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Governor Martyn Roper announced Friday that another 11,000 vaccines will be arriving on the 27 Sept. British Airways flight, which can be used for first and second doses, and for booster shots.
Roper, speaking at a press briefing Friday, said more vaccines would be arriving on future flights.
Initially, boosters will be offered to those over 50, and the governor said, a small number of immuno-compromised people have already been advised to get a third shot. The rollout of the booster shots will reflect how the Health Services Authority organised the original timing of the distribution of vaccines, he said.
Sister Islands travel
Anyone travelling from Grand Cayman to the Sister Islands will be required to produce a verifiable vaccination document or a negative COVID-19 test result, Premier Wayne Panton said Friday.
This comes following a report of a George Town Primary School student and two family members travelling to Cayman Brac after the outbreak emerged. The family tested negative at Faith Hospital subsequently, and are now in quarantine.
The announcement on travel restrictions to the Sister Islands, at a press briefing on Friday, was part of an update on changes to COVID-suppression regulations relating to Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, which come into effect from 21 Sept.
The regulations also include a reduction in the number of people allowed on marine craft from 500 to 100, or 50% of the legal capacity, whichever is lesser.
Those regulations will be published Friday evening, the premier said.
Panton said any relaxation of measures will be dependent upon Cayman’s resilience at controlling the spread of the virus.
He said the government’s pausing of the border-reopening plan “gives us an opportunity to strengthen some of these controls to learn lessons and identify where we may have gaps so we reduce the likelihood of a surge of COVID-19 cases that puts lives and, ultimately, commerce at risk”.
The premier said the source of the recent local cases is not known, but “it is here… and we must deal with it”.
He said Cayman’s borders cannot remain closed forever, adding that all the regulations which are being drawn up will pave the way for the border to open up.
“Our vaccines, our public health experiences, our strategic planning, our workforce continuity of operations, our school bubbles and our community responsibility are all being put to the test and hopefully validated,” Panton said.
He said a significant level of surveillance testing had been done and the large number of negative results showed that there was unlikely to be a considerable surge. The fact that there was no significant symptoms among the majority of COVID-19 patients currently in Cayman is another good sign, said Panton.
Health Minister Sabrina Turner gave an update on the family that had travelled to the Brac, saying it was determined that no COVID protocol breach had taken place in this instance, as they had not been aware of the positive cases at the school when they boarded the flight. Once they became aware of the outbreak, they presented themselves to Faith Hospital for testing.
24 local cases
As of Friday, there were 24 confirmed community transmission cases in Cayman, including 20 related to the outbreak at George Town Primary School. In all, 17 children at the school have tested positive for the virus, and three adults connected with them. Another four people tested positive in relation to a separate outbreak reported last week.
All the confirmed cases remain in isolation.
Lee said the school would remain closed until 14 days after the initial outbreak, meaning George Town Primary is unlikely to open until 27 Sept. at the earliest. Everyone at the school has been instructed to remain in isolation for 14 days, whether they have tested positive or not.
Lee said anyone connected to the school, who is in isolation, should inform Public Health if they develop any symptoms.
Earlier Friday, Lee had stated in his regular COVID-testing updates that there were no new local transmission cases to report from the latest batch of tests, but that two travellers were found to be positive for the virus while exiting quarantine.
Just one of the infected individuals is in hospital, Lee said. That person was reported last week as the first local case in a year after testing positive when admitted to hospital for a separate medical issue.
Two others in that earlier outbreak are symptomatic, and the fourth has no symptoms.
Five of the George Town Primary children had mild symptoms, and two of the adults are also symptomatic, Lee said. All are “managing well”, he added.
Since the first local case was reported last week, 7,029 people – or 10% of the estimated population – have undergone PCR tests, Lee said.
Concerns in community
Both Panton and Roper acknowledged that concerns expressed about both the local outbreak and government’s halting of the border reopening had created divisions within the community – with parents especially being anxious over the health of their children who cannot be vaccinated and the tourism industry lamenting the continuing lack of tourists on island.
“I know there are components in our society that are unhappy we have paused the reopening plan, that are concerned about businesses, that are concerned about livelihoods. We understand those concerns and we are looking to be addressing those,” Panton said.
He added, “Our focus is on making sure our people are safe first and the concerns around the stress and fear of this have the opportunity to be addressed by the systems we have and the experiences we are learning as we go through this. This is one more challenge that we can overcome.”
Panton said the decision to pause the border reopening had been motivated in part by reactions from parents to the cluster of cases.
“That was one of the driving issues for us,” he said. “We needed time to make sure we could be able to understand the extent of the problem and build confidence among the people of the country. That is why we said we are going to pause this at this point,” adding that there had been a “very significant reaction from the public” to that decision.
“We needed time for society to adjust,” Panton said. “The major point was trying to get people settled. We have been in this cocoon, this bubble, very successfully for 18 months. Coming out of that, in a scenario where it is unexpected, creates a shock and a level of concern that we needed time to manage and society needed time to adjust.”
He said going ahead with the phased reopening amid a climate of angst and fear in the community would have been cruel.
“This gives us an opportunity to reflect, to understand where we can do things better and society can get to a point that they have greater confidence that we can get through this and this is something we can live with and manage,” he added.
The governor said that many in the community were “palpably relieved” because of their concerns for children while others were angry about the impact on lives and livelihoods.
Roper also highlighted the prison leadership for taking swift action after a staff member tested positive for COVID this week. He also expressed concern about the low vaccination rates, among both staff and inmates at the prison.
Lee had earlier noted that about 50% of inmates were vaccinated, while more than 60% of prison staff had received their shots.
The governor said it was reassuring that 10% of the island’s population had been tested in the past week, highlighting the fact that nearly all of these were negative for COVID as further evidence of efficacy of vaccines.
“I am hopeful that getting even more people vaccinated, rolling out our boosters, demonstrating that we can contain local outbreaks, will help heal the divides and enable the entire community to feel reassured and ready to move forward in a spirit of unity with a safe and cautious reopening plan.
“As I have said before, seeking to wait out the pandemic is a forlorn hope. We have to learn to live with it, I am confident that Cayman will achieve that and will prosper mightily.”
Health Minister Sabrina Turner commended the local business community for quickly and proactively introducing mask and social-distancing guidelines for customers and staff on their premises.
Many restaurants, bars, shops and offices on island are requiring people to wear masks upon entry, although there are currently no government regulations mandating this.
Home testing kits
Lee said officials are discussing purchasing hundreds of thousands of simple rapid-result home testing kits, which will be a “useful tool” that can be used widely through the public and private sector. The kits cost about $2 each.
He said about 3,000 were already on island at the HSA, but those were kits more suitable to be used by medical professionals, and that the more user-friendly test may be available within weeks.
Those test kits, he said, could be used by children before going to school “in order to improve safety”.
Lee added that he had requested that the lateral flow tests be ordered.
Panton: No need to engage with Progressives over COVID
The premier, at the briefing, rejected an invitation to cooperate with the Opposition and Progressives over the handling of COVID-19 in the community.
He said his administration was relying on the same advisers that the Progressives-led government had used when the pandemic reached Cayman’s shores last year.
“So, I don’t see anything changing. I am not aware of any instances where they brought any new perspective or any incredibly successful strategies to the table” that had not been provided by the advisers, he said.
He stressed that the situation facing this government is different to that faced by the Progressives.
“Their experience has been around lockdown, around elimination strategy, and they successfully did that … they should get credit for that,” he said, but added that now Cayman is dealing with a reopening strategy and learning about how to manage the risks of having cases of COVID in the community.