Border reopening on hold as local COVID cases rise

Government officials at Tuesday's press briefing. - Photo: Alvaro Serey

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.

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3 cases at George Town Primary

Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee reported that three Year 6 students at George Town Primary School have tested positive for COVID-19.

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 George Town Primary would reopen once given the all-clear by Public Health.

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.

Premier Wayne Panton announced that the next phase of Cayman’s border-reopening plan had been put on hold in light of the recent cases of local transmission of COVID-19.

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 says it’s unlikely airlines will be returning to Cayman while quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travellers are in place.

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.”

COVID regulations

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 urged people to take quarantine seriously.

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 increasing numbers of people were coming out to get vaccinated.

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.

A number of businesses and government departments, including Foster’s supermarket and WORC, announced Tuesday that they would be requiring customers and clients to wear masks.

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.

See: September vaccination schedule

Read: Cayman’s tourism leaders condemn delay in reopening

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      • Suzi, please do the research. Vaccinating does not prevent or stop Covid, it only lessens the symptoms of the person infected. Protect yourself if you medically need to or if you are of an age it can become problematic, but do not blame the unvaccinated on any of the infected, since the vaccinated can spread Covid as well. This fear is paralyzing people and Governments not wanting the responsibility of making the unpopular decisions. Decisions like working towards a new normal, where Covid is a part of our world, whether you are vaccinated or not, and we must move on.

        • Jennifer A. 95% protected are darn good odds.

          Common courtesy and respect for the elderly/immunicompromised isn’t that difficult to do.

          Sadly there are still too many self centered, entitled individuals who find it difficult to help out others.

          Simple fix = get vaccinated and then YES we can all live with it!!!

          • I have nothing but respect and courtesy for the elderly and people who are autoimmune deficient. I remain distanced and masked around others, I am doing what was asked all along to do, and we know that doing these two things work. The percentage is also under 1% that a healthy individual will die from Covid in the US., have you done the math for your country? I am sorry your fear has come to name calling. I wish you good health.

        • While the vaccines do not preventing us from getting Covid they do prime our immune systems so that we have a head start if we do get it. That head start results in significantly less time with the virus which not only lessons the chance of giving it to others, but also significantly reduces the likelihood of being hospitalized and/or dying. According the the latest CDC numbers those that are unvaccinated are more than 10 times more likelier to die from an infection than those that got the jab. Of course, telling those that are against the vax the truth is like trying to reason with a 2 year old. They won’t listen and will only continue to shout NO. In the meantime, everyone else has to suffer the consequences of their foolish ways.

          • Spreading insults doesn’t help the situation. Blaming your problems on unvaccinated people does not help either.
            Many vaccinated tend to be asymptomatic and continue to walk around in public and continue to spread the virus.

    • The rest of the world has not learned to deal with it. Watch the news: a nationwide nursing shortage, overcrowded ICUs, makeshift morgue and people attacking one another.

      This is a real problem everywhere and until people step up and get vaccinated, you’re right on 1 account, it’s not going away.

      • The nurse shortage is due to the mandate for them to be vaccinated, and they are refusing to be vaccinated. There is no need for a healthy individual to be vaccinated, our immune systems are better equipped to handle this than the vaccine. Nurses know this, and I know this from countless testimonials from family and friends who are in the medical field. The planet will never be 100% vaccinated, time to move on.

        • As someone facing impending surgery I will tell you that the nursing shortage is NOT due to nurses refusing to vaccinate. It is due to them dying, getting covid and needing to recover, being exposed to covid that requires quarantine or due to burnout from taking care of all of the ‘stupids’ that refuse to get vaccinated.

          If people choose to not vaccinate I’m fine with that. But I’m also fine with touring them away from the hospital when they arrive in need of ICU or a ventilator.

          • Nurses have been protecting themselves well before the vaccine arrived. They followed all the CDC recommendations and although absolutely exhausted, there was not a time when getting covid or dying from Covid created a nurse shortage. Despite now having a vaccine, nurses are still exhausted since the vaccinated will still get covid…I have not read anywhere the shortage of nurses is due to them getting covid or dying themselves. I HAVE read that a majority of nurse shortages is due to losing nurses to staffing agencies, other hospitals and pandemic burn out. I wish you nothing but the best in your impending surgery. Take care.

  1. “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” ― C. S. Lewis

  2. With the loss of another high season, I shudder to think how many small businesses will close forever.

    It was only a matter of time until Covid was in the community and it is abundantly clear CIG was not prepared to deal with any community spread of this virus. If we have an expectation of zero Covid in the community then CIG should make it clear that there is not a reopening plan and we will remain status quo until….when?…the end of time?

  3. So out with the science to follow the baying unvaccinated mob. COVID was always going to appear in Cayman whether now due to irresponsible idiots or in a few weeks time when the the borders were due to reopen. Why the change of heart? What is the point of the vaccination programme? Look at the countries who have equivalent levels of vaccination. Look at the hospitalisation and death rates. Look at how life carries on as before. If not now then when? What is going to change in the meantime?

  4. My daughter is a teacher in the states, now if a child test positive they go home and they do not make the kids around them quarantine. We are learning to live with this. Sounds like Cayman will be locked down for some time.

  5. They should not be allowing ANYONE into Cayman who has not been double vaccinated. This is insane — do they want to get rid of COVID or not? If they aren’t double vaccinated they are not welcome on our island. Those are the people who are most likely to bring the virus. So because they are too weak to make this restriction, more businesses are going to go under, and anyone associated with Tourism is going to be hard hit financially. “End of Year” restriction wipes out all the lucrative Christmas vacation rentals. Why didn’t they just extend reopening for 2 months to December 15th ?

  6. If we subtract the 12000 or so children under age 12 who can not receive the vaccine from the “new” Cayman population of 71000 we get 59000 people eligible for the shot. If we use the revised figure of 65000 plus for population we get 53000 eligible. We have easily already reached more than 80% vaccination rate, and obviously the government knows this. Honest straight math is hard to dispute.

  7. Cayman will no longer be relevant after this. On top of cancelling an event for later this year which would profit a local hotel over $50K, I will no longer encourage guests to come here. Might as well put our name on the list next to North Korea.

  8. Where is Dart in all of this? They have all of the big hotels. I would think they would be going out of their minds. All of the people with condos and timeshares that are paying insurance and maintenance fees and can’t come. I wish I would have bought somewhere else.

  9. So sad, the collateral damage of this will far outweigh the perceived security of this isolation: economic , isolation, psychological, education etc etc. People’s lives and livelihoods will badly affected for years to come. Learn to live with it.

  10. Since Covid arrived here how many residents have been hospitalised – the answer is a handful. For whatever reason most people who do get it here, don’t even know they have it, in Cayman flu has worse symptoms. It’s time Gov’t put this in perspective,we should not forever be treated as a sacrosanct desert island.

    • That’s because a majority of all people are asymptotic or have mild symptoms. If you do the math, this media fueled panic has developed over a smaller percentage that is being hospitalized or unfortunately succumbing to the virus.

  11. The incompetence of this government will forever change the Cayman Islands. Even if they reopen in January this will happen. What did they think would happen?? Clearly they had no plan though. No airline should even consider scheduling flights here anymore…it must be a logistical nightmare. We have visited many islands during all of this, and are sorry to say we may never return to Cayman. Truly heartbreaking.

  12. At what point will Government pull the trigger on requiring (1) all work permit holders to get vaccinated for issuance or renewal of permits; and (2) all school age children over 12 year of age to be fully vaccinated in order to attend school, whether public or private?

  13. Nobody knows the effects of this vaccine down the road. If you do not need the extra protection because you are a healthy individual, trust your own immune system. The vast majority of people (including children) have no symptoms or they feel like they have the typical flu.