Cayman is putting its border-reopening plan on hold, as health officials announce that a total of eight people have contracted COVID-19 through community transmission.
Premier Wayne Panton, speaking at a press briefing Tuesday, said the next phase of the reopening plan will be put off for the rest of this year.
Three cases involving Year 6 students at George Town Primary School have been confirmed, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said at the press briefing, and one more case – of an individual in government quarantine – has been confirmed that is connected with three positive cases reported last week. An eighth case, possibly related to George Town Primary School, was also found late Tuesday afternoon, and contact tracing has begun in that case, he said.
The three people who tested positive last week are all doing well, Lee said, adding that one remains in hospital.
All eight individuals who have tested positive, and their households, are in isolation, Lee stated.
3 cases at George Town Primary
More than 600 students, parents and staff at George Town Primary were swabbed by Public Health staff throughout Tuesday, following the confirmation Monday of one student contracting the disease, Lee said. That student, who was displaying flu symptoms, was tested after visiting the Flu Clinic.
The two other students were found to be positive following testing at the school Tuesday. Both those children are asymptomatic, Lee said.
Education Minister Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said the school would remain closed on Wednesday, and until her department get official clearance from Public Health and Lee. She added that it would be thoroughly disinfected and cleaned before it would reopen.
Lee said a total of 48 people are isolating in connection with last week’s three cases, and 80 people have been tested.
“Across the island, there are seven different households with people positive for COVID-19 and these are in different geographical locations,” he said.
Border reopening on hold
The premier said of the local transmission cases, “This for us is a game changer. We are pausing… our reopening plan for the rest of this year. We don’t want to be rushing anything, we want to remain composed and carefully consider the various steps we need to put in place to address community spread and ensure we can feel safe and ensure our children are protected,” he said.
Cayman had been scheduled to launch Phase 4 of its reopening plan on 14 Oct. This phase had involved plans to scrap the current five-day quarantine requirement for securely verified vaccinated arrivals.
Panton said that tourists would be allowed to enter Cayman but they will be required to be vaccinated. Unvaccinated residents will be allowed to enter or return to Cayman, but must quarantine for 14 days.
“We will slightly change the approach that has been taken in the past so that people who are unvaccinated are further restricted in terms of coming into our country,” he said. “We absolutely need to do this in order to continue to protect our older vulnerable folks, as well as, specifically, our unvaccinated children.”
Vaccines have not been approved for use by children under the age of 12.
Earlier on Tuesday, the premier stated in a public address that there were currently no plans to reintroduce lockdown in Cayman.
The delayed border reopening means commercial airlines, that had earlier indicated that they intended to resume some of their Cayman routes next month, are now unlikely to operate those flights.
Currently, only British Airways and Cayman Airways are operating regular routes to and from Cayman.
Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan said discussions are ongoing with other airlines, but it was not likely that they would be willing to return while quarantine is required for vaccinated travellers.
He said he was confident that those same airlines would want to come back to the island if and when that happens.
“The top priority is safety,” the minister stated. “If we get things under control and we get the confidence of the people and they are ready to do this in January, I am sure the airlines will be happy and excited to do it in January.”
Panton added that government would make changes to the COVID-19 regulations, including mandating masks in supermarkets, restaurants, churches and bars.
Quarantine for securely verified vaccinated travellers will be extended from five days to seven days and ‘geotagging’ of people in quarantine will be reintroduced, he said. Other vaccinated travellers will still be required to isolate for 10 days, and unvaccinated people must quarantine for 14 days.
Government is also planning to amend regulations relating to crowd numbers. Currently, a maximum of 1,000 people are allowed to gather outdoors, and 500 indoors. However, Panton said it was likely that the regulations would be changed to limit indoor gatherings to 100 people and outdoor gatherings to 200-250.
The premier again appealed to members of the public to get vaccinated as soon as possible, saying, “We need to put a solid wall of vaccinated people around our children to protect them.”
He said the border reopening would have to happen at some point.
“We don’t know how long this is going to go on,” he said. “Government has a responsibility to the country to plan for a future which might include for some time having to live with a virus that we need to manage. We are not going to learn how to manage it by keeping the borders closed.”
“We will get through this together,” he added.
Amended regulations have not yet been released, but are imminent, according to Panton, who said they were likely to be finalised at the end of this week.
‘Level 1’ community transmission
Lee emphasised that only primary contacts – those in the same households or who have been in close physical contact, such as hugging or kissing – will be required to isolate.
He said, under the World Health Organization’s definition, Cayman is at Level 1 of community transmission, which he said was the “lowest level”.
Officials at the briefing also spoke out against unnecessary spreading of rumours.
“Please refrain from creating this sort of stuff, refrain from distributing this sort of stuff, it adds nothing… it only causes pain and distress for businesses, for individuals, for parents, for children,” Panton said.
Governor: Vaccines are working
Governor Martyn Roper said the relatively small number of cases of community spread was a sign that the vaccines were doing their job.
While he noted that the fact that children had been infected was worrying, he said experts from Public Health England had briefed government officials this week on the relatively low risk posed by the virus to children.
“I very much hope that the small number of children so far affected and anyone else recently affected recovers swiftly,” he said.
The governor also raised the possibility that COVID-19 could have been re-introduced to the community through illegal activity and what he described as “undeclared boat trips to and from Jamaica”.
He urged people to take quarantine seriously and adhere to the rules.
Several quarantine breaches, many involving people visiting isolating individuals at their homes, have been reported in recent weeks.
“We do need to learn to live with COVID… it is not going away,” the governor said. “Delta is so infectious that is a game changer in this global pandemic.”
He reiterated the premier’s message urging members of the public – particularly young people – to come forward and get vaccinated, saying it would create a “fire break” if every age group could hit the 80% vaccination rate.
He also revealed that booster shots had been ordered today and a “booster programme” could start soon.
As of Monday, 13 Sept., 53,626 people, or 75% of the estimated 71,106 population, had had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 50,278, or 71%, had completed the two-dose course.
Vaccination numbers rising
Health Minister Sabrina Turner said there had been a “huge positive public response” to appeals for people to be vaccinated in recent days.
A total of 195 people had been vaccinated at the Camana Bay clinic by the time the press briefing got under way Tuesday, with 159 getting their first doses and 36 receiving their second.
Since news broke last week of the first local transmission case in a year, people have been lining up at the vaccination clinics to get their shots.
Turner also noted that there had been a marked increase in the number of people wearing masks in public areas, and she reminded the public that businesses, under regulations that were revised earlier this year, can legally deny entry to people who refuse to wear a mask inside their premises.
She also appealed to people who had flu or respiratory illness symptoms to stay at home and to contact the Flu Hotline, on 1-800-534-8600, or locally 947-3077 or 925-6327 or email [email protected].
The Flu Clinic is open Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm. It is in the space previously occupied by the Outpatient Mental Health Unit, on the side of the hospital facing the Seventh-day Adventist Church, to the far left of the Accident and Emergency Unit. Signage on the hospital campus will direct patients to the clinic.