The government has rejected calls from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association to reconsider its target to vaccinate 80% of the population against COVID-19 before launching a soft reopening of the borders to tourists.

From 9 Sept., Cayman will move to the third phase of its reopening plan, adopting an ‘Open Skies’ approach of allowing commercial flights to return here, if the islands have reached the 80% target. Until then, only repatriation flights operated by Cayman Airways and British Airways are allowed.

Premier Wayne Panton, Deputy Premier Chris Saunders and Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan spoke with CITA members at a meeting of the tourism group on Thursday afternoon.

At that meeting, at the Marriott Beach Resort, in a question-and-answer session, the government officials were asked what alternative plans were in place if the 80% vaccination target is not reached by the 9 Sept. deadline.

Panton said the government planned to stick with that target, based on expert medical advice, but acknowledged that if, by September, Cayman has not inoculated 80% of its population, “we will have to make a decision at that point as to whether or not we go with a reduced number”.

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However, he added, “Do we want to say at this point that less than 80% is sufficient? No. Why would we want to do that? I think that sends the wrong message.”

The premier said major efforts were being put into encouraging people to get vaccinated and those would continue in a bid to reach the inoculation target.

Bryan told the CITA members that a new vaccination drive would be launched shortly, after the DMS Group partnered with government to offer $100,000 for a prize draw.

CITA president Marc Langevin, at the meeting, said the 80% target appeared to be practically unachievable by 9 Sept. because of the number of children under 12 on island who cannot be vaccinated, and he pressed the lawmakers on why government would not consider making a decision on lowering the target earlier.

Panton responded that while his government understood the challenges and the “level of desperation” facing business owners and workers in the tourism industry, it would be sticking to the timeline advised by public health experts locally and in the UK “who have gotten us this far”. He said having as many people vaccinated as possible was the best defence Cayman had against community transmission of the coronavirus once the borders reopen.

Mandatory vaccines for work-permit holders

Government and Cayman Islands Tourism Association representatives address CITA members on 29 July. – Photo: Alvaro Serey

One way that the government plans to increase vaccination numbers is by mandating that expat workers who are renewing their work permits, or getting new ones, must be inoculated.

Panton said a draft of a legislative amendment for that purpose had been drawn up and was expected to go before Parliament in August.

He said the usual 28-day consultation period for amending laws could be shortened in exceptional or emergency circumstances.

“We feel that this is one of those scenarios that would justify us in giving shorter notice for the bill to amend the Immigration (Transition) Act to put in place specific requirements for vaccinations for renewals and grants of work permits,” he said.

Slowing vaccination numbers

Under the phased reopening plan announced earlier this month, the gradual reintroduction of tourism to Cayman is contingent on 80% of the islands’ estimated population, or 56,885 people, getting vaccinated.

As of 29 July, 47,472 people, or 67% of the population, had been fully vaccinated, and 49,834, or 70%, had received their first dose of the vaccine.

The rate of uptake on vaccinations has slowed down in recent weeks, following a major drive by government between 8 May and 9 June, when 14,000 people were inoculated. On Thursday, 110 people were vaccinated, with 49 getting their first dose, and 61 receiving their second, according to the latest update from government.

Pointing out that when Cayman reopens, it was inevitable that COVID-19 cases would occur here, the premier said, “If anyone feels that we think we’re not going to have infections from reopening, you’re mistaken – we will. If anyone feels we’re not going to have people sick from reopening, you’re mistaken – we will. Are we going to have deaths? It’s not impossible,” he said.

Panton added, “We have to try to maximise our chances of reopening safely and ensure that our people are as protected as possible, even those people who are taking an anti-vax position, who say ‘Under no circumstance are we getting vaccinated’. We have to try to fight that, and we feel the plan we have laid out is a rational plan, a reasoned plan, a phased plan, an effective one, which is going to deliver us in the best circumstances possible.”

Decisions on whether each phased step of the reopening process will go ahead as scheduled do not only rely on Cayman reaching the 80% vaccination target. The COVID infection rate overseas will also be taken into account, he said, stating that number of cases in the US were rising dramatically, including in the 16 states from which the majority of Cayman’s US visitors come from.

“There are things that are beyond our control that may strongly suggest we have to change plans, in the same way the last government had to make bold, strong decisions to shut down in order to protect people,” Panton said.

Check back later today for a further story from the CITA meeting regarding plans for the return of cruise ships and more airlines to Cayman.

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  1. I watched the video. I bet the tourism minister is pretty bored these days since there is no tourism. You can tell from the tone that the Deputy Premier takes here and in the Resh Hour a few days back that he is pretty happy not allowing anyone in. I would even go so far as to say smug.

    They will never get to 80%. Everyone knows it.

    They won’t accept most US vacc cards as of now for no apparent reason. Nobody is faking a vacc card to go to Cayman!

    The article mentions flights by Cayman Air and British Airways. Who can they even bring? What airline would even schedule a flight when they know nobody can board it?

    It’s all so sad for the property owners there who can’t visit, the people involved in tourism on Cayman, and their families who are suffering from zero income.

