Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart took aim at the Premier Wayne Panton-led PACT government over its delay in announcing a formal reopening plan, saying a target date is needed now.
“We believe we are now at the point where we can do more than think positively about reopening the border,” McTaggart said Tuesday afternoon at an Opposition press conference as he pressed for a date to unlock Cayman’s borders.
He suggested 1 Sept. as a possible starting point for the government given that Cayman’s vaccination numbers are nearing the threshold for herd immunity.
“Our vaccination programme has gone very well since the start of the year. As of June 7th, about 72% (46,928 people) of the estimated population had at least one dose of the vaccine, while 61% (39,090 people) had both doses,” he said.
Another 10,000 people getting both vaccine shots, McTaggart said, will take Cayman past 75% of the estimated population being protected.
“Stretch this to 13,000 people vaccinated with both doses and we will get to 80% of the estimated population being protected. We are, therefore, well within reach of having sufficient people vaccinated to reopen safely and restart tourism,” he said, adding, “a largely vaccinated local population, significantly increasing vaccinations in the USA, and the effectiveness of vaccines over variants allow us to make sound decisions on reopening, certainly on reopening our airports”.
Deputy Leader of the Opposition Joey Hew said time is of the essence as further government delays will lead to visitors looking to other destinations for bookings for Christmas and high-season holidays.
The Cayman Compass reached out to Panton for comment; we are awaiting a response.
McTaggart: The country cannot wait any longer
PACT, McTaggart argued, cannot delay any more on this issue.
“I fear at this point for the restaurants that continue to suffer and the thousands of Caymanians that remain unemployed in the tourism sector. I think the longer we continue this situation now the harder it will be for businesses, that are affected by the continued closure of our borders, to survive. They are just struggling along,” he said.
He said the government should tell the public this week what their plan is as more vaccines are set to arrive on Wednesday to continue the vaccination programme.
“A September opening date provides time for vaccinations here and in the USA to increase substantially. It also allows our tourism businesses and government entities to prepare to accept tourists on the island again, including hotels hiring Caymanian staff. And it will enable airlines time to schedule flights,” he said.
McTaggart, backed by former premier Red Bay MP Alden McLaughlin, said their suggested strategy utilises the available science, as well as the advice they had while in government, and that should be guiding the policies of the new administration.
He suggested that a planned border reopening date be announced soon.
Shadow tourism minister Moses Kirkconnell agreed, saying that reopening takes planning for businesses, workers and travellers.
He said, even with the UK lockdown and variants, Cayman can look to tourism figures in the 8,000-9,000 range, but a six-to-eight-week period is needed to begin strengthening the country to prepare for tourists, even though their suggested timeframe is traditionally Cayman’s low season.
“The first thing you have to do is have somebody come here. So market to them, then you have to make it easy for them to fly here,” Kirkconnell said. “The airlines need to be involved, they need six weeks to look at how they are going to put seats back into the destination and then you have to bring them to an airport and you have to do the proper checks, social distancing… whatever the science says is the best practice at that time.”
Opposition reopening plan:
- A published planned border re-opening date of 1 Sept. 2021
- Tourists and residents arriving in the Cayman Islands on or after that date with proof they have been fully vaccinated, within guidelines set by public health, will be able to land without the need to quarantine
- Public health would need to advise on what testing requirements would be required for fully vaccinated people.
- Un-vaccinated tourists and residents would still be required to quarantine for up to 14 days with the standard regime of PCR testing now in place
McTaggart said the Opposition suggests the reopening plan remove the need to quarantine for tourists and residents arriving in the Cayman Islands on or after the 1 Sept. date, with proof they have been fully vaccinated, within guidelines set by public health.
He said public health would need to advise on what testing requirements would be required for fully vaccinated people, and un-vaccinated tourists and residents should still be required to quarantine for up to 14 days “with the standard regime of PCR testing now in place”.
With these steps, McTaggart said, Cayman can work towards gradually rebuilding the tourism sector.
He also said the tourism stipend, which now stands at $1,500, should be increased to $2,000. This higher figure was one of the Progressives Alliance campaign’s promises to tourism workers.
McTaggart, the former finance minister, said increasing the stipend would not have an adverse effect since government revenue was in a stable position thanks to the performance of the financial services industry.
McLaughlin, speaking at the press conference, said the decision the Progressives-led administration took was based on advice available to the government.
“As we have said repeatedly, we cannot continue to live in a cocoon and having now almost achieved the numbers of vaccinations that will protect the country through herd immunity, the decisions ought to be obvious and easy to make. Insist that everyone who comes here is vaccinated,” he said.
He added his administration based its decisions on “science and logic” which were greeted with resistance from certain quarters, but were proven to be the right ones for the country.
McLaughlin said there will be “little risk” of COVID being re-introduced if the vaccination numbers hit the herd-immunity target and all visitors are fully vaccinated or undergo the full 14-day quarantine.
McTaggart said his team stands ready to assist the government if needed in formulating a reopening plan. However, when asked if he had reached out to Panton, the George Town East MP said he had not.