said.
Those who don’t want to wear the tracking technology will have to isolate in government facilities.
McLaughlin said the first batch of tracking bracelets arrived in Cayman on Tuesday. It has not yet been determined who will pay for them, but the premier said the individuals wearing them could be asked to bear the cost, around $150-$200.
He acknowledged it was an additional expense, but said “it is cheaper than staying in an isolation facility”.
McLaughlin said the device is similar to those used in Hong Kong, where digital wristbands were deployed to monitor people in home quarantine and alert authorities to any breaches.
The premier reiterated that Cayman was going through a slow and cautious reopening and said the idea was not to attract swathes of tourists at this stage. He insisted “only Cayman Airways and British Airways have permission to operate flights to these islands”.
Anyone who books with other carriers does so at their own risk, he said.
Some of the new protocols, including home isolation, will be tested on returning residents on the latest repatriation flight from London later this month. British Airways is now operating a fortnightly flight from London Heathrow.
Governor Martyn Roper said those flights were scheduled to continue for the next three months at least.
He said it was unfortunate that Cayman had seen two new cases of the virus this week, but suggested this was expected, even with strong management and testing in place.
“It is inevitable that there will be more cases. We are far from out of the woods in dealing with this very complicated virus,” he said.
On the upside, Roper said it was encouraging that Cayman had gone nine weeks without a locally transmitted case.
Tourism stipend extended
McLaughlin confirmed that a stipend for out-of-work Caymanians in the tourism industry would be continued through the end of the year at least.
Initially set for three months, the $1,000-a-month stipend is for anyone who lost their jobs in the industry because of the COVID-19 crisis.
Anyone already receiving the payment does not need to reapply. Applications for new recipients will reopen on 14 Sept.
Lee also revealed that a positive result had come up in screening tests of the community 10 days ago. He said ‘confirmatory tests’ came back negative, suggesting the initial result was likely a false positive.
The individual was isolated, along with his contacts, as a precaution and subsequently tested negative.
The chief medical officer also recapped some of the statistics from within the region, noting that Aruba and St. Maarten had the second and third highest per-capita infection rates, respectively, in the world.
As Cayman looks to open its borders to tourists in a managed way, he cautioned that there had been a definite ‘uptick’ in infiltration of the virus in countries that had reopened. But he said the safest countries had reopened with strong COVID-management protocols backed by PCR testing.