The Cayman Islands government has revised the date for when it hopes the islands will reach the 80% vaccination rate, from 9 Sept. to 14 Oct.
With the original target date just two weeks away, the fully vaccinated rate in Cayman is currently at 69%, a rate that has not increased since 13 Aug.
The government’s original reopening plan, announced by Premier Wayne Panton in early July, involved a limited return of tourism by 9 Sept., when phase 3 of the plan gets under way, contingent on reaching the 80% target.
Panton, speaking at a press briefing today, said phase 3 will go ahead as planned, even without reaching the 80% target.
He pointed out that when quarantine restrictions for vaccinated tourists are lifted on 14 Oct. – phase 4 of the plan – the risk of community transmission in Cayman will rise exponentially.
“That is the day the risk that COVID-19 will become a reality in our country significantly ratchets up,” he said, as he made a passionate appeal for residents who have not yet been vaccinated to get inoculated.
“That is the day we stop relying on our very effective and protective quarantining and testing mechanisms, and start relying on the vaccine to keep us safe from serious illness and death,” he said. “That is the date those of you who have not been vaccinated will be at an exponentially increasing risk.
“That is the date there will be a chance you cross paths with a COVID-carrying visitor at the supermarket, liquor store, hardware store, or any restaurant or church, and you may become infected and, God forbid, take the virus home to unvaccinated children, parents or grandparents. Do you really want to be perceived as being that irresponsible? COVID is real and very likely to be present when we open our borders.”
Panton said that people would need to receive their first dose of the vaccine by 9 Sept., and their second shot by 30 Sept., if the reopening plan is to go ahead as scheduled, as the vaccine becomes fully effective two weeks after the second jab.
Vaccines to expire at end-October
He stated that Cayman has 8,765 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine available, which are due to expire at the end of October. With more than 2,000 people awaiting their second dose, this means that there are enough doses for more than 3,000 others to get both their first and second shots, Panton said.
He said it was possible the UK may stop supplying free vaccines to Cayman if the country fails to use up the doses already sent.
Panton also urged private businesses to encourage their staff to get vaccinated.
Governor Martyn Roper said any doses that are not used would be wasted, as they cannot be transported to other countries, due to the cold-storage requirement for the vaccine. However, he said, with the continuation of British Airways flights, Cayman would have a reliable supply of free vaccines from the UK if the current batch runs out.
The premier said moving the 80% requirement to October had been provisionally approved by government and this would be finalised by Cabinet soon.
“I want to emphasise that you can and should still take the vaccine anytime between today and 9 September,” he said. “People ask for a go-to date, or a target date. Well, that’s it. October 14 is the target date that we are going to effectively be dropping the quarantine. And that’s when the risk that we have infected people in the country and the possibility of COVID returning to Cayman in place.”
Vaccines in the districts
Health Minister Sabrina Turner announced that from 6 Sept., buses would be visiting the various districts, bringing the vaccinations to the residents there, rather than requiring them to travel to the Owen Roberts International Airport vaccination centre.
Vaccines will also be available at MPs’ constituency offices throughout the districts, she said.
“We will be coming to your area, and we’ll be using all social media platforms in our efforts to make this possible,” Turner added.
Panton also addressed confusion over population statistics. The government in April announced that it was working with a revised population number when considering the rate of vaccinations. Previously, the population had been estimated to be approximately 65,000, but that number was increased to 71,106, meaning more people had to be vaccinated to reach the 80% target.
The premier said that even using a population figure of 65,786, released by the Economics and Statistics Office last week, Cayman had still not reached 80%, stating that close to 78% have received the first shot, and about 75% have received the second.
“In relation to that, with the Delta variant, this notion of a population target for vaccination is becoming more and more difficult to maintain… We really need to be seeking to maximise vaccine distribution and uptake, because the Delta variant, as has been indicated fairly recently, has a very high rate of contagion. Its transmissibility is very similar to measles or chickenpox. We need to have as many people as possible vaccinated.”
He stated that authorities, for now, will continue to work with the 71,106 population number, in terms of reaching the 80% target, although he acknowledged that this may change, and a final decision on the issue would be made at the end of September or early October.
In response to a question, Panton said once the borders reopen, it was likely that requirements for mask-wearing and social distancing may have to be re-imposed in Cayman.
Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan, in an update on the return of commercial air services once the borders reopen, said five major international airlines had confirmed that they were ready to resume flights to and from Cayman.
From 9 Sept., repatriation flights will no longer be the only flights allowed to come to Cayman, and the airport will be open to commercial flights. Currently, only Cayman Airways and British Airways are allowed to operate flights to and from Cayman, on a repatriation basis.
“I will provide further updates when the schedule has been finalised,” Bryan said. “The resumption of commercial flights is exciting news, and signals the restart of our tourism, and the return to normalcy within our industry.”
The tourism minister said, despite the border reopening, incoming or returning travellers would need to continue to apply to Travel Cayman to enter Cayman, until at least January 2022.