Before it opens the borders, the Cayman Islands government will give a month’s notice of its plans, Premier Wayne Panton said Tuesday.
Panton, speaking during a debate on bills that would introduce mandatory vaccinations for non-Caymanians Tuesday, outlined some of the measures that would need to be in place before the government considered dropping quarantine for incoming vaccinated travellers – effectively reopening the borders.
These measures include the use of rapid lateral flow COVID tests, tried and tested protocols for dealing with local outbreaks in schools and in the community and an increased vaccination rate.
Under the government’s earlier phased reopening plan, 14 Oct. was the date set for the beginning of Phase 4, which involved discontinuing the five-day quarantine for verifiably vaccinated arrivals. That plan was put on hold when COVID re-emerged in the local community last month for the first time in over a year.
The recent local outbreaks, in which more than 100 people, mostly schoolchildren, have been infected, provided “a very useful test of our systems, giving us a gauge of our preparedness … for reopening”, Panton said.
He admitted, “Right now, reopening is going to present a bigger challenge if we continue to do certain things the same way.”
Following the first school outbreak last month, at George Town Primary, the entire school was shut down and all students, parents and staff, along with their households were placed in mandatory quarantine for 14 days. When the next school outbreak occurred, at Prospect Primary, only the class the infected student attended, along with their teachers – and their households – were isolated.
On Friday, 1 Oct., the Ministry of Education published new protocols for handling reports of COVID-positive students or staff at schools.
Stating that Cayman needs to learn to live with COVID, Panton told legislators Tuesday, “We cannot continue to close all schools, we cannot continue to ban all indoor activities and exercise. We cannot continue to have the borders closed for much longer. We cannot expect to lockdown for months to get rid of COVID, to get [numbers] down to zero.”
He said the plan for dealing with individuals who test positive is to “quickly and efficiently identify or remove people from situations or scenarios in which they are COVID-positive into isolation for themselves… but we can’t do that on a scale that is necessary with current PCR testing”.
Instead, rapid lateral flow antigen tests, which can be self-administered and produce results within 20-25 minutes, would be used on people who are contacts of positive cases. Those who test positive would be isolated and have the antigen test results confirmed with a PCR test, the premier said.
He added that approval for bringing lateral flow tests on island is expected to be given on Wednesday, 6 Oct. “That will give us clarity around what tests can be brought in and the procedures around the use of them,” he said.
Panton said Public Health was also re-examining isolation periods for vaccinated individuals who are potentially exposed to the virus, so that the quarantine time would be reduced from 14 days to 10 days if the entire household is inoculated. “As time goes along, we may have to reduce this further still,” he said.
He said, with lateral flow testing, in cases where a child tests positive, his or her classmates, who may be unvaccinated, could continue to attend school by doing the rapid tests daily.
The premier said, despite being repeatedly asked when the borders would reopen, he was unable to give a precise date, because of the constantly changing situation. “I don’t want to just pick a date and run with it and cross our fingers and hope for the best,” he said.
In closing his comments, Panton said that the country would be given at least a month’s notice before the government moves on to Phase 4 of its reopening plan “and drop the quarantine requirement”.
Under Phase 4, quarantine for verifiably vaccinated travellers would be abolished, but other vaccinated individuals would continue to need to isolate for 10 days and unvaccinated travellers for 14 days.