As Cayman is waiting a few more weeks for the release of its border reopening plan, other travel-dependent islands are moving at different speeds to restart their tourism industries.
Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered the COVID travel advisory risk classifications of several Caribbean countries to Level 1 – the lowest risk rating.
The CDC still recommends that travellers are fully vaccinated if they travel to any of these locations, including Anguilla, Antigua, the British Virgin Islands, Grenada, St. Barts, Saint Kitts and Nevis or the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Montserrat and Cayman are also considered low risk on the CDC scale, but their borders are not yet open to tourists.
Barbados and Bermuda are classed as Level 2 (moderate risk) and the Bahamas is at Level 3 (high risk) meaning that unvaccinated travellers should avoid non-essential travel to these destinations.
Given that the majority of Caribbean islands are believed to represent moderate or high COVID-related risks, the entry requirements vary widely. Even the low-risk destinations follow different approaches in their travel restrictions.
St. Kitts and Nevis, for instance, only allows vaccinated travellers. Any tourists who enter the country have to stay in one of seven approved hotels for nine days when they are tested for COVID-19. Only then are they allowed to move freely, rent a car or participate in tours. Families with children have to stay in their accommodation for 14 days.
Anguilla, on the other hand, will not allow any unvaccinated travellers after 1 July, but has no quarantine requirements.
St. Barts was the only other Caribbean destination that required visitors to be fully vaccinated but changed its regulations on 21 June. Unvaccinated travellers now have to self-isolate for seven days. Self-isolation means that tourists are not allowed to visit restaurants and shops but can go to the beach wearing a mask.
Martinique, Guadeloupe and the British Virgin Islands mandate a seven-day quarantine for unvaccinated visitors only. Other destinations such as Barbados, Grenada and Dominica have shorter quarantine periods for vaccinated travellers than for unvaccinated ones.
Bermuda, which some in Cayman’s tourism industry have held up as an example for a travel destination that successfully opened its borders during the pandemic, recently changed its very open approach that included regular testing but no quarantine.
After a wave of 2,000 COVID cases that resulted in 19 deaths in a matter of six weeks in April and May, Bermuda now has a 14-day quarantine for unvaccinated visitors, while vaccinated travellers must to submit to the old regime of regular tests on days 4, 8 and 14.
Almost all Caribbean countries require PCR tests within certain timeframes prior to arrival, irrespective of the vaccination status.
In the Bahamas, the BVI and Puerto Rico, only unvaccinated travellers have to submit negative test results before they depart, whereas the island of Saba limits PCR tests to travellers from high-risk countries.
The Dominican Republic does not require prior test results unless visitors come from Brazil, South Africa or India. Instead, tourists are subjected to a body temperature check at arrival and a random number of travellers – between 3% and 15% – must take a breathalyser test, which authorities say is designed to indicate a recent infection from the virus. Arrivals who test positive must go into quarantine, where they are regularly tested.
All Caribbean destinations have some form of pre-registration and travel authorisation process prior to departure.
The BVI and Turks and Caicos demand, as part of this, proof of medical insurance that covers COVID. To visit Aruba or the Bahamas, visitors must buy the locally-offered travel or health insurance before departure.
Few destinations in the Caribbean have outlined plans for the further easing of restrictions based on vaccination rate targets.
In Cayman, Premier Wayne Panton indicated that opening plans will almost certainly be tied to most of the population being fully vaccinated. Panton last week stated a herd immunity target of 80% but said the number may be slightly lower than that depending on the medical advice that government receives.
Based on new population estimates, currently 67% of Cayman residents have had one vaccine shot and 60% are fully vaccinated.
If we look further afield to Hawaii, the US state is one comparable example for a group of islands that introduced a tier system based on vaccination targets that will ultimately lead to the lifting of COVID restrictions.
Hawaii is a popular destination for US travellers, which is also the main source market for the Caribbean, including Cayman.
Until recently, travel to the islands was not only restricted from other US states but also between the islands themselves.
The ‘Safe Travel’ programme that screens arriving travellers began last October but many counties in the state opted for more rigorous restrictions with quarantine or more testing in addition to a pre-arrival test.
On 1 June, all tests on arrival were abolished and, on 15 June, all restrictions on interisland travel were lifted.
Once the vaccination rate reaches 60%, out-of-state arrivals who have been fully vaccinated will no longer need to submit a COVID-19 test before flying to the islands.
At a 70% vaccination rate, Hawaii’s ‘Safe Travel’ programme will end with no more testing or vaccination requirements for travellers.
Currently, more than 55% of Hawaiians is fully vaccinated.