The Cayman Islands borders will remain closed for an additional month initially beyond the previously announced September 1st reopening date.
The unexpected announcement only came after office hours on Friday evening.
The government said that “having continually monitored the rate of infection in other countries, particularly in the United States where the pandemic is still widespread, Cabinet has taken the decision to extend the Islands border closure for an additional 30 days, until 1st October 2020, at which time a further decision will be made.”
Hon. Deputy Premier and Min. of Tourism, Moses Kirkconnell, stated that “Waiting to open our borders is allowing us to learn from the experiences of other countries and is ensuring that sufficient time is allocated to putting all of the necessary precautions in place to keep our Islands safe and people protected.”
Already questions are being raised especially about the timing of the announcement.
It had caught many in the various sectors of industry off-guard, especially those involved in tourism whose plans for a September reopening were already advanced.
Just this week, a major global real estate agency with significant operations in Cayman, issued an advisory to their clients and the international real estate market, about the anticipated September opening that the government had announced in July.
Well balanced in tone, the article stated: “As you may be aware, the Cayman Islands’ borders have been closed to visitors, from a general aviation perspective, since March, in the jurisdiction’s quest to prevent the spread of Covid-19 within the Islands.
It commended the authorities for the strict approach (which) “has meant Cayman has had very few cases and eventually has led to us becoming Covid-free for the past three weeks, an incredible achievement for the people of these Islands.”
And it looked forward to the September opening date:
“But, come 1st September, the Islands will begin a gradual reopening of our borders to allow certain categories of people to come and go, with certain restrictions.”
The company reasoned that “this ‘soft reopening’ of Cayman will allow the Islands to roll back rather than jump back into tourism, which should mean that we are able to better handle the formidable task of allowing overseas visitors back into Cayman.”
It went on to say, rather presciently, “it is critical that we open our borders extremely cautiously to ensure that we do not suffer the same fate as some of our neighbours, who experienced spikes in Covid cases once they opened their borders, only to have to close them again.”
And sounded this note of caution: “The start/stop process is a huge let-down for those who have committed to visiting or who were thinking of visiting. With proper protocols in place for visitors, it is anticipated that this soft opening will enable us to eventually get back fully to pre-Covid tourism levels in the coming months.”
SHOULD REOPENING HAVE BEEN DELAYED EARLIER?
To all intents and purposes, we are indeed at that start/stop just one day after that marketing advice by a private business was published.
They and others will now have to review their plans in light of the government’s announcement - released after business hours on Friday - that reopening the borders has been put on hold for at least another month.
The rationale is not being questioned, although the timing leaves several questions unanswered.
The trend in many of the source tourism and supply-chain countries for Cayman was already cause for concern when the September opening date was formally announced in July after being hinted at before.
While the cautious approach being taken by the government is understandable, the timing of the announcement for something as significant as this - without even a press briefing - raises questions that the government could do well by providing an explanation.
“From from the outset of the pandemic the government has placed the highest priority on public health and safety and we are approaching the reopening of the Islands borders with the same degree of due care and attention. It is unfortunate that this decision had to be taken but we believe it is the most prudent thing to do given the environment beyond our shores,” Tourism Minister Kirkconnell said in the late-Friday announcement.
While that is commendable, it’s noteworthy that the issue came up in an early-July press conference when that very issue was raised as reported by Caymanian Times then.
“A tentative September target re-opening date has been mentioned for the Cayman Islands, but Premier McLaughlin sidestepped a definitive answer when the question was put to him recently.
Asked by Caymanian Times’ Ralph Lewis then if a November reopening date would not be more practical given the September slow season, and allowing industry stakeholders more time to plan, the Premier responded: “Well, we are obviously going to have to make that decision relatively soon.”
Speaking then on July 3rd he said, “We still have a fair bit of time”.
A ‘cross-ministerial’ advisory committee has been set up to work on a reopening plan, but the Premier accepted that “no matter how good that plan is, we can’t open the border when the virus is as rampant as it currently is.”
Crucially, the government’s announcement on Friday said, “Cabinet has taken the decision to extend the Islands border closure for an additional 30 days, until 1st October 2020, at which time a further decision will be made.”
That suggests that depending on trends in Caymans source markets especially for tourism, there could be another deferment.
