Government allocates another $28.5 million for COVID mitigation

Parliament’s Finance Committee approved an extra $28.5 million on Wednesday to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and pay for mitigation measures including testing.

The figure covers $10.57 million in costs already incurred this year until 23 July, and $17.9 million expected to be spent by 31 Dec.

So far, many of the costs have been carried by the Health Services Authority, including for tests administered by Doctors Hospital.

Doctors Hospital is carrying out the PCR testing of travellers quarantining in government isolation facilities, while the HSA does the tests of those isolating at home. In addition, Doctors Hospital is screening frontline healthcare workers.

Until mid-July, the private hospital was paid $2.2 million, with another $2.7 million earmarked for tests to be administered by the facility until the end of the year.

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Lizzette Yearwood, CEO of the Health Services Authority, told Finance Committee that at the start of the pandemic, the HSA was not prepared to meet the demand for PCR testing and Doctors Hospital stepped in.

The private hospital is paid $150 per test for its services.

Health City Cayman Islands is paid $75 for each test carried out there, but these tests are different and not used for exit testing, Yearwood explained.

The HSA CEO said the chief medical officer and medical officer of health are looking at sourcing lateral flow test kits, which are cheaper and can be self-administered, because with the borders reopening more people will need to be tested.

The Health Services Authority also incurred $4.5 million in additional staffing costs in relation to the pandemic.

Most of those costs constitute overtime pay for healthcare professionals who, in addition to their regular work, have been recruited to work after hours to carry out vaccinations, PCR testing and contact tracing, among other duties.

Higher staff costs are also a factor for Travel Cayman, which received an additional $1.1 million for the year through July and another $2.4 million to cover those costs until the end of year.

Wesley Howell, chief officer in the Ministry of Border Control and Labour, explained the increasing costs with additional staff needed to offset the redeployment of 13 staff back to Cayman Airways and meet the higher anticipated demand in line with reopening plans.

The millions of dollars in operating costs of isolation facilities are expected to decline, as government is in the process of reducing the room stock in response to shorter and eventually no quarantine requirements for vaccinated travellers.

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