Tourism business leaders have condemned government’s decision to delay the reopening of the border, claiming it is not based on scientific evidence and threatens the livelihoods of thousands of Caymanians.
The Cayman Islands Tourism Association released a statement Wednesday expressing dismay at the “indefinite pause in the reopening plan and continued closure of the borders”.
It recommends measures such as vaccine mandates, rapid testing and contact tracing, which it claims would be more effective and sustainable means of controlling the threat of the coronavirus.
CITA argues that COVID-19 is already in the community and that Cayman, like the rest of the world, must learn to live with it and manage those risks.
Government earlier had indicated it planned to remove quarantine requirements for securely verified vaccinated travellers from 14 Oct., facilitating the return of commercial flights and some tourism.
Faced with the re-emergence of local transmission of COVID-19, Premier Wayne Panton announced Tuesday that step would be delayed for the rest of this year.
In response to that news, CITA, which represents hundreds of businesses in the tourism sector, said, “This decision clearly demonstrates a complete disregard for the livelihoods of thousands of Caymanians, prolongs the agony of so many in our community, and steals hope for the future.
“It is incredibly disappointing that the Government has reversed course, responding to emotion and fear rather than remaining guided by sound logic and scientific evidence.”
Many businesses have been hanging on since March last year – sometimes with the assistance of loans – in the belief that they will be able to recover once tourists return to Cayman.
But CITA has warned that the now certain loss of the tourism high season, typically November through March, will impact the chances of any recovery for the industry for the entirety of 2022. It projects a five-year timeline for the recovery of the industry.
“In the coming weeks and months, many tourism-dependent businesses will be forced to close and livelihoods will be lost as we approach two years without visitors to our shores,” the association said.
“The quality of life for all Caymanians and residents will be impacted due to decreased investment in community infrastructure and the need for increased Government support.
“Thousands of tourism employees and Caymanian business owners and operators will be dependent on Government stipends for survival for the long term, which will impact all Caymanians and the level of services the Government will be able to provide.”
Premier Panton previously indicated that the $1,500 monthly stipends for displaced tourism workers would continue to be paid until they are “no longer necessary”.
‘COVID is not going away’
CITA argues that there is no logic or scientific evidence to support government’s decision to delay reopening on the basis of recent cases of community transmission.
It pointed out, in its statement, that COVID-19 is not expected to disappear and the risk to the public from reopening – now significantly reduced through a high vaccination rate – will be largely the same in January.
“It does not matter when the borders reopen, community transmission of the virus has already occurred and it is not the result of tourism activity. The Government must develop plans and strategies to deal with the new normal now and not procrastinate further, not just for the sake of tourism but for the entire economy and the country’s future,” it stated.
The organisation also condemned what it described as “inconsistencies” in government’s approach.
“The borders are now closed indefinitely and the quarantine period increased, yet the Government has not issued vaccination mandates for frontline workers, educators, and others at risk as many other countries have done.
“The Government has also not acted on opportunities to control and contain through combined layers of protective measures and the use of technology.”
The association added, “CITA has recommended to Government that measures such as rapid testing, smartphone-based contact tracing and vaccination requirements for large group gatherings be implemented. ”
Citing comments from Governor Martyn Roper that “waiting out the pandemic is a forlorn hope”, the organisation said it should not be a shock that COVID-19 has returned to Cayman.
With one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, a world-class health system and more than 12-months to prepare, CITA argues Cayman should be able to manage the risks associated with the virus better than anywhere in the world.
“The Government has now clearly demonstrated a lack of confidence in its own planning and advisors,” it stated.
“We must have a national policy that protects both lives and livelihoods. We should be measured, calm and proactive rather than anxious, emotional and reactionary. We must have collective courage to chart a positive course forward for our islands in place of the fear stoked by continual uncertainty.”
Citing UK statistics, CITA adds that children, who cannot be vaccinated, face a 1 in 50,000 risk of serious illness, and less than 1 in 500,000 risk of death from the virus.
“In the average year in the US, more than 8 times as many children under age 18 die in car accidents than have died of COVID since the pandemic began,” the statement added.
Read CITA’s full statement here.