Governor Martyn Roper has said while the recent uptick in vaccinations will take Cayman closer to the goal of reopening borders, it will still take more public support to make it happen.
Roper, speaking on the Cayman Compass weekly talk show The Resh Hour on 3 June, acknowledged that people are anxious to know what Cayman’s border-reopening plan will look like, but he said the vaccination rate is the key factor in the direction that scheme will take.
He urged patience as discussions continue on the issue.
“I think we have to give the government the time it wants to work out that plan,” Roper said.
He explained that while he is involved in the border-reopening discussions, any announcement on the plan or initiatives will come from the government.
Already, he said, some possible direction on that plan has been shared with the public by Premier Wayne Panton, but nothing has been finalised.
“The premier has said publicly, a first step could well be to reduce that quarantine time for those vaccinated travellers, perhaps to five days as he said, and that’s still under discussions. So that will be the first step. But once you’ve shown that works and that hasn’t led to any sort of COVID cases or increasing COVID cases, then you can consider moving to the next step, which will be to remove the quarantine regulation completely for vaccinated travellers,” the governor said.
Cayman, he said, will get there, “it’s just not clear when and at what point and that’s still under discussion.”
Roper said this will be another step on the way to reopening fully and going back to the sort of commercial flights that residents were very familiar with pre-pandemic.
While there had been discussion about requiring a target of 70% of the population to be fully vaccinated for the reopening, Roper said that may not be the magic number for herd immunity.
“The scientists say that actually you can’t really establish a specific target for herd immunity. We don’t know whether it’s 70, 75, 80. I think the key thing is just to vaccinate as many people as possible. So, we should aim to vaccinate everybody if we can. I mean, obviously that will be difficult because there are some people who really don’t want to take it. I wouldn’t get hooked up just now on a specific target. It’s really just about trying to vaccinate as many people as possible,” he said.
The governor added that Cayman’s Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine supplies will be replenished when the next BA flight arrives around 16 June.
The total number of doses, he said, is yet to be confirmed.
“I think it is about 5,800 in a box. Whether we get one box or two boxes, that’s still under discussion. We’ll obviously be seeking advice from Dr. [John] Lee on what he needs, but given the way the vaccine rollout is going”, he said, he believes government will be looking to get from 11,000 to 12,000 doses.
No approval yet for vaccinating kids
Although Canadian and US regulators have approved the use of the Pfizer vaccine for 12-15 year olds, Roper said Cayman is still awaiting the green light from Public Health England to be able to use it for children here.
“We’re just waiting for the UK regulator to confirm it. I’ve been told we can expect that very soon and that’s really important because if we want to get the maximum number of people vaccinated… being able to vaccinate 12-15 year olds will be hugely beneficial to our overall vaccine take-up, but I also think it’s really important in public health terms,” he said.
He said COVID affects older people in a much more serious way than younger people and “thankfully, particularly children don’t seem to be affected”.
However, he pointed out that if someone contracts COVID there is the possibility of getting what is known as ‘long COVID’, which a lot of people in the UK have had.
“This is where the COVID symptoms last for many months and can be really debilitating and keep people off work. We don’t want to take that risk with our children that any of them get COVID in case they get long COVID. I think there’s a strong public health reason for us being able to vaccinate our 12-15 year olds at the moment,” Roper said.
Roper said he understood the frustration of travellers who have been impacted by ‘ghost’ BA flights; however, he said discussions are still ongoing to add more flights to Cayman.
He said Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan and his team are negotiating with BA, but right now government is waiting for confirmation before making any announcement.
“I do recognise this as really difficult, but obviously we’re negotiating with BA and we don’t have open skies. We don’t have a commercial arrangement. This is a cost-sharing arrangement with BA who are also looking at their own bottom line in terms of where they’re flying to and watching whether the US market is going to come back online for them,” Roper said.