Reservations are mounting over Cayman’s continued retention of its COVID-19 mask mandate and how it could now be negatively impacting tourism recovery.
The policy came in for further scrutiny and critique during the recent mid-year board meeting of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA), attended by Hon. Minister of Tourism Kenneth Bryan and his Cabinet colleague, Hon. Deputy Premier and Minister for Economic Affairs and Labour, Chris Saunders.
Both ministers voiced their misgivings about the continuing mask mandate and supported calls from the CITA executive for the policy to be reviewed.
Mr Bryan himself has recently been questioning keeping the policy and some other restrictions in place, considering the balance between safeguarding public health and ensuring economic recovery at a time when the pandemic seems to have peaked.
He has been putting the onus on individual responsibility, a point which he reiterated at the CITA board meeting.
“I’m tired of masks myself,” he stated. “I’ve done my part. I’ve been vaccinated. Even if I wasn’t it would be my risk. It’s time for us to take all of our responsibilities so that we can all get back to business and provide for our families to take care of our businesses.”
The Tourism Minister has been championing the argument both in public and Cabinet to remove the mask mandate and relax some of the other restrictions at this stage. He was at the time reacting to concerns raised during the CITA board meeting with tourism representatives wondering whether the remaining regulations were counter-productive for Cayman’s tourism industry.
CITA president Marc Langevin, in welcoming the support of Min. Bryan, observed: “You made it very clear to all your colleagues that it was a necessity if we really are serious about recovery, that we need to change and evolve our regulation.”
He noted that Cayman is lagging behind in adjusting to the changing situation the COVID-19 pandemic which is on the decline in the key tourism markets for Cayman.
“The world is learning to move forward. It doesn’t matter if it’s Europe, New York or anywhere else, and here we are still being the last trying to make a move. And that is becoming a certainly a point of concern when other destinations are currently relaxing.”
While acknowledging that some other destinations might have taken a risk and opened too quickly (resulting in renewed spikes in some instances), he felt that Cayman’ was being overly cautious to its detriment.
“I’m not suggesting is the best and some of them take some very big risk, but certainly it’s not putting us in a competitive comparison here,” he noted.
“The reality is there is a regulation that is still holding us back…because we’re competing against destinations that don’t have those restrictions.”
Assessing the current state of the tourism sector, the CITA president said it’s too late to save this year’s summer season and the focus should now be on the upcoming peak winter season by relaxing or removing the remaining COVID-19 restrictions.
“We certainly have the opportunity to simplify and expedite the travel authorization form or remove it that would be even better…We certainly need to start to remove some of the regulations.”
CALL TO ACTION
Earlier in the meeting, Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan had urged the tourism industry to keep up their lobbying of government over those aspects of the remaining COVID-19 restrictions which they feel are now bad for business.
“I fight very, very hard for in Cabinet for you, but you also know that this is a democracy, and I’m one of many. You need to convince the public, you need to convince all MPs to do this…I will continue to promote and stand on your behalf not only because I’m the Minister, but I think it’s the right thing. We’ve done two years of those who don’t want to take responsibility for their own actions, and I think it’s time for us to make our own stand.”
Appearing mindful of a possible pushback, Mr Bryan went on offer this advice to the CITA members on their suggestion to further relax the remaining restrictions:
“I know I’m gonna get a lot licks for this, but it’s the truth,” he said, urging them to press their case.
“Make your voice a little bit louder. I’m doing my best. But shout a little louder. I’m a politician. I’m accustomed to licks and so are my colleagues.”
He received strong backing in his stance - especially against the prevailing mask mandate - from his colleague minister and Deputy Premier, Chris Saunders(Finance, Economic Development and Labour).
“I agree with the Minister. I hate those bloody masks too and it’s about time that people started taking personal responsibility,” Mr Saunders asserted.
The issue of opposition to the mask requirement was summed in one of the PowerPoint presentations by industry representatives.
“Mask mandate: Various policies in place for every business in Cayman. Most feel it’s useless,” it read.
And this comment was made alluding to a