Premier Wayne Panton has unveiled a five-phase reopening plan for Cayman’s borders that could see a limited return of tourism by September and a full easing of restrictions for vaccinated travellers and their children by mid-November.
Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce legislative luncheon Thursday afternoon, Panton said a safe and successful reopening was essential to Cayman’s economy.
He said transition through all phases of the plan is dependent on monitoring by public health officials.
The premier said the dates outlined in his presentation were contingent on getting as close to the vaccination target for the local population as possible.
Phase 2 of the proposed plan announced by the premier, which comes into effect from 9 August, sees the removal of GPS monitoring for vaccinated travellers and the introduction of weekly testing for unvaccinated frontline workers.
Phase 3 could then see limited tourism return from 9 September. A set of information slides released by government to accompany the speech indicates that this phase is “subject to the achievement of an 80% vaccination rate”.
At that point, the premier said tourism would be restricted through a flight ‘slot management system’ to limit the number of people arriving, and allow government and industry to build capacity for dealing with visitors in the new environment. A five-day quarantine requirement will remain in place at this phase but the restrictions on non-essential travel will be lifted.
Phase 4, slated for 14 October, would see quarantine requirements removed for all vaccinated travellers, and phase 5, scheduled for 18 November, would mean children under 12 could travel with vaccinated adult tourists.
Subject to an assessment of the local and international COVID-19 situation, further relaxations of travel restrictions, including the possible reintroduction of cruise tourism, will be considered from 27 January next year.
“Nothing is of greater importance to me and my government than the wellbeing of our people,” Panton said Thursday.
“We have spent weeks deliberating and seeking to strike the right balance. And we believe that, in this plan, we have a roadmap to the safe and successful reopening of our economy, to tourism.”
He said the schedule outlined in the presentation represented a best-case scenario and would need to be amended if there were setbacks, such as an outbreak of local transmission of COVID-19.
“Our goal is to locally manage the risk of transmission and prevent individuals from becoming seriously ill by maximising vaccination rates, and continued surveillance testing through each phase,” he said.
The trigger for “public health intervention” will be two non-related community clusters, requiring hospital admission, Panton said.
He also warned the community may need to get used to the reintroduction of some restrictions, as the threat increases with the return of visitors.
“We may have to wear masks. There will be regular testing of those on front lines, and possibly some dialling back or public health limits,” he said.
Panton emphasised that no country has yet reopened its borders without going back into some form of lockdown.
“Given a patient and careful approach to COVID, we have the opportunity to be the first,” he said.
Chamber president: Safe reopening vital
Chamber of Commerce president Mike Gibbs, speaking earlier at the luncheon, said setting a firm date for reopening was vitally important to the Cayman Islands economy.
He said the “safe reopening of the borders” was the topic at the forefront of the minds of most members.
Gibbs added that it would be “disastrous to the economy” and, in particular, to the many small businesses who have struggled to survive over the past year, if the industry was to miss another high season.
He acknowledged a decision on reopening was fraught with challenges and was “no easy task or decision” for Cayman’s leaders. He said there was also an opportunity for the industry to recalibrate, and endorsed efforts being made to recruit more Caymanian people to careers in tourism.
On the Chamber’s broader advocacy agenda, he said the top issues raised by members included access to and cost of qualified labour, cost of construction materials, education reform, sustainable development, land and housing prices, affordable rental properties and pension and health reform.
Gibbs added that the importance of the financial services sector had been shown during the pandemic, with the industry propping up the economy in the absence of tourism. He said the Chamber wants to work with government to lobby for the sector and address “misinformation in the global community”.
Gibbs concluded, “We stand ready and willing to work with the new government, as we develop strategies for continued success of all residents and businesses that call Cayman home.”