By Staff Writer
COVID COMMUNITY SPREAD GAME-CHANGER FOR CAYMAN
The Cayman Islands Government (CIG) on Tuesday rolled back its plans to further reopen the borders and announced a raft of measures in the wake of the recent confirmation of cases of community spread of COVID-19 and an equally concerning increase in the number of positive cases among travellers.
The planned next phase of the reopening of the borders - Phase 4 from October 14th - has been postponed, and quarantine for incoming vaccinated travellers is being increased to seven days after being reduced to five. It was previously set at 10 days. Geo-tagging of persons in quarantine is also being re-introduced.
Hon. Premier Wayne Panton made the announcement during a government press conference on Tuesday stressing his administration’s concerns over the evolving situation.
“Going by the WHO (World Health Organisation) definition, we are in this low level of community transmission, but that for us reflects a game-changer, although earlier than expected,” Mr Panton stated.
He said the ongoing Phase 3 (soft reopening) was being paused with immediate effect. This would also delay the start of the Phase 4 which was planned for October 4th and would have seen Cayman’s borders further open to international air traffic especially for tourism.
This delay is now expected to last until at least the end of the year, the Premier indicated.
“We don’t want to be rushing anything. We want to remain cautious and be able to carefully consider everything that we need to put in place to ensure that our people feel safe and to ensure that our children are best protected”
The Premier also said that mask-wearing indoors in public places is being reintroduced and an emphasis on hand hygiene.
“We are imminently going to make changes to the regulations,” he added indicating that limits are also being considered on public gatherings and social distancing.
Mr Panton said in light of the economic implications for the business community, the government was looking into further support considering the additional costs for both the business community and the government.
The Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee reported that up to Tuesday there were known cases of community transmission affecting seven households.
Of the recent reported cases, the one person who was hospitalised was described as “doing well and is very stable” while the condition of two others isolating at home was also stable and unchanged.
In addition to a student at the George Town Primary school who tested positive yesterday and is linked to the community spread, contact tracing had started on Tuesday in the case of another student who tested positive on Tuesday.
Details were sketchy but Dr Lee indicated that the second student might also be linked to the George Town Primary School which remains closed.
HE Governor Martyn Roper said despite the recent cases of community spread of COVID-19, the numbers were comparatively small, and Cayman continues to be a leading nation on the regional and global vaccination table.
“I do recognise it’s a time of stress for everyone in our community right now, we’ve had an incredibly safer bubble for 18 months and it doesn’t quite feel like that, but we should remain calm and take great comfort from the fact that our vaccination rates gives us a lot of protection, one of the highest rates anywhere in the world.
Repeating his call to unvaccinated persons take the jab, Mr Roper estimated that if 80 per cent of the different age groups eligible for the vaccine get inoculated that would create what he called ‘a firebreak effect’ to suppress the spread of the virus and its variants.
He again urged adherence to the prevention protocols and said while the source of the cases of community spread is yet to be determined, instances of undeclared boat trips to Jamaica was a concern to the authorities here.
The Governor also announced that the booster shots approved by the UK for Cayman have been ordered and are expected to arrive.
He reported that Public Health England has noted the high vaccination rates in Cayman and has advised government to consider the risk of infection rates from feeder countries in their COVID mitigation policies and said that additional resources were also mentioned.
Hon. Min for Health and Wellness, Sabrina Turner acknowledged the concerns in the community about the current developments urged that community-wide, the issue should be taken seriously.
Min. Turner said staffing resources at the Health Service Authority were being increased; up from 62 in January last year to 83 this month.
She also stressed the importance of persons getting vaccinated.
The Health and Wellness minister also welcomed initiatives by the business community putting their own preventive measures in place to minimise spread.
With one student having tested positive for a community spread of COVID-19, the George Town Primary School will remain closed for a second day on Wednesday.
Hon. Min. Of Education Juliana O’Connor-Connolly said the school will remain closed until an all-clear is given by the CMO Dr John Lee.
She also said that there was a flexibility in policies allowing the Ministry and Department of Education to respond to developments.
Throughout Tuesday’s press conference there were repeated calls from the government panel for person to desist from misinformation.
It was also commented that the current state of affairs should not be politicised.
The Leader of the Opposition, Roy McTaggart, had earlier in the day issued call for the government to postpone the planned October 14th reopening and reinstate the 10-day quarantine for vaccinated travellers.
With the government taking those two steps on Tuesday, in addition to reinstating the geo-tags on persons in quarantine, Premier Wayne Panton said the government was being advised by the same programme Board that had advised the previous administration.
Saying the Opposition “had nothing to worry about”, Mr Panton added that it was not a matter that their comments and suggestions were not appreciated.
Expressing confidence in his PACT coalition government’s handling of the crisis since it came into office this year, Mr Panton said there is no playbook and his administration’s approach is taking into account what other countries had attempted but not succeeded.
Compared the current and ongoing situation, the Premier stated that locking down was comparatively easy compared to the current challenge confronting Cayman with COVID-19.