Travellers from the US and businessowners in the local hospitality industry are querying the rationale behind Cayman making the five-day quarantine option available only to those vaccinated locally or in the UK, when vaccine certificates from other countries are accepted for the 10-day quarantine.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee has said that, currently, only those with Cayman Health Services Authority vaccination cards and people who can show their vaccination information on the UK’s National Health Services app can avail of the five-day quarantine. This is because these are the only certificates the Cayman authorities feel they can safely verify, amid concerns over fake documentation.
Incoming travellers with vaccination certificates from other countries are still required to quarantine for 10 days, while unvaccinated travellers must isolate for 14 days.
Several readers have contacted the Cayman Compass to complain about the policy of only accepting UK and Cayman certificates for the five-day quarantine, stating that certificates from the US are accepted in many countries and are also accepted in Cayman for the 10-day quarantine.
CITA questions basis for selective 5-day quarantine
Dr. Michael Tibbetts, vice president of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and owner of three dive resorts in Cayman, wrote to Lee, Governor Martyn Roper and Deputy Governor Franz Manderson over the weekend to query the basis on which local health authorities were refusing to accept non-UK or non-Cayman certificates for the five-day quarantine. He made a copy of his letter available to the Compass.
He said more than 22 countries worldwide, as well as several EU countries, have announced they will accept US vaccination certificates.
Tibbetts stated in his letter, “I simply can’t foresee that fraud should be a legitimate concern given the ease of obtaining a vaccine in the US right now (available at virtually any pharmacy with a same day appointment). This might be an issue in other countries without vaccine availability, but that can easily be addressed with restrictions on countries of origin.
“I have a US vaccination card and I must say it would take some effort to forge given the unique size, card stock and ink. This would be much harder than changing a PDF and printing it out. The truth is that any future digital vaccine passport will simply be converting a printed vaccination card into a digital one as there is no central registry of the 150M+ Americans that have been fully vaccinated.”
He said the Cayman Islands government’s policy to reject US vaccination cards for the five-day quarantine period “undermines confidence in a viable path to reopening for American travelers to Cayman”, and he asked the government to reconsider its position.
He told the Compass on Monday, “The CIG can verify US vaccination cards for the 10 day reduced quarantine but not the 5 day quarantine. How does that make sense?”
According to US News and World Report, as of 21 June, a total of 32 countries accept fully vaccinated US travellers, including Caribbean jurisdictions such as British Virgin Islands, Barbados, the Bahamas, Belize and Anguilla. Rules regarding quarantine and COVID testing for vaccinated arrivals vary from country to country, with some requiring quarantine until the results of COVID tests upon arrival are returned, while others do not require vaccinated travellers to undergo any isolation period.
Only securely verifiable certificates allowed
In an emailed response to questions from the Compass on Monday, including why the vaccination certificates were acceptable for 10-day quarantine but not for five-day quarantine, Lee sent the following statement: “There are significant global concerns around counterfeit COVID-19 documentation which every country is facing and we wish to protect ourselves from this potential threat.
“Securely verifiable documentation is something that all countries are urgently seeking to introduce, and we hope to achieve this with increasing numbers of travellers as soon as we have the technology in place to do so. This will be on a country- or system-wide basis.”
In an interview with government’s CIGTV last week, the chief medical officer elaborated on why Cayman was accepting only the local and UK certificates for the five-day quarantine option.
He said people entering Cayman who have completed the full course of the Pfizer-BioNTech, AstraZeneca, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson’s Janssen vaccines must quarantine for 10 days, unless they have received those vaccines in Cayman or the UK, as those are the only two places issuing vaccine certificates that the Cayman authorities can securely verify at this stage.
The UK’s NHS has an app that shows if a person is vaccinated, which can be presented to Customs and Border Control officers by incoming travellers, Lee said in the CIGTV segment.
“When you log in [to the NHS app]… CBC can ask you to do it in front of them so they can see you are logging in and you can demonstrate that you have been vaccinated,” he said.
He added that the NHS was producing certificates “with a lot of security features, like coloured thermochromic ink that changes with temperatures, things which would make it difficult to photocopy, backgrounds which are very difficult to reproduce. We’re also working to find out exactly what those features are and to have CBC officers trained so that they recognise that.”
He said Cayman was “working hard on apps to be able to read the secure verification, and when that comes in, it’s likely we will be able to extend, for example, that to all the European Union certificates for vaccination evidence or PCR testing”.
Lee said Cayman was working with Cerner, the healthcare information technology system that the HSA uses, to ensure that when people who have been vaccinated on island travel overseas their vaccination certifications can be verified securely, using an app or a QR code.
Noting that Cerner is a US company, he said, “We are expecting in the States, they will have a similar system for everyone that’s been vaccinated there. It might take a few weeks, we think it’ll take a short period of time rather than a longer period of time, before they can also demonstrate secure evidence of vaccination.”
Family asks why US vaccination is not verifiable
One local family got in touch with the Cayman Compass over the weekend to say they felt they had adequately provided verifiable online documentation from the US to health authorities here regarding their daughter’s vaccination status, after she was told she needed to quarantine for 10 days.
The teenager flew into Cayman from school in the US on Wednesday, 23 June, the day regulations were updated to include a five-day quarantine for people whose vaccination certificates could be securely verified. What the family did not realise at the time of booking her flight was that the Cayman Islands authorities could only verify the HSA and NHS certificates.
The family, who did not want their name published, said they had contacted Health Minister Sabrina Turner on Thursday. They said she told them if they could provide verifiable online evidence that the teen had been vaccinated, the matter would be looked into.
“That was late Thursday,” the father said. “By Friday morning, I had three items showing verification of the US vaccine.”
These included a copy of the prescription from Walgreen’s pharmacy showing the dates the daughter received her Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, as well as an email from the Board of Health in the state in which she was vaccinated, and a link to the website of Color, a healthcare technology company that has partnered with the state, which showed the girl’s inoculation information.
The teenager’s family members returned to Cayman from the US on 16 June and, because they had been vaccinated earlier in Cayman, they had a 10-day quarantine, which was due to end on Sunday, 27 June. Now, they say, they will have to remain in quarantine with her until she completes her 10-day isolation period next week.
The girl’s father said he and his wife “will have served 18 days of quarantine as fully vaxed and negative testing on arrival individuals if we don’t get the five days approved”.