    Those vaccination numbers are laughable. 61 got their second dose on Thursday? 61?

    Why can’t the government simply respect everyone’s choices and open up? Because eventually, someday, that is what is going to happen anyways.

    We were pretty far along looking at a property in 2019 in Cayman. Thank God we didn’t buy it and now, after this hilarious and ridiculous response by the government during covid (closing the beach? there is covid on the beach?) we need not ever worry about buying one there. We may come back to visit someday, but maybe not.

  2. “but acknowledged that if, by September, Cayman has not inoculated 80% of its population, “we will have to make a decision at that point as to whether or not we go with a reduced number”.

    Well apparently there are finally cracks in the firmament. I think even they now know to defiantly stick to 80% the island will loose another high season.

  3. They need to acknowledge NOW that inoculating 80% of the population is not going to happen. Why not share the plan for what happens when the goal is not met? What happened to “transparent?” And the next question to address is how the heck will US citizens be allowed to enter with their CDC Vaccine cards? Seriously, do they truly believe there are thousands of unvaccinated US citizens faking vaccine cards to get in Cayman?

    We have no plan. If there is no plan B there is NO PLAN.

  4. So they plan to let in US citizens who received their vaccination in Louisiana – the hottest of hot zones for Delta variant surge – but not let in the most motivated US citizens from many other states who responsibly got their vaccination as soon as they were available from their local hospital or health department (long before they were available at Walmart/CVS). This reasoning is absurd, NOT based in public health, and is insulting to the vast majority of property owners/vacationers who would like to come back to Cayman ASAP! (Agree with comments above- no one is going to forge a vaccine card to try to get into Cayman!)
    I feel great pity for all of the Cayman business owners who will go under because of these unreasonable policies.

  5. Well done to the people of Cayman and therefore to its government thank you for taking the advice of your chief medical officer and sticking* to 80% vaccination level. I own property but have not been back for over a year now. Of course I miss my friends and your beautiful island but I am more concerned that everyone remain safe and that all that you have gained not come to ruin because of one moment of recklessness.
    Rev Professor Dr P.G. Kirkpatrick

  6. I am sorry for all my friends in the hospitality business, particularly the hotel and restaurant industries in Cayman. The government has put appearance over science and you will suffer. Obviously, the government doesn’t care if you are bankrupted or cease to exist at all. This 80% vaccination goal is unobtainable. The only question is: How many of you will be left when the government capitulates to reality? As a vaccinated property owner I spent three weeks in Cayman in May 2021, half of which was spent in quarantine. I won’t submit myself to this silliness again. I won’t come back until it’s over. Or maybe I’ll sell and never come back. Yeah …. it may be time to move on…..

  7. Such a simple solution is at hand = rather than focusing on the government why don’t all of you critics try lighting a fire under the individuals who hesitate to vaccinate.

    Those who are refusing to vaccinate are the problem, NOT the Premier and his staff – in reality they are actually doing the right thing for the island and its people!!!

  8. That we will get the Delta variant here is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. There are unvaccinated immigration and customs officers dealing directly with infected travelers at the airport. They will, eventually, carry it back to their families, or the grocery stores, or bars, or to coworkers.

    So, the choice is simple. Life or death. Once it gets loose here, and it will, it will be to late for the unvaccinated.

    • Catherine V, I support you 100%. Protecting the island and its people from the new variant is what’s most important. We as owners, and tourists, should be respectful of our Caymanian friends, families and workers. The island is too small and it would not take much to wipe it out.

      The individuals who whine about not being able to visit or check on their property clearly did not experience Ivan where we had to wait for years to recover. Owning on an island comes with risks and if they are not prepared to be able to deal with down times due to disasters then they never should have bought in the first place – lesson learned – and to them I say ‘please don’t just threaten to buy elsewhere, go for it’.

  9. I am starting to believe the only way for CI to open is for one of the following to happen:
    1. The financial district announces office closings since none of their staff and families can freely travel.
    2. The population in huge numbers starts protesting forcing the CIG into an embarrassing situation.
    3. The CIG checks the bank account and finds that the dollars are starting to run really low.
    4. The corona virus gets loose and makes the quarantine, vaccination verification, and isolation procedures patently absurd.

    The real irony here is that everyone can simply look at other open countries. The science is there for all to see if you have eyes. Sporting events in the US have the equivalent of the entire population of the Cayman Islands crammed into a stadium. The vaccination rates in these groups is no where near what it is in CI. So, the day that CI does open, all we will hear is the wailing, and gnashing of teeth from the coronaphobics.

    And…….nothing will happen. Absolutely, nothing. All this mental anguish, all the ruined financial lives, and yes, all the other medical casualties will be for naught.

    God help us all.

  10. other islands are managing to be open, contrary to what people are saying: there is no mass disaster there. Cayman really needs to wake up, even at 70% vaccination, things will be ok, asymptomatic people don’t transmit because of lower viral loads, check people on the way in as much as you can but there is not much more you can do, with Cayman,the cure is worse than the ‘disease’, businesses ruined, poorer as an island and a society, pls wake up before it is too late! what tourism?!