More than 10,000 people have been screened for COVID-19 and tested negative in the past two weeks, health officials revealed Thursday.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said there were a total of 28 community cases, including 18 children from George Town Primary School, being monitored across the island since the outset of the latest outbreak.
One person is still in hospital in a stable condition while the vast majority of cases are asymptomatic. Lee said screening tests will be taking place at schools around the island in the coming weeks.
Premier Wayne Panton acknowledged Cayman’s readiness had been tested over the past few weeks.
“I don’t think that by any means our response has been absolutely perfect; in certain cases we’ve done really, really well,” he added. “In other cases, we will learn from those and address those.”
Panton said the news from the screening tests was optimistic and urged people to continue to “trust the vaccines”.
He said, “Despite this outbreak we don’t have any significant sickness, we don’t have people in hospital, and that is a very good position for us to be in.”
Lee said, as of 23 Sept., 105,823 COVID-19 vaccinations had been administered locally, including 54,852 first doses, accounting for 77% of the population of 71,106. A total of 50,962 people, or 72% of the population, had received both doses.
Nine people have also been given booster shots in recent days.
The booster programme is currently available by invitation only, but the Health Services Authority will soon announce when it will become more widely available, Lee said.
The premier insisted Cayman’s borders are technically open, though a seven-day quarantine requirement is now in place for vaccinated travellers arriving in the jurisdiction.
He said some airlines were beginning to reopen routes to the islands. British Airways will be operating three times a week from London to Cayman, through the Bahamas, from next week.
Cayman Airways plans to resume commercial flights to La Ceiba in Honduras, Jamaica and Miami from next month, he said.
Air Canada and WestJet are also considering a weekly flight between Grand Cayman and Toronto in November, Panton added.
He acknowledged concerns among tourism business owners about the pause in lifting quarantine requirements and said it was regrettable that some restaurants had been forced to close temporarily.
“We’re going to continue to engage the business community… and we will make our decisions with collaboration, and with the safety of the public of this country, in mind,” he added.
Health Minister Sabrina Turner ran through some of the new regulations, announced last week and published earlier this week, including the increase in quarantine period for vaccinated travellers to seven days and a ban on unvaccinated visitors.
She said the regulations had been implemented out of an abundance of caution and would be kept under review.
Turner insisted the measures had not been introduced out of “fear or panic”.
She added, “People are first. Your safety and wellbeing is at the forefront for all of us.”
The regulations include the following:
- Only vaccinated tourists are allowed to enter Cayman under the regulations. Unvaccinated returning residents can enter, but are required to isolate for 14 days.
- Indoor gatherings are restricted to a maximum of 100 people, or 50% of the premises’ legal capacity.
- Outdoor activities are restricted to a maximum of 250 people.
- Anyone travelling to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman from Grand Cayman must provide either proof of vaccination or a negative PCR test.
- Children aged 5 and older are now required to undergo a pre-arrival PCR test, as well as another PCR test as they exit quarantine. Previously this had applied to children 10 and over.
Turner said the regulations were “very fluid” and the government would amend them as necessary, depending on circumstances, including local cases and public health advice.
“They’re very flexible,” she said. “Even though a number of them have an expiry date that runs to 22 Nov., or to the end of the year, as we adjust and assess what’s going on within our community from a public health risk, where we can see that transmission and the spread has somewhat been identified, we can track exactly where we are with those numbers; we can always come back to any of these regulations and make the necessary amendments.”
Financial position is strong
Finance Minister Chris Saunders also gave an update on the country’s finances, which he said were in good shape despite the impact of the pandemic and the loss of tourism.
He said government was still operating with a $147 million surplus – better than forecast in 2019.
Extra fees from financial services, in particular new private funds fees, were making up for lost tourism taxes, he said.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson, who heads up the civil service, said mandating vaccinations for frontline government workers was “under consideration”.
Manderson said a survey of civil servants in April indicated that 70% were vaccinated, and that another survey from two months ago showed eight out of 10 respondents had been inoculated. However, he said, the latter survey “was not well taken up”.
He said he was “very concerned” that staff at Travel Cayman and Customs and Border Control, who deal with incoming travellers, were not fully vaccinated.
The deputy governor said he had held a town-hall meeting over Zoom with the entire civil service on 22 Sept., at which he pledged to frontline workers that they would be consulted before any decision to mandate vaccinations for them was finalised.
He said that legislation was also being considered that would require civil servants on government contracts to be vaccinated.
Draft amendments have also been made to the Immigration Transition Act and the Customs and Border Control Act that would enable government to require expat employees, whose work permits are being granted or renewed, to be vaccinated.
Panton said those amendments would be considered by Parliament when it meets on 4 Oct.