Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell announced the extension of the $1,000 monthly stipend for displaced workers in the tourism industry until June 2021.
Speaking in Parliament on Friday, he said government expects to spend another $18 million on the programme that supports tourism workers during the time Cayman’s borders remain closed and their ability to make a living is severely curtailed.
Kirkconnell said since March this year government has spent $15.6 million on tourism stipends to help bridge the salary gap for workers until tourists can return.
Initially the stipends were $600 a month but that was increased to $1,000 per month as it became clear the pandemic was not abating.
Payments this month to 2,889 qualifying workers were processed on 10 Dec. “I trust that this assistance will help to ensure that Christmas is a little brighter for our tourism workers, and will ease some of the pressure being felt due to the absence of visitors,” Kirkconnell said.
The tourism minister said government has extended the programme from January to June 2021 because “we are not yet at the stage where we can safely reopen our borders to tourists”.
While Cayman is blessed to be living in a relatively safe bubble, he said, the picture is much bleaker in Cayman’s source markets for tourism, which are re-entering lockdowns or renewing restrictions to try to limit the spread of the virus.
Yet, the national COVID-19 vaccination plan, announced by Premier Alden McLaughlin on Thursday, gives reason to be optimistic, he said.
Under the plan, the first supplies of vaccines are expected to arrive in Cayman in early January.
The United Kingdom is providing the vaccines free-of-charge.
The vaccinations will be rolled out in stages, by delivering about 3,000 doses per week based on current resources.
The first people to receive the vaccine will be healthcare workers and institutional residents, followed by frontline customer-facing staff working at the ports, and then people over the age of 60 and those suffering from conditions putting them at increased risk.
“The ability to be immunised against this highly contagious virus is the game-changing equaliser the world has been waiting for,” Kirkconnell said.
Having a vaccine will enable Cayman to safely reopen and rebuild the tourism industry, he added.
Announcing the vaccination plan, McLaughlin said based on the planned roll-out of vaccines and how well officials are able to convince the population to get vaccinated, government may be able to contemplate opening Cayman’s borders by March.