Premier Wayne Panton has announced that his government will go ahead with phase 3 of the border-reopening plan on 9 Sept., but said that phase 4, when quarantine for securely verified vaccinated people is set to be scrapped, will be re-evaluated nearer the 14 Oct. date.
The government has been aiming to fully vaccinate 80% of the population by 14 Oct. As of 8 Sept., 74%, or 52,433 of Cayman’s estimated population of 71,106, had gotten their first shot. To reach the 80% fully vaccinated target by 14 Oct., 4,452 people would need to get their initial dose on Thursday.
Panton, speaking at a press briefing today, said, “Whether or not we move to phase 4 on 14 Oct. will depend heavily on what we observe over the next few weeks.”
He added, “If we find that the global situation, the scientific evidence or concerns raised by you, the people, make this plan untenable, we may respond accordingly. If we remain confident, we may proceed to the next phase and that may be whether or not the vaccination rate is at 80% at that time.”
He said his government would “not hesitate to put on the brakes, and we will do so unapologetically”, insisting that “this is not about raising the bar or moving the goalposts, it’s about caring about the safety and health of our residents”.
He also stated that the government was not necessarily stuck on the 80% target, saying if Cayman was quite close to that number, it may move forward with its phased reopening approach.
“We are probably not going to be stuck exclusively to this 80% target. What the last few weeks have told us is that these targets are becoming somewhat fuzzy and meaningless, particularly when it comes to issues around the Delta variant,” he said.
He added, “We may not stick specifically to the 80% target number – it is less and less going to be a hard pre-condition for making a decision.”
He said it was vital to ensure that children who cannot be vaccinated are protected.
The premier said that if Cayman does not reopen its borders, the tourism stipend paid to displaced tourism workers would continue.
He also said the government planned to hold weekly press briefings to keep the public informed of all border-reopening steps.
Concerns over new cases
Panton acknowledged concerns raised following a report on Monday of 24 new cases of COVID-19, including 23 among incoming travellers, and one involving a person quarantining with a traveller. Of those, nine were vaccinated and 15 were not, he said. He said of the 325 cases reported since February this year, 263 were unvaccinated, and 62 were vaccinated.
“I hope these numbers will serve as impetus for those who have not yet been vaccinated to go and get vaccinated,” he said, adding that vaccinations are Cayman’s best defence against the virus.
The premier said he doesn’t expect the latest phase of changes to alter the risk of an outbreak in Cayman, but acknowledged that if the quarantine requirement is dropped on 14 Oct., COVID will likely be in the community within weeks.
“If we get to October 14 and there has, prior to that, been a decision to proceed with that phase, that’s when that risk goes up and it is quite likely that within a period of weeks we would have COVID reintroduced into our community and we will have to learn to live with it and manage it,” he warned.
Health Minister Sabrina Turner, giving an update on the readiness of the healthcare facilities in Cayman following the border reopening, said there are 42 ventilators on island – 20 at Health Services Authority facilities and 22 at Health City Cayman Islands.
“Our islands have expanded capacity of hospital beds and ventilators,” she said. “The Cayman Islands Hospital has seven ventilated beds, including two negative pressure isolation rooms. There is a further in-house capacity of 20 ventilated beds in the surgical unit. The respiratory care unit is available with six beds if needed.
“Additional bed capacity is also provided by Health City Cayman Islands and Doctors Hospital in the event that this may be required.”
The health minister also noted that Cayman had an oxygen contingency plan in place “to avoid the unfortunate medical oxygen shortages being seen in other countries around the world, including our friend, and near neighbour, Jamaica.”
A 60-bed emergency field hospital at the Family Life Centre, which was demobilised in February, remains on standby, if it is required.
Turner said there had been 52 quarantine breaches in Cayman in August.
Governor Martyn Roper said the RCIPS is currently investigating 20 of those reported breaches, eight of which had occurred since 9 Aug. He added that several of the reported breaches did not include people leaving quarantine, but possibly through people visiting those in isolation or food-delivery issues.
Two of the cases were referred this week to the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions, Roper said.
The governor also addressed the issue of booster vaccinations, saying Cayman would be advised by Public Health England on when to roll those out.
He said the UK was expected to make an announcement about launching its booster programme this week, and that Cayman would follow suit.
Roper, when asked if it was possible that Cayman may follow a different path to the UK in its rollout of boosters, said it was not possible to deviate from the UK’s advice, as Cayman was being provided vaccines by the British government.
But, he said, London recognises that Cayman’s context is different to that of the UK, “so, I think … once we know London’s decision on boosters, there is flexibility over how we roll them out here.”
He also noted that the vaccines Cayman currently has in hand will expire at the end of next month, stating that 6,600 doses are now left. “If we don’t use them, it will be really difficult for me to argue that we should be sent more from the UK,” he said.
Roper added that 230 people had received their first dose Wednesday, 7 Sept., and said he hoped this was an indication that there would be an uptick in the number of people coming forward to be vaccinated.
The governor said that, at some point, the vaccines would have to be allowed “to do their job”.
“If we allow ourselves to be paralysed by fear, there will be real-life trade-offs for everyone in the tourism sector, loss of jobs and businesses, and significant mental health issues – and government finances will face serious headwinds if we can’t move forward,” he said. “So, these are really tough decisions.”
He added, “A part of the answer may have to be considering mandating vaccinations for those educating our children, and for those on the front line.”
He noted that in some countries, proof of vaccination is required for entry into bars and restaurants. “That may be a step too far for some here, but we simply cannot stand still as a jurisdiction and I believe these measures do need to be considered to ensure we can protect the community and make sure as many as possible get the protection offered by the vaccine.”
Regulations regarding mandatory vaccinations for expat workers obtaining new work permits or renewing them, and mandatory testing for frontline workers have not yet been finalised, officials said at the press briefing.
Turner noted that, since February this year, Cayman recorded 325 positive cases, all among incoming travellers. Of those, 81% were unvaccinated.
“The evidence in support of vaccines is conclusive,” she said. “COVID-19 vaccinations are currently available free of cost to every single person in the Cayman Islands, who is 12 years old or older.”
Although the vaccine clinic at the Owen Roberts International Airport has been discontinued, vaccines are being administered at Health City’s Camana Bay clinic daily, except Thursdays.
Tomorrow, 9 Sept., the vaccination clinic will be at West Bay Health Centre from 5pm to 7pm; on 22 Sept., at the Aston Rutty Centre in Cayman Brac, from 9am to noon; at Prospect Community Office on 23 Sept., at 4-7pm; at Savannah MLA Office on 27 Sept., at 4-7pm. Those clinics will be open from 4-7pm.
Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan said he had approved a new schedule for Cayman Airways, “which includes a steady increase in the numbers of flights per week during September and October”.
He said British Airways had confirmed that it intends to resume its weekly scheduled service between Grand Cayman and the UK from 27 Sept., and plans to offer at least three flights per week via Nassau. He added that more information on the dates and details of the BA flights would be available later this week.