Cayman marked one year without local transmission of the COVID-19 virus on Sunday with local health officials renewing their calls for the remainder of the population to be vaccinated.

In an audio message marking a milestone few countries have, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said as Cayman moves towards the reopening of local borders, unvaccinated, the vulnerable and elderly members of the community should consider wearing masks in indoor spaces and keeping a safe distance.

Government members Isaac Rankin, Financial Services Minister Andre Ebanks, Deputy House Speaker Kathy Ebanks-Wilks, Deputy Premier Chris Saunders and Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan. Photo: Alvaro Serey

He also stressed the need for vaccination.

“The best way you can help protect the community is to be vaccinated, because then if you’re vaccinated, the virus cannot jump from person to person so easily. And when it can’t do that, it can’t multiply and it can’t mutate,” Lee said.

How we got here

After Cayman’s first case was reported on 13 March 2020, the Cayman Islands Government, led then by Premier Alden McLaughlin, implemented and maintained controls to battle the coronavirus through strict border control and travel regulations.

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The Premier Wayne Panton-led PACT administration maintained those controls, and is working towards a phased border reopening, which he outlined last week.

“The Cayman Islands is one of the first jurisdictions to have avoided community transmission for this length of time. This would not be possible without the efforts of the government and the public working together to protect the country. We have to continue the good fight by now taking up the vaccines where eligible,” Panton said in a government statement highlighting the one-year milestone.

The statement pointed out that stringent technology-based quarantine measures and rigorous contact tracing have been vital in keeping community transmission at bay.

The Cayman Islands Government and Public Health Department launched its island-wide COVID-19 vaccination programme on 5 Jan. 2021.

As of Friday, 94,277 COVID-19 vaccinations were administered in total in the Cayman Islands.

Of those jabs, 48,764 or 69% of an estimated population of 71,100 had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Approximately 64% have completed the two-dose course.

Vaccinations must continue

Health and Wellness Minister Sabrina Turner, speaking of the vaccination programme, said, “the country as a whole should be proud. It has taken so much work and often personal sacrifice for us to reach this point where we can say we have survived a year without an outbreak or a high-risk environment”.

Since July last year, all of Cayman’s positive COVID cases have been travellers who had been isolating. On Friday, Cayman recorded one positive COVID case by a traveller.

Total coronavirus cases stand at 616, of which 612 are fully recovered.

We cannot be complacent and must remain vigilant and mindful of the potential risk of not achieving an 80% vaccination rate.”  – Health Minister Sabrina Turner

Quarantine changes have been made as vaccinations increased globally and locally, but even so Lee cautioned that there remains a risk.

“You will realize that the quarantine time for some people has gone down to five days and there is a slightly increased risk of transmission of COVID with that, so we just need to be aware and to take care of ourselves and all of our community,” Lee reminded in his audio message.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee. Photo: GIS

Turner urged all residents to remember that the battle to prevent community spread is far from over.

“We cannot be complacent and must remain vigilant and mindful of the potential risk of not achieving an 80% vaccination rate. I want to take this opportunity to remind the community that the more people are vaccinated, the higher our population’s level of protection becomes. This gives us hope that we could be celebrating another year from now,” she said.

Lee added, “We are witnessing that vaccinations reduce the impact of COVID-19 on public and community health around the world, adding to the body of real-world evidence of their effectiveness. This is vital as we seek to find ways to reduce travel restrictions.”

People wait on seats at the airport clinic after being vaccinated on Saturday, 8 May. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

Over 3 billion vaccine doses have been given globally, with more than 900 million people now fully vaccinated, the statement said, adding that “experts agree the risk of serious side effects from vaccinations remain far smaller than its benefits.”

Governor Martyn Roper said he was very proud that Cayman has reached this landmark achievement and thanked the whole community for their “outstanding efforts” in getting there.

“I strongly support the Government’s campaign to encourage the public to get vaccinated to protect themselves and the wider community. Our vaccination rate compares well internationally, but we still have some way to go. As we re-open the border, it is vital that we get even more jabs in arms so we can re-open with confidence,” he said.

Listen to Dr. Lee’s message here:

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