Cayman’s lawmakers have approved $40 million in funding for Cayman’s COVID-19 plans and UK-Cayman air-bridge flights.
The funding was part of an overall package of additional money for which government sought Legislative Assembly approval in the current meeting of the House.
Finance Minister Roy McTaggart had presented the supplementary appropriations, which included the $40 million for COVID-19, as well as $500 million to cover a $330 million line of credit and the capacity to borrow an additional $170 million. It was approved in Finance Committee Thursday night after days of combing through the numbers.
On Friday, McTaggart tabled the report from the Finance Committee on the supplementary appropriations. Lawmakers later passed the bill for the funding.
Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking in the Legislative Assembly Friday, outlined government’s COVID-19 response since the pandemic touched local shores in March.
The premier said that although Cayman is in a better place than many countries, “we are nowhere near out of the proverbial woods just yet”.
He said government understood that Cayman cannot stay closed forever, but reopening the borders would have to be done safely.
“We shall be careful in how we open up,” he said, as he acknowledged that the islands will have to accept some level of risk in those efforts.
He said he believed the steps taken and decisions that were made have put Cayman in the position it is in now, where the vast majority of new positive COVID cases are only being found in arriving passengers, while other countries struggle with community-transmission cases and return to lockdowns.
He said he was aware that businesses have been hurting, but said things are looking up in the domestic economy.
“Cayman’s recovery, make no bones about it, will be a long-term project,” he said, adding that it has already started. The country, he said, will have to chart a new course back to economic prosperity.
“It will involve difficult decisions. There will be problems along the way, but we will get there and we will get there together,” McLaughlin said.
The premier said he anticipates the return of commercial flights from airlines other than Cayman Airways and British Airways, but did not give a timeline for this.
“To date, over 3,000 people have arrived home on the repatriation flights, and 7,460 people, including over 1,600 Caymanians, have departed these shores. I am told that included in the arrivals are 1,307 Caymanians, 1,226 residents, and 225 visitors who have arrived so far this month,” he said, adding the repatriation flights will continue for the next few months.
“But we do anticipate that, over time, other airlines will also fly in, as CAL and BA move back to commercial flights, with necessary safeguards in place,” he told legislators.
Government, he said, is still mulling suggestions for the creation of both resort and private-villa bubbles.
Visitors to these proposed bubbles, he said, would also be tested on arrival and their health watched while here.
“Staff, too, would need to be tested periodically. But for this to work as a true ‘bubble’, it would mean that staff would need to remain at the resort as well, away from their families and friends. This is not an easy ask and has been but one of the challenges, and there are others, in considering this option,” he said.
As for stand-alone villas which are often self-sufficient homes with beaches, he said these too have some risks.
“But, like the hotel ‘bubble’ concept, government has not ruled that possibility out,” he said.
COVID-19 spending questioned
Financial Secretary Kenneth Jefferson, in presenting the $40 million funding details for the COVID-19 response Thursday night, said $5.2 million has been budgeted for future costs for managing isolation facilities and a further $5.9 million for testing and other expenses.
In response to a question from George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan, Jefferson said $5.9 million is the amount that may be incurred by Health Services Authority testing of arriving travellers up until the end of December.
If any of approved funds are not utilized by that date the approved money will carry over into 2021.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Alva Suckoo queried the status of local PCR testing supplies, which HSA CEO Lizzette Yearwood said remains sufficient.
“We have 99,000 that [are] still unused,” she said, adding that those will expire in April 2021.
Suckoo questioned whether the HSA was considering purchasing rapid tests or more updated tests.
“This is something that we’re monitoring on an ongoing basis,” Yearwood said. “We’re actually looking to see the projected number of flights … to anticipate how many [test kits] we’re going to be using, but we do have suppliers where we can get additional kits, different types of kits.”
She said the HSA is also exploring using kits that have quicker turnaround times.