Nearly 2,300 of you made your voices heard in our online poll asking, “Should Cayman proceed with the October border reopening?”
The results were extremely close. Forty-nine percent of respondents voted yes, while 45% voted no and another 5% said they were undecided.
Over the last month, the Compass’ Cayman 2.0 series has explored what tourism could look like (or should look like) in the future.
Of course, any tourism product starts with actually allowing visitors on island. After speaking with experts, hearing from the public and looking at the information for ourselves, the Compass editorial board created a point-counterpoint editorial examining the idea of opening Cayman’s borders from both sides
Point – The case for a bolder approach to reopening
The Cayman Islands has earned its reputation as the safest country in the Caribbean when it comes to COVID-19.
Gambling with that status is not something that should be taken lightly and Cayman’s leaders face a delicate balancing act.
Even so, it is past time for preserving livelihoods to be given some consideration alongside the more obvious imperative of saving lives.
We are approaching the point where many business owners are rightly concerned that the cure could be worse than the disease.
The ‘border opening’ in October is a nominal opening only. Aside from a few additional snowbirds there is likely to be almost no noticeable difference. As of today, there is no clarity over if, when or how tourists will be allowed to return.
After six months of significant financial losses and no sign of light at the end of the tunnel, the Dart group decided last week to pare down operations at its hotels and sever ties with employees who were on standby to return to work.
That decision has implications beyond the 500-or-so workers – the majority of them expatriates – who have lost jobs.
It suggests the company has effectively written off the 2020/21 high season. If that analysis is correct, the economic impact of the COVID crisis is likely to spread far beyond the approximately 3,000 unemployed Caymanians currently pulling a monthly stipend from government.
Expect to see restaurants closing down or moving to weekend-hours only. Expect to see more jobs lost in the water-sports industry. Expect to see a trickle-down effect on transportation, janitorial, food and beverage distributors and the coterie of other businesses that rely on the hospitality sector.
The islands are in a false economy right now with pension payouts helping pay rents and prop up businesses.
But that can’t last.
This problem will be exacerbated by the government’s promise not to reduce the civil service or the salaries of civil servants whilst running and increasing monthly deficit, currently at $25 million.
No one underestimates the threat still posed by the coronavirus. But other islands, from Singapore to Bermuda, have shown that it is possible to have a safe reopening.
The island distinguished itself internationally through its handling of the pandemic. It can do so again by pioneering the safest resumption of tourism of any destination in the world. That journey needs to start now.
Counterpoint – The case for keeping the borders closed
If Cayman saw increased community transmission of COVID-19 and had to once again lock down, the economic and societal consequences would be far more significant than those faced should the borders remain closed.
Nowhere is the virus more prevalent than the Americas region, according to the World Health Organization.
The United States has more total cases than anywhere else on earth and reported the second-most new cases over the last week, trailing only India.
Most of Cayman’s visitors come from or through North America. This is a major concern.
Just last month, a person was released from quarantine here only to find out they had tested positive for COVID-19.
Another person, who had not registered on Travel Time, was allowed to enter Cayman on a British Airways flight. If these protocols are not being strictly followed now while the borders are closed, imagine the risk when borders reopen.
Even if protocols are strictly followed, COVID-19’s incubation period is long and PCR tests don’t always weed out those carrying the virus.
Cayman’s economic situation is dire. People are hurting. But should COVID-19 begin to spread again in Cayman, that would signal the swan song for even more businesses. The little bit of local revenue seen over these last few months would vanish. A broader reopening would be pushed even further back.
So what does that do for the economy right now? Admittedly, not much. Government, however, continues to make funding available for those out of work and for businesses suffering major losses. With a new credit line in place, we hope the programmes providing that funding continue.
In the long run, keeping visitors out will keep those of us living in Cayman safer. That will result in a healthier, more robust economy for the long term.
We should keep our borders closed until the rest of the world is able to contain the virus. If not, we face the prospect of another round of suppression measures that could cripple the economy and Cayman’s community.
If there is no reopening, government will ultimately exhaust its credit line and it will not be able to continue to support those who need it for very long.
If this continues, government will also not be able to support the large civil service. They will need to adjust expenditure to the new level of revenue, and business owners directly or indirectly relying on the tourism sector will need to shut down or try to reinvent themselves. A new plan for a significantly contracted economy will be needed.
Therefore, while the Compass understands the need to keep the virus from spreading in Cayman, we believe the time is now to start reopening the borders in a significant way, allowing our tourism sector – and economy as a whole – to heal.