Cayman’s March border reopening appears to be off the table.

Premier Alden McLaughlin said last week that government has no specific timeline when it comes to unlocking Cayman’s borders.

“With the arrival of new COVID-19 strains and concerns over how much protection the current vaccines will offer against these new variants, it has become increasingly challenging to develop a firm timetable to get the Cayman tourism economy up and running again,” McLaughlin explained as he addressed the Chamber of Commerce Annual General Meeting on Thursday.

Pressed on what, if any, timeline government was looking at during the roundtable discussion following his address, McLaughlin admitted there was none.

“The goal that we had was always contingent upon getting enough people vaccinated and that, I think, is what we all need to start thinking about,” McLaughlin said, as he responded to questions on the reopening.

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Even in his speech, he was careful to avoid giving any specific dates.

“We remain hopeful to be in a position to enjoy an improved stayover tourism high season. This will not be ‘business as usual’ but there is a real prospect that it could be ‘business as near normal’ as is possible as we close 2021 and enter 2022,” he said.

When taking questions, McLaughlin also alluded to concerns about the buy-in for vaccinations from those in vulnerable groups, especially in relation to the border reopening.

“The greater challenge, which all of us are seeing, is being able to persuade our people to take the vaccine… without that, there is, quite frankly, no way to reopen safely as all around the world is constantly demonstrating to us,” he said.

From left, incoming Chamber of Commerce president Michael Gibbs, Premier Alden McLaughlin and outgoing president Woody Foster during the Chamber’s Annual General Meeting.

Previously, the premier had indicated that government was looking at a March reopening provided that sufficient numbers of the local population, in particular the more vulnerable groups, were vaccinated.

The proposed figure was 65%-70% of the population to effectively create herd immunity.

As of Friday, 7,853 people in Cayman had received the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. This included 289 people who have received their second dose of the vaccine. A new shipment of 9,750 doses arrived on Thursday.

McLaughlin said the Economic and Statistics Office had indicated that there are about 2,250 people over 80 years old in Cayman and just fewer than 10,000 aged over 60.

“So those are achievable numbers with the volumes we have of the vaccine, even [with] what we have now, if we can just get people to take it… [F]urther, any reopening plan is absolutely contingent upon getting at least 90% of your vulnerable population vaccinated,” he said.

McLaughlin, in his address, said government “must continue as best we can to balance the risks and make well-informed judgements about the future pace of re-opening”.

“Given concerns with new strains detected in travellers coming to Cayman, we must reassess. My caucus and Cabinet are awaiting updated information on our current vaccination programme and the situation with COVID-19, including the new strains, and the impact these have on plans to reopen the border,” he said, adding, “Whilst we need to consider how best to further open up, any decisions taken will be done with safety and public health as a major consideration.”

Government, he said, remains committed to finding a way to reopen safely despite the new challenges that seem to be “changing weekly”.

The premier said the changing circumstances surrounding the pandemic call for flexible planning.

Citing countries in the region which opened their borders early on, such as Bermuda and Barbados, he said “the risks of opening too soon may have negative consequences for the health of both the people and the economy if community spread restarts, forcing renewed restrictions and lockdowns”.

The premier said the lives of those in the community remain uppermost in government’s deliberations.

“We have an incredible record and one which we want to preserve, not for having the record but because it’s lives of our people that we’re talking about,” he said, during the discussion.

“No country in the world has been able to safely resume normal business and social activity,” he added, noting that vaccines offer “the only real hope”.

“If we get enough of the vulnerable people in our community vaccinated that gives us the possibility of opening safely, in the sense that very few people in our community would get really sick or possibly die as a result. So, everything really hinges on getting that [vulnerable] demographic vaccinated,” he said.

The premier contended that though questions remain about vaccinated individuals still being able to contract the virus, and transmitting it even if they do not get sick, it has been been proven that the vaccine prevents people from becoming very ill.

“So this is the reason for the great push to get as many people vaccinated as possible,” he said.

McLaughlin, commenting on the European Union/UK row over vaccine distribution, said he was not too worried it would impact local supplies.

“I really don’t think that the issue with availability of the vaccines is one that is going to be long term. There are just too many companies producing the vaccines, too many of them on the cusp of having their vaccine approved and so the current pressures on numbers available are going to go away,” he said.

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6 COMMENTS

  1. In my mind the vaccination goal should be 100% of those who want it, not 90% of everyone. If you choose not to receive a free vaccine then you have made your choice and the rest of us can go back to our lives safely.

  2. First and foremost there have been places that have reopened and managed things well safely. This notion of staying locked down is ludicrous considering the long term effects it will have on local population and impacting jobs. He is right there is risk….but when did life become risk free? Are we going to start shutting down every “flu” season because we realized people have had the flu less this year with out tourism? The ironic part is there will never be a “safe” time to reopen because its a virus that will spread whether we stay locked down or not. I guess if the premier thinks the country should isolate and cut it’s self off from the world then whats the point of living the way we do? All he is doing is prolonging the inevitable and that is if you want to move on with life you have to start to re-open. If you want to control and isolate your people then i hope he’s prepared for the consequences, especially considering why would companies move employees or keep offices based out of Cayman if they cant get their people in and out easily? The fact that the government today announced that it doesn’t have a plan tells us everything about the leadership of this government and failure it has accomplished that after a year we are in no different a place. They have practically completely abandoned the tourism employees and true Caymanians who deserved better from their government since the government slammed the door on their livelihoods. Yet, somehow he knows better. Just my two cents.

  3. Seems no real decision can be made re folks wanting to travel to the Island who have already taken the vaccines and also test negative and willing to take another test upon arrival. Seems decisions are made then overturned regularly on an ongoing basis. Kinda wishy washy. Don’t know what more visitors can do to prove that they are safe and want others to be safe as well. I am surprised people on the island who are suffering due to their closed businesses and no income because of the lack of visitors haven’t started to scream and shout for something to be put in place and actually carried out! There are ways now to move forward safely and measures that can be put in place to restart life safely on the island including everyone there being vaccinated and those coming in also vaccinated and negative. It just makes sense to start doing something and sticking with it so that the country can start moving again as soon as possible.

  4. Brian is right. The government has been sitting back, wringing its hands and doing very little.
    From comments I have seen in the Compass, there appear to be a number of Caymanians who don’t trust the vaccine. Additionally, they don’t see people around them getting sick and maybe a number of them feel that the government will be able to support them with stipends until it’s “safe” to open up the borders again.

    Good luck with that plan!

  5. JustAThought: How long would it take these folks that are making these decisions to come up with a plan IF their paychecks were cut off and given to the struggling Caymanian people. Why should they get paid to keep you from supporting your families? I’m guessing the island would open by March 1.