Cayman’s anticipated reopening is not as close as many would hope, with recalculated population numbers showing the jurisdiction is further away from achieving the vaccination percentages needed for herd immunity.
“The challenge isn’t over,” Premier Wayne Panton said at a 16 June press briefing, during which he announced mandatory quarantine for vaccinated incoming travellers will decrease from 10 to five days starting 23 June.
In addition, the 72-hour pre-arrival PCR testing will be reinstated for all passengers.
The briefing came 24 hours after the Opposition criticised the government for its silence on a way forward for reopening the borders.
Plan in progress, numbers were off
The day before the press briefing, Opposition Leader Roy McTaggart had proposed 1 Sept. as a possible target for a phased reopening, based on previous vaccination statistics.
However, Panton said government will be cautious with its plans, based on the science.
“Our plan is based on a number of people vaccinated so that the vulnerable in our community, who can’t get vaccinated, are protected.
Once we do reopen our border, and we will, in our plan we will slowly reintroduce tourism without having thousands of people at the airport.”
Revised population vaccination stats
- Ages 12 to 16: 8.5%
- Ages 16 to 30: 66%
- Ages 30 to 40: 74%
- Ages 40 to 50: 80%
- Ages 50 to 60: 84%
- Over 60: 87%
Reopening too soon, he said, is not an option.
“We have too many examples of regional territories and countries who have tried and gotten it wrong. And the cost of that happening is worse than taking a bit longer to try to get it right,” he said.
Panton said government had asked the Economics and Statistics Office to recalculate Cayman’s population – which had been pegged at 65,000 – in the absence of up-to-date census numbers. The national survey, taken every 10 years, was postponed from 2020 to October this year due to COVID.
“This has led to a revised conclusion that there is likely around 71,100 people living in the Cayman Islands,” he said, which now means that the 39,090 people who have received a full course of the COVID-19 vaccine actually represent approximately 55% of the population, rather than the 66% calculated on a population based on 6,000 fewer people.
“The goal for herd immunity is to have 70% (49,770) to 80% (56,880) of the population vaccinated,” Panton said, adding the latest medical advice suggests that a target ratio as high as 80% of the population may be necessary to achieve herd immunity.
A new batch of 12,000 vaccine doses arrived on 16 June and the administering of second jabs has resumed.
“Using 80% of 71,100 provides a target of just under an additional 17,000 people in our population that we need to fully vaccinate. Using 70% of that population number indicates a target of just under an additional 10,000 people that need to be fully vaccinated,” Panton said.
He added that the government would present a border-reopening plan in the next few weeks; however, he declined to give a specific target date as the recalculated numbers have changed the timeline.
Cayman’s phased reopening plan will look at the reintroduction of tourism by mid-September, he said, but Panton declined to announce a specific date.
He said mid-September was targeted in part so the border reopening would not occur at the same time as the beginning of the school year.
Reopening to tourists during the slow season would also ensure that visitor numbers would be manageable, and allow for the collection of data to monitor COVID numbers. The timing would also enable Cayman to build capacity in preparation for high season, Panton said.
“Every move we make in our plan is calculated to get people back to our shores with a view to eventually removing all quarantine for all vaccinated travellers, while still requiring unvaccinated travellers to get permission to enter our borders and abide by our rules,
and to do it safely and right by our people,” he said.
During the press briefing, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee suggested that while the recalculation of population numbers could be seen as “disappointing” as this means there is more work to do, he believes the vaccination programme has done “very well” with 66% of the population having received their first dose.
Changes to protocols, stipend
Panton said government’s eventual plan will take into account increasing air traffic, differing quarantines depending on the travellers, and eventually getting to a stage of all-clear “hopefully by the end of the year”. But, he stressed, it will also involve the reintroduction of masks and social distancing when indoors.
COVID protocols from 23 June
- Mandatory quarantine dropped to five days for verifiably vaccinated incoming travellers
- 72-hour pre-arrival PCR testing reinstated
- Removal of PCR testing on arrival
- All travellers must be tested before exiting quarantine
- Non-vaccinated travellers must complete 14-day quarantine
- Mandatory weekly PCR testing of non-vaccinated frontline workers
- Residents to pay for their own stay following non-essential travel
As for now, the premier said, protocols will be updated to allow for the removal of PCR testing on arrival. All travellers must be tested before exiting quarantine, and nonvaccinated travellers will still have to quarantine for 14 days.
He added that mandatory weekly PCR testing of frontline workers who have not been vaccinated will also commence and travellers who quarantine at a government facility following non-essential travel will have to pay for their time in isolation.
Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan also emphasised that only essential travel is allowed.
He lauded the success of the vaccination drive, but announced another initiative to encourage people who haven’t received the vaccine to come forward.
Bryan said he intends to raise $100,000 in cash which will be “divided up and given away in the form of a draw, two weeks after Cayman achieves the 80% target.
“Everyone who has been fully vaccinated, and is either a Caymanian, permanent resident or work-permit holder will have the chance to win,” he said, as he appealed to the local business community to donate to the prize draw.
Bryan said the monthly tourism stipend of $1,500 will continue through October, but the payments would be reduced to $750 per month for November and December, as it is expected that by then workers would be employed as tourism resumes. This is contrary to the suggestion made by McTaggart, who called for the stipend to be increased to $2,000.