Premier Alden McLaughlin urged everyone in Cayman to “do our duty” and take the COVID-19 vaccine to help the islands return to normalcy.
After receiving his jab Thursday morning, the premier addressed the country in a televised press conference, emphasising that the vaccine was safe and was the only realistic route out of the challenges posed by a pandemic.
At the briefing, McLaughlin also announced that pre-arrival testing for people coming into Cayman would be required from 14 Jan. All arrivals will be required to produce a negative PCR COVID-19 test, taken no more than 72 hours prior to the departure of their flight.
He urged people to ignore the doubters spreading misinformation about the vaccines and said Cayman’s residents should come together – as they had done during lockdown – to get immunised for the good of the country.
“We have to come together and do the right thing and get vaccinated and cure this virus,” he said.
The premier said Cayman’s leaders had “led from the front” by publicly getting their jabs on national television Thursday morning.
“I assure the public, the vaccine is safe,” he said. “We did this because it is our duty to do so.”
By the end of March, the premier said, enough of the islands’ population could be vaccinated for some travel and tourism to resume.
But he said that would only be possible if everyone did their part.
“Those of us who can, should take the vaccine.”
The aim is to vaccinate 70% of the adult population in Cayman, he added.
He said the commitment of Cayman’s people in following the rules had helped the islands remain relatively COVID-free and return to a sense of normalcy within these borders. But he said Cayman was essentially in a “holding pattern” and could not maintain its bubble indefinitely. He said it would take the same commitment from the people, to get vaccinated, and ensure the borders could reopen.
“We need similar resolve and unity of purpose in taking the vaccine to deliver us the rest of the way,” he said.
The premier thanked the UK government for providing the vaccines free of charge and said Cayman’s relationship with the mother country had paid massive dividends.
Governor Martyn Roper, who also got the jab Thursday morning, said the next set of vaccines would be arriving in the coming weeks.
He added, “Despite the current challenging situation in the UK, the UK is fully committed to supplying vaccines to the Overseas Territories.”
He said Cayman had been the first of the territories to receive the vaccine.
The governor encouraged people to ignore social media misinformation and to rely on credible sources.
“When you look at the facts objectively, the case for taking the vaccine is very strong to protect yourself and the elderly and vulnerable,” he said.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said the strategy was to protect the elderly and vulnerable first, as well as healthcare workers. Once those people are vaccinated and safe from COVID-19, he said, government would be in a position to consider easing travel restrictions.
The current plan is to vaccinate residents and staff of care homes, individuals over 70, healthcare workers and first responders and frontline staff dealing with travel in the first tranche of vaccinations. Next will be adults over 60 with ‘relevant health status’ and then essential government workers.
Stage 2 of the national vaccination plan will focus on people aged 16-60 with ‘relevant health status’, those living with people vaccinated under stage 1, and essential workers, including school staff.
In stage 3, the vaccine will be open to the wider public.
Vaccinations have already begun for healthcare workers and will continue tomorrow at the Health Services Authority Flu Clinic. Some will go to the Sister Islands next week.
Lee said senior doctors and politicians had been included in the first stage of vaccinations as a demonstration of confidence in the safety of the jabs, which he said had now been taken by 16 million people globally.
He acknowledged there was still doubt over whether someone who had been vaccinated could carry and pass on the virus. What is certain, he said, is that the vaccine provides protection to those who take it.
“The aim is to provide protection to our most vulnerable,” he said. “Once those vulnerable people in the community have been afforded that protection, we can consider (easing) travel restrictions.”
It won’t be mandatory to take the vaccine, Health Minister Dwayne Seymour confirmed.
New, more transmissible strains of the COVID-19 virus has led Cayman to introduce a requirement for pre-arrival testing for travellers coming on island.
The premier announced that, from 14 Jan., all arrivals, aged 10 and over, will be required to show evidence of a negative PCR COVID-19 test, taken within 72 hours of their flight’s departure.
“Given the new highly transmissible strain of the SARS COVID 2 virus discovered in the UK and more recently in other countries, this added testing requirement aims to reduce the potential of a surge of cases in these islands,” McLaughlin said.
He said airlines would check that passengers could provide evidence of a negative test. If they failed to do so, the airlines would refuse to allow them to fly, he added.
“Cayman Islands Customs and Border Control officers will also require documented proof of a negative test,” he said. “A paper copy is recommended but an electronic copy is acceptable.”
The local tourism industry has been pushing for government to introduce pre-arrival testing.
McLaughlin also said government is not considering a reduction in UK flights, even though some countries have already moved to ban UK travel as a result of the new strain.
“What we are looking at is how we can continue to ensure the safety of the community while allowing the traffic between, not just between Cayman and the UK, because UK people do not just come to Cayman, they go all over the world. This strain is in the United States, it is in other places,” the premier said.
He added, “What we have to look at and we are looking at is ensuring we have the measures in place and the infrastructure in place to continue to keep the community safe. Therefore, this heightened level of requirements.”
Health officials acknowledged last year that the majority of travellers testing positive for COVID-19 were found to have the virus when they were tested immediately after arrival at Owen Roberts International Airport.