Year in review: March – April

2020 YIR stories

January – February

• May – June

As the final minutes of 2019 began to tick down, people across the Cayman Islands gathered in churches, yards, public beaches and elsewhere to ring in the new year. For most, 2020 started with a bang, as brilliant displays of fireworks lit up the night sky. Little did the world know at the time that 2020 would be one year for the history books.

March

Standards in Public Life Law, regulations enacted

Cayman’s Standards in Public Life Law and its associated regulations were enacted on 1 and 2 March, respectively. The law established standards in public life, and introduced measures to prevent conflicts of interest. It also set ethical standards for elected representatives. Under the law, a Member of the Legislative Assembly who contravenes the Standards in Public Life Law can be found in contempt of the Legislative Assembly, and the assembly can order the member’s suspension from sitting and voting in the House for a certain period determined by the members.

Miller fails in Bush no-confidence bid 

North Side MLA Ezzard Miller attempted to bring a motion of no confidence against Speaker of the House McKeeva Bush following assault allegations. However, Miller was unable to get the requisite seven signatures from fellow MLAs to force a special sitting of the House, as George Town Central MLA Kenneth Bryan refused to sign. With only seven Opposition members in the House, without Bryan’s vote, Miller was unable to go ahead with his efforts. The official Opposition subsequently parted ways with Bryan over his decision not to back the no-confidence efforts.

Virus fears spark panic buying

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As fears over COVID grew, people who worried that face masks, hand sanitiser, disinfectants and toilet paper would run out snapped up the products, leading to a shortage of them on the island. By 5 March, stores and pharmacies were forced to put a limit on the number of such products shoppers could purchase at one time in a bid to combat the panic buying. 

Shipping magnate Andreas Ugland passes

Andreas Ugland, the Norwegian shipping magnate and investment banker who made Cayman his home, passed away on 6 March. As well as his private businesses, Ugland, 64, was well known as a classic car collector and owner of the Cayman Motor Museum in West Bay. He was also a world-class powerboater, who owned his own racing team. He brought that passion to Cayman when he founded the Million Dollar Run offshore race.

Massive fire at landfill

A huge fire erupted at the George Town landfill on Sunday, 8 March, and blazed for four days, leading to the evacuation of Lakeside Apartments and homes on Watler Road, and the closure of part of the Esterley Tibbetts Highway. The nearby Cayman International School was also closed while firefighters tackled the inferno that was fanned by strong winds. Smoke continued to emit from the site for several days after the flames abated. 

Smith Barcadere redevelopment plan abandoned

Government announced on 11 March that it had quashed its plans to redevelop Smith Barcadere. The decision followed a ‘protest picnic’ in February organised by the group People for the Protection of Smith Barcadere and ongoing opposition from many local residents. Opponents of the proposed redevelopment challenged the plans for the popular South Church Street beach, which included a parking lot, an arch at the beach entrance, walkways, additional bathroom blocks, a security office and a timber cabana.

Cayman reports first COVID-19 case 

Premier Alden McLaughlin on 12 March announced Cayman’s first case of coronavirus. The patient, a 68-year-old male visitor from Italy, had been transferred from the Costa Luminosa cruise ship to Health City Cayman Islands on 29 Feb. after suffering two heart attacks. He tested positive for COVID-19 while at the hospital, and died on 14 March. 

On 13 March, the government banned all cruises from coming to local shores, and also announced the expansion of travel restrictions, a limit of 50 people at public gatherings, and the closure of local educational institutions. Health City Cayman Islands temporarily shut down after quarantining all medical and hospital staff that came into contact with the Italian patient who tested positive for COVID. 

Man stabbed to death in North Side

Marvin Xavier Conolly Armendare, 27, was found stabbed to death on Sunday, 15 March, at an address on Splendid View Boulevard in North Side. A 36-year-old woman was arrested on suspicion of murder.

Air travel banned

Government officials announced that commercial air travel in and out of Cayman would shut down “for three weeks” from 22 March. More than 12,500 people left Cayman in the last week before the airport closed, while just over 4,000 people, mostly returning residents and students, arrived back on island in that period. While some repatriation flights on British Airways and Cayman Airways took place, the travel ban ultimately continued until 1 Oct. when a partial reopening of the borders began. Cargo and courier flights continued to operate to keep the supply line to the islands open and air ambulance services also operated. The air ban impacted the arrival of mail on the islands.

The ban on travel and cruise ships effectively shut down the tourism industry. Government began paying tourism workers monthly stipends to help tide them over while they were out of work.

Second and third COVID cases reported

More than a week after reporting Cayman’s first COVID case, health officials confirmed two new cases of coronavirus at a press briefing on 20 March. The two positive tests involved staff members from Health City who were exposed to Cayman’s first coronavirus patient – the 68-year-old heart patient who died from complications associated with the virus.

Curfew announced

Governor Martyn Roper announced the imposition of a curfew from 9pm to 5am to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 after another two cases were confirmed. Under the regulations, from 24 March, residents had to remain in their homes during that time period unless they had written authorisation from the police commissioner. The ban on public gatherings was also hardened, so that no more than 10 people were allowed to congregate in one place at any time. Public transport was shut down, with the exception of taxis that could carry only two passengers.

Lockdown 

Cayman went into full lockdown for two and a half days, from 7pm on 25 March until 5am on 28 March, after Premier Alden McLaughlin said government had to impose 24-hour curfews because it had been unable to get co-operation from the business community for an order to shut down non-essential businesses. Government received requests for more than 850 exemptions, totalling more than 20,000 workers. From 28 March, a night-time curfew was in place from 7pm to 5am. At all times of day, public gatherings were restricted to a maximum of two people, unless they were members of a family. All non-essential businesses were required to close, unless they could operate with staff working from home. Residents were only allowed out to visit exempted businesses – like supermarkets, banks or gas stations – and there was a 90-minute-a-day allocation for people to exercise or walk their pets in groups of two or fewer.

First local transmission case reported

Health officials announced what was considered Cayman’s first case of community transmission of COVID-19 on 24 March, involving a patient at the Cayman Islands Hospital who appeared to have no recent travel history and had not been in contact with anyone who had been overseas.

Alphabet shopping days introduced

From 30 March, residents were divided up alphabetically and allocated specific days when they were allowed to visit an exempted business. Anyone whose last name started with the letters A-K could shop Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays, and those with last names starting with the letters L-Z were allowed to shop on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays.

April

Man jailed for 4 months over curfew breach

A man was imprisoned for four months on 3 April following the first criminal prosecution for breach of the coronavirus curfew. Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne said the courts had sent a “clear message” to the community that breach of curfew would not be tolerated. The commissioner said the individual, who pleaded guilty, had also been charged for other offences but the four-month sentence applied purely to the breach of curfew.

Charles Reid Dennis, founder of the legendary Durty Reid’s bar, passed away on 5 April, at the age of 79.

Durty Reid founder passes away

Charles Reid Dennis, founder of Durty Reid’s Bar and Grill, passed away on 4 April in St. Petersburg, Florida. He was 79 years old. Dennis, who grew up in Virginia, moved to Cayman in 1967. He opened Durty Reid’s in 1989 in the old Red Bay Plaza site before the bar moved to Pedro Castle. In earlier years, he worked at Ports of Call, now The Wharf, and was manager and editor of the Caymanian Weekly – which later merged with the Cayman Compass – and acted as a fictional pirate named Durty Reid Walker in the movie ‘Cayman Triangle’.

First emergency BA flight lands

A British Airways flight from London arrived at Grand Cayman’s airport on 6 April, carrying 58 Caymanian students and other residents, all of whom were quarantined for 14 days in a government-mandated facility. The plane also brought in COVID-19 tests and medical equipment, including 1,700 test kits and 200 swabs.

Airport staff unload some of the South Korean test kits at Owen Roberts International Airport on 8 April.

Cayman gets 200,000 test kits from South Korea

Cayman’s ability to carry out COVID-19 testing locally got a huge boost when it secured 200,000 PCR test kits from South Korea, at a cost of $4.4 million, enabling the Cayman Islands Hospital to be able to test up to 500 people a day. The government picked up the bill for half the cost, while local philanthropist Susan Anne Olde donated the other half. Cayman ultimately sold 35,000 of the kits to Bermuda, 20,000 to Barbados, and offered 45,000 to CARICOM and other British Overseas Territories, leaving 100,000 kits for the local population.

COVID recovery fund launched

The Dart group donated $1 million as the first contribution to a new private-sector coronavirus recovery fund, called the R3 Cayman Foundation, and agreed to add a further $4 million in “matching funding” if a similar amount could be raised in the private sector. 

Gov’t closes public beaches 

Government closed public beaches from Easter Monday in a bid to prevent people congregating in large numbers. Eight COVID cases in one day and reports of crowds of people drinking on the beach on Good Friday led the government to clamp down further on public gatherings. 

Cruise referendum off the table

Premier Alden McLaughlin said government had no plans to proceed with a referendum on the cruise port project, despite its decision to continue with a legal appeal connected to the proposed $200 million development. The premier, on 16 April, said as far as his administration was concerned, the project was effectively dead, but government was pursuing the appeal because of the legal principles at stake.

Nicaraguans stranded after flights cancelled

Some 160 Nicaraguans were left stranded in Grand Cayman after two evacuation flights scheduled to leave for Managua on 18 April were cancelled when Nicaragua suddenly closed its borders. Many of the Nicaraguans were left homeless and unemployed as they awaited the reopening of their country’s borders, but received assistance from members of the public, local charities and businesses. 

Early pension withdrawals allowed

The government announced on 20 April that Cayman Islands pension account holders would be allowed to withdraw a lump sum of $10,000 from their funds under new legislation to help them get through the coronavirus crisis. Beyond that initial $10,000 withdrawal, people were also allowed to take out up to 25% of the rest of their pension. The premier also announced there would be a six-month payment holiday on contributions to pension funds.

Bush charged with common assault, disorderly conduct

House Speaker McKeeva Bush was charged with four offences, including common assault and disorderly conduct, on 24 April, in relation to an assault on a female bar manager at Coral Beach on West Bay Road.

Former legislator Esther Ebanks passes away

Former West Bay legislator Leola Esterleen Ebanks, known as Mrs. Esther, passed away on 23 April, at the age of 74. Ebanks served in the Legislative Assembly from 1976 to 1980. While she only served one term as a legislator, Ebanks was no stranger to the Legislative Assembly, as she was married to local boxing icon and former legislator Dunstan Dalmain Ebanks.

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