Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart said government’s planned reduction in the mandatory quarantine period for vaccinated travellers is ‘downright dangerous’ when Cayman is yet to reach the herd immunity threshold.
McTaggart, in a statement Thursday in response to Premier Wayne Panton’s announcement, at the government press briefing on Wednesday, that the quarantine period for vaccinated travellers was being cut from 10 days to five, said the Opposition disagrees with the change ahead of Cayman vaccinating at least 75% of the population.
“We have seen travellers test positive for Covid-19 after 15 or longer days in quarantine. When in Government, we considered this as an option and ruled it out because we did not believe it prudent or safe until we had sufficient numbers of people vaccinated. I hope the Government understands the risk,” McTaggart said in his statement.
On Wednesday Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee confirmed five fully vaccinated travellers, over three months, had tested positive for COVID-19.
New quarantine period not good for business
McTaggart said, in the statement, a five-day quarantine period will do nothing to bring visitors to Cayman as “tourists are not going to want to spend half of their 10-day vacation in quarantine”.
At present, only essential travel is allowed in Cayman, a point Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan reiterated at Wednesday’s press briefing.
Despite this, McTaggart said, the new reduced quarantine period will further strain local businesses surviving on the domestic economy.
“A reduced quarantine of 5 days will encourage residents to travel over the summer, thus further injuring local businesses relying on local spending to remain open. We believe that staycations, dinners, lunches and nights-out by residents will be severely affected by the reduced quarantine period,” he said.
On Tuesday, McTaggart and his Opposition team held a press conference calling on government to announce its reopening plan and set a target date to unlock the borders.
He proposed 1 Sept. as a realistic target based on published vaccination statistics.
However, at Wednesday’s briefing Panton said that the figures had changed as new population estimates put the projected 70% vaccination target further away than initially thought.
The premier said the revised population is now 71,100, which is about 6,000 more than the number the government had been using to calculate vaccination percentages.
This means, he said, the goal for herd immunity is to have 70% (49,770 people) to 80% (56,880) of the population vaccinated. Currently 39,090 people have received a full dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, or approximately 55% population. He said government was looking to a mid-September reopening.
McTaggart, however, said even with the new population estimate, government can still work toward a 1 Sept. date for unlocking the borders.
“When we were in Government, and now as Opposition, we have consistently said that the key to re-opening the borders safely is to get between 75% – 80% of our people vaccinated. So, we do not disagree with the current Government on this point. However, we believe that we are sufficiently close to getting 75% of our people fully vaccinated that the Government can and indeed should announce a firm re-opening date,” he argued.
The 1 Sept. target, he said, “will give businesses a date to gear up to welcome tourists back and will also spur unvaccinated residents to get vaccinated. Without a firm re-opening date by September, we will likely lose the winter season as potential visitors will seek alternative destinations for their holidays. Indeed, there are already indications that it is happening.”
He added the Opposition was relieved government announced the continuation of both the pension holiday and the tourism stipend.
However, he questioned how the Minister of Tourism can agree with the Opposition that the stipends are needed and that cruise tourism is unlikely to resume this year “yet go on in the same breath to announce that he will cut the stipend payment to $750 per month in November. That is both illogical and heartless.”
McTaggart, who was the former Finance Minister under the Progressives-led government, maintained that the monthly tourism stipend should be increased to $2,000 through the rest of this year.
“The Government should have, as we had planned to, convened Finance Committee in early May and sought additional funding to extend and increase the necessary Covid-19 relief programmes,” he said. “They deliberately chose not to do so. They can still do so next month and can be assured of our support. We must continue to help our people through this crisis.”
He urged government to provide details “sooner rather than later” on their reopening plans for tourism.