The Cayman Islands is gearing up for an extensive program of testing for the COVID-19 virus.
Around the world, testing is now a top priority alongside efforts to find a vaccine.
Announcing that Cayman will now be ramping up this phase of its COVID-19 fight back, Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin said test kits are part of a shipment of medical supplies being flown in onboard a UK government-chartered British Airways flight.
Much of those supplies are being provided by the British government through Public Health England alongside orders placed by the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority.
Additionally, the Cayman Islands government is awaiting a huge order of medical supplies sourced in South Korea.
Describing the planned testing program as an “aggressive” campaign, Premier McLaughlin said this marks an important phase in tackling COVID-19 locally and preventing it from reaching epidemic proportions in Cayman.
The global outbreak has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation(WHO) and one of the most severe in recent world history.
“Testing, testing, testing” has become a mantra of the WHO.
However, many countries, including the UK, have been struggling to meet their targets due to a global shortage of testing kits, especially the ‘reagents’ - the chemicals used in the testing process.
Testing for COVID-19 is done in two stages; one for the antigen which determines the presence of the virus, and the antibody test which detects past infection.
Premier McLaughlin said: “The second aspect of the strategy is testing and if the individual turns up positive, (then) isolation, and tracing of any contacts which that individual had and then isolating those contacts.”
He said the reason why the Government had not been able to embark on this phase was due to the lack of testing kits.
Cayman Islands has been one of a few Caribbean countries able to do tests and preliminary analysis locally, although results are still being verified at the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA) in Trinidad.
The territory’s new coronavirus testing facility was recently commissioned with support from a team from Public Health England.
According to Premier McLaughlin, the charted BA flight is bringing in 1700 test kits as part of the shipment of medical supplies.
He said, “We can then get aggressively into this part of the testing program particularly with respect to frontline staff…those people who have regular interface with others.”
In addition to that shipment, the Premier also disclosed that a huge shipment of 200,000 test kits has been placed through South Korea.
He said this was coordinated with the assistance of the Governor’s Office in Cayman and the British High Commission in Seoul, South Korea.
“We are now working very hard to try to find a way to get them here as swiftly as possible.”
Mr McLaughlin said once arrived, the shipment would give Cayman “more than sufficient should it come to that, to be able to test every single person in Cayman, and then some.”
That would kick-off a massive countrywide testing program planned by the Government.
Mr McLaughlin said with that scale of a national drive, “that is how we can succeed in preventing this virus from becoming an epidemic.
“Then we can truly deeply wide scale, testing, tracing and isolation of persons who prove positive.”
However, he once more reiterated his clarion call for residents to stay at home and maintain social distance.
“But of all of the things that I’ve spoken about, the most important thing is social distancing. If you are in isolation, there is nobody you can give it to and nobody you can get it from. It’s as simple as that.”
Expanding on the upcoming extensive testing program unveiled by the Premier, His Excellency, the Governor, Martyn Roper borrowed from the WHO’s oft-repeated theme of “testing, testing, testing” to curtail the outbreak.
“There’s a huge amount of work going on with this, and it’s very exciting that we’ve placed this order with South Korea,” said Governor Roper.
His office coordinated the sourcing and shipping arrangements for the testing kits with his counterpart at the British High Commission in South Korean.
The Governor’s Office was also instrumental in getting the air bridge set up between the UK and Cayman which is also bringing medical supplies from Public Health England.
He said, the additional kit coming in “will allow us to test our people on the front line, test our emergency services, and it will allow us ultimately to test everybody on the islands. So suppression and testing is our way out of this.”
But while the testing is an important element in combating the virus, Mr Roper underscored the importance of residents abiding by the regulations laid down to fight the disease here.
“We need all of you to cooperate with us on the advice we are giving you if we are going to be able to achieve that.”
Meanwhile, on the local testing capabilities, Chief Medical Officer, Dr John Lee said testing procedures in Cayman are being done in keeping with international standards including the guidelines of the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO).
He also reported that the testing facility at the HSA will soon be augmented by Doctors Hospital shortly bringing its own testing unit on stream.
“Doctors Hospital are moving along very well with their plans,” he reported.
“They have their own PCR (polymerase chain reaction) machine which is a new machine which arrived recently on the island. I understand that it is larger than the one at HSA, so it is very like that they may be able to have a larger throughput than the HSA.”
The PCR is a highly complex biomedical apparatus used to analyse the tests.
Alongside the test kits coming in, Hon. Minister of Health Dwayne Seymour reported that the HSA was being further reinforced with additional supplies to lead the battle against COVID-19 here.
He detailed that the additional medical supplies on order include 190 boxes of gloves, 10,000 N95 masks, 600 surgical masks, 2,500 eye protection visors and 5,250 gowns of various sizes.