REOPENING RISKS REINFECTIONS
At present, there is growing concern about reinfections in several major global capitals where they have removed their lockdowns with some affected countries, the UK, France and mainly the US having to institute targeted lockdowns in several cities.
Some tourism-dependent countries in the Caribbean are now also reporting a resurgent in cases after opening their borders.
What’s particularly noteworthy is that countries, even some with high infection and mortality rates, are now putting each other on travel warnings advising their citizens to stay away.
Cayman is included in a US list although the territory has not had any new cases for about a month, only one death (the very first case), and one of the leading COVID testing regimes in the world.
CAUTION, THE WATCHWORD
Meanwhile, in Cayman, the government continues to emphasise ‘lives over livelihoods’ in its continuing efforts to keep the disease under control here.
A cross-departmental committee has been advising on the processes for the planned reopening.
That involves an elaborate system was being in place involving a pre-departure approval system before travelling, being required to wear an electronic health-monitoring device, and undergoing a period of self-isolation before being fully cleared to circulate within the community.
Further announcements were expected as the regulations for the new system are currently being finalised.
There’s a crucial balance is being weighed between opening up the borders to tourism and safeguarding against the risk of spreading the disease in the community.
The government had previously stated that it was adopting a cautious ‘lives-over-livelihoods’ approach especially judging from the experiences of other tourism-dependent countries in the region.
Several have had to roll back up the welcome mat which they’d rolled out, following a subsequent spike in infections locally linked to reopening their borders.
WARNING ABOUT UNAUTHORISED FLIGHT SALES
A growing area of concern for Cayman is airline websites which are offering flights to the territory and accepting future bookings.
The Cayman Islands government says it’s aware of those and reminds the public that while the borders remain closed, “approval has not been granted for the operation of any commercial flights.”
Travellers who make reservations directly with any airline while the Islands borders are closed are cautioned that they are doing so at their own risk.
“It should also be noted that airline vouchers issued by other airlines for such flights are not transferrable to the British Airways repatriation flights, nor are they valid for use on Cayman Airways,” the government advises.
In the interim, repatriation flights by Cayman Airways will continue to operate on an ad hoc basis and the air bridge between the UK and the Cayman Islands will also remain open, as this provides a vitally important link between the two countries.
With regards to the start of the academic year in September, the government said it recognises that parents are keen to confirm travel plans to accompany students needing to travel overseas to continue their education.
No further details were provided on that aspect.
The Governor’s Office has confirmed that a British Airways flight will leave the Cayman Islands for London, Gatwick on 28 August, which is mainly for students and their parents. The Governor’s Office is also in advanced discussions with British Airways to introduce a regular fortnightly service to London, Gatwick. We hope to release more details on this next week.
The Cayman Islands Government, through TravelTime says it’s making every effort to assist residents with returning home. However, it advises that travellers should remain aware that we are in uncertain and challenging times and with inbound travel restrictions in place, delays in securing a return flight should be expected.
Furthermore, Government policy stipulates that all persons entering the Cayman Islands must be quarantined for 14 days in a Government facility and will require a negative PCR test before returning to their own accommodations.
CAYMAN AIRWAYS FLIGHT SCHEDULE
Cayman Airways is also providing a series of repatriation flights to Miami, USA; Kingston, Jamaica and Le Ceiba, Honduras which are scheduled to depart the Cayman Islands on dates listed below. Although there are no restrictions on outbound travel from the Cayman Islands, non-essential travel is strongly discouraged, as options to return are limited and travellers may have to remain overseas longer than anticipated.
• Miami, USA: September 1, 4, 11, 18 and 25
• Kingston, Jamaica: September 2, 16 and 30
• Le Ceiba, Honduras: August 19 and September 23
TravelTime procedure for booking flights
While the Cayman Islands borders remain closed, all persons wishing to travel inbound on board a repatriation flight must register their inbound travel request with TravelTime, and complete the online form at www.exploregov.ky/traveltime in order to receive pre-travel approval. Travellers who have not completed this process will not be permitted to board a repatriation flight. Questions or concerns pertaining to inbound travel should be directed to TravelTime by emailing email@example.com or by calling 649-6913 between the hours of 8:30am and 5:00pm, Monday to Friday.