We’ve heard the phrase “guided by the science” over and over during the past 18 months, which is why government’s decision to “pause” Cayman’s border reopening plan makes little sense. It’s a decision we believe was based on fear rather than logic; one that will have dire consequences for all of Cayman.
Premier Wayne Panton on 14 Sept. announced government’s decision to keep Cayman’s borders tightly restricted, following a spate of locally transmitted COVID-19 cases. In one breath, the public heard that “this is the new normal” and that locally transmitted cases will be a daily occurrence that we must come to grips with when visitors return to our islands, en masse. But then – in the next breath – we heard that the country would be tightening its current restrictions and not opening borders to commercial air traffic through at least the end of the year.
While we respect government’s aim to protect Cayman’s people – and we certainly wish everyone impacted by these recent cases a speedy recovery – government’s leaders appear to be contradicting themselves.
While the fear in the community is understandable, it is not necessarily rational or proportionate to the threat now posed by the coronavirus.
No doubt, the inboxes and WhatsApp feeds of the islands’ leaders are filled with emotional pleas for extreme action.
And that, more than anything, is what has driven the damaging decision to delay the border reopening.
The reality is that these incidences of community transmission were an entirely expected eventuality that we, as a community, have been preparing for, for the best part of a year.
14 Oct. was penciled in as the substantive reopening date and nothing that has happened in the past week really altered the case for sticking to that timeline.
The tourism industry and those that rely on it for their livelihoods have waited long enough.
COVID, unfortunately, is here to stay and the risk in January will be no different than it is today.
We are as ready as we will ever be.
Government, with the help of the UK, has provided a means to reduce the risk of death from COVID-19 for Cayman Islands residents to almost zero.
Those who have resisted encouragement to get vaccinated have put great store in the principle of personal freedom of choice.
The data and the relative risks have been well articulated. At this point, anyone who chooses to remain unvaccinated is choosing a higher level of risk.
Perhaps that is their prerogative.
It would be sad and tragic if Cayman were to open its borders and we were hit with a dozen or so deaths from COVID among the unvaccinated – something other small island territories have experienced.
But the elevated risk is something that many of those who insist they will not get the jab, say they are prepared to take.
In the same way that we don’t ban cars because some people drive without seatbelts, we can’t continue to close the island off to the world because of COVID-19.
The vast majority of people in the Cayman Islands have willingly accepted and respected enormous limitations on their own freedoms during the pandemic.
The right to travel, the right to a family life, the right to make a living are all fundamental entitlements that continue to be impacted. It is time for those rights to be restored.
Government has done all it can. It has kept the virus from Cayman’s shores for over a year, it has provided gold-standard vaccines free of charge and it has given ample time and opportunity for every adult to take them.
The purpose of that effort was to prepare for the reopening of the island and the return of COVID-19.
As both the premier and governor pointed out last week, a rise in infections and the return of masks and social distancing were inevitable at some point.
COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. While we have been cloistered behind closed borders, the world has been learning to live with it.
Now that our bubble has been punctured, we must accept the new reality.
Getting vaccinated (potentially on an annual basis), wearing masks in crowded environments and self-isolating when we are sick are among a long list of sensible precautions everyone can take to keep themselves and their families safe.
No-one is trying to diminish the seriousness of the coronavirus. Cayman’s healthcare system had ample time to prepare and has the capacity to deal even with an unlikely large-scale outbreak. The availability of vaccines ensures that the threat from COVID-19 is now comparable to a variety of other health risks that we accept every day. And we have the ability to control and reduce that risk further through mask-wearing and social distancing, as and when needed.
Delaying the reopening date won’t change that and is unlikely to move the needle much on the island’s vaccination rate, which is already among the highest in the world.
Cayman has done an exemplary job at every stage of this pandemic, but the days of prevention are now gone. COVID-19 is in our community, even with the borders closed. Handling the reopening is the final hurdle. We must have the courage to take that leap.
Voting is open through Wednesday, 22 Sept.