Developments in rapid testing and progress on vaccine research provide reasons for hope amid the gloom as England goes into a second national lockdown, Governor Martyn Roper said this week.
British MPs voted on Wednesday to approve a four-week lockdown, with pubs, restaurants and shops shutting their doors from Thursday.
All but essential travel is banned for the next month in an effort to prevent a deadly second wave of the virus from overwhelming the National Health Service.
Roper, the UK’s representative in Cayman, said in an interview with the Cayman Compass that he was in daily contact with the Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office about the unfolding situation in the UK.
He said the aim of the strategy was to reduce the ‘r rate’ of the virus (the average number of people who will be infected by one COVID-positive person) to the point where the number of new cases started to come down.
Roper believes British Airways flights, currently scheduled fortnightly between London and Owen Roberts International Airport in George Town, will continue. He said the UK rules don’t prevent students, Caymanians or permanent residents from coming back to the island.
Travel from Cayman, which is effectively COVID-free, to the UK is also still possible despite the restrictions, he said.
Cayman Islands representative to the UK and Europe, André Ebanks, confirmed on 4 Nov. that following discussions with the Foreign and Commonwealth Development Office, BA flights scheduled for 5 Nov. and coming weeks will not be affected.
The transatlantic flights also bring a large amount of freight from the UK to Cayman and Roper believes they will remain commercially viable for BA, even with a reduced passenger load.
The Governor’s Office organised the first air-bridge flights during the initial COVID crisis and Roper said his office was available to assist if needed, although the flight schedule and arrangements are being handled by government and the airline.
He acknowledged the UK’s decision to go into lockdown could slow the hoped-for return of weekly flights between the UK and Cayman.
Under the UK lockdown restrictions, which commenced Thursday, people cannot travel internationally or within the UK, unless for work, education or other legally permitted exemptions, the British government has said.
Cayman’s UK Office confirmed the newly enacted lockdown measures permit essential international travel, similar to the spring/summer lockdown.
The four-week UK lockdown was part of new COVID-19 restrictions implemented by the Boris Johnson-led government. The proposed measures were passed in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon, with 516 MPs voting in support and 38 opposed. The month-long lockdown, Johnson said, will end on 2 Dec.
While things look bleak in Europe right now as new restrictions come into force, the governor believes there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“The whole of Europe is going through a tough time. One of the things we can be positive about is the developments in testing and vaccines,” he said.
A new pilot project will see everyone in the northwestern city of Liverpool get regular COVID-19 tests.
It is hoped that the strategy – involving new rapid tests – will help prevent the spread of the virus through the early detection of cases.
“Dependent on their success in Liverpool, we will aim to distribute millions of these new rapid tests between now and Christmas, and empower local communities to use them to drive down transmission in their areas,” Johnson said this week.
Cayman has already successfully used testing to get the virus under control within its borders.
Roper believes rapid testing and vaccine breakthroughs represent the best chance of a return to normalcy.
“There are positive developments on vaccines,” he said. “We are not there yet and there is an element of uncertainty in these things, but the UK has a guaranteed supply from a number of different vaccines.”
He said Overseas Territories Minister Baroness Liz Sugg had confirmed that the Overseas Territories, including Cayman, would be included in the initial roll-out of any vaccine.
Roper acknowledged there was some scepticism about vaccines, but said he was reassured that the right checks and balances were in place to ensure public safety.
“We will have to get the message across clearly that these vaccines will be safe. It is not going to be a total solution, but once a lot of people are vaccinated it will reduce the risk of the virus spreading.”