Premier Wayne Panton has described the UK’s decision to keep the Cayman Islands on its amber travel list as ‘unfair’.

In a statement, Panton said when Cayman was first placed on the amber list last month, he wrote to UK Secretary of State for Transport Grant Shapps, outlining “Cayman’s amazing record of remaining free of COVID for 327 days and the fact that we now have the ability to do genome sequencing to identify variants in positive COVID results”.

Panton said the government would continue its push to get Cayman on the green list when it is reviewed again in three weeks.

“This is an unfair situation; yet we remain optimistic, but because it is a political decision the outcome is obviously hard to predict,” Panton said.

Fears over a COVID-19 variant impacting the planned lifting of the UK’s lockdown later this month led to the British government’s decision not to add more countries and jurisdictions to its green travel list.

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Despite hopes that the Cayman Islands and a number of other places would be moved from the amber list to the quarantine-free green list in the UK government’s first review of the ‘traffic-light’ categories, the only change to the green list was the removal of Portugal, which will go into effect 8 June.

Governor Martyn Roper, in a statement, said that like many in the local community, he was “very disappointed that Cayman, along with all Overseas Territories in the region, will for now remain on the amber list”.

He said the UK government had taken the political decision not to add any countries or territories to the green list because of an increase in COVID cases in the UK due to the Delta variant (also known as Indian variant).

“Over the last three weeks,” he said, “my office has provided lots of information to the UK Department of Transport on Cayman’s Covid policies, vaccine uptake and our recently acquired capacity to undertake genomic sequencing used to detect variants of concern.  The Premier wrote to UK Ministers. I have personally raised this at senior levels in the UK.

“We have set out a compelling case as to why Cayman should be green. I recognise it is hard to understand why we are not green. I very much hope that happens at the next review in 3 weeks and we will continue to urge that outcome. As we have now started (as of 3 June) to demonstrate our genomic sequencing capability, that strengthens our case even more.”

He added that the decision reflected on the British government’s “great caution about international travel and the extremely difficult challenge the UK faces in managing the risks from Covid. It is no reflection whatsoever on Cayman’s outstanding Covid response.”

Shapps, in a televised statement this morning, said infection rates in Portugal had nearly doubled since it was added to the list.

He added that there is also “a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected, and we just don’t know the potential for that to be a vaccine defeating mutation”.

Shapps said the UK was taking a “safety first approach” because it “simply did not want to take the risk” of the variant preventing England from lifting lockdown restrictions on 21 June.

He said Britons should not be travelling to amber-list destinations except in emergencies.

A screen grab of Transport Secretary Grant Shapps speaking on 3 June.

British Airways, with the cooperation of the Cayman Islands and British governments, has been operating fortnightly repatriation flights between Grand Cayman and Heathrow since last year.

Anyone arriving in from amber-list locations such as Cayman must take a pre-departure COVID test, quarantine for 10 days and do two PCR tests during their isolation period.

With Portugal being removed, there are now only 11 countries or British Overseas Territories on the green list. These include Australia, Brunei, Faroe Islands, Iceland, Israel, New Zealand, Singapore, Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands, and Saint Helena, Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

In the interview, when asked if more countries could be added to the green list when it is reviewed again in three weeks, Shapps responded, “We will always act the moment we have information which is relevant.”

The UK has also reportedly added seven new countries to its red list, also to come into effect 8 June – Trinidad and Tobago, Afghanistan, Bahrain, Costa Rica, Egypt, Sudan and Sri Lanka.

The UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has also confirmed there have been no changes to the green list except for removing Portugal.

Travel industry criticises UK move

The decision has been met with widespread criticism from the travel industry in Britain.

The British Airline Pilots Association, in a statement, said, “This excessive caution could be the final nail in the coffin for the travel industry which has borne the economic brunt of the COVID-19 crisis with no help from the Government.”

The association said it was concerned that official criteria for inclusion in the green list appears to have been ignored.

Those criteria include vaccination rates, infection rates, access to genome sequencing and reliable local scientific data.

BALPA’s acting general secretary Brian Strutton said in the statement, “This decision is a total disaster for the already fragile travel industry and is likely to lead to further airline failures and many more job losses.

“We understand that safety comes first, but with vaccination programmes going well in many countries, it seems the Government is ignoring the evidence and is allowing safe countries to languish in the amber and red categories for no valid reason.

“Any shred of public confidence is in tatters and the traffic light system seems stuck on red.”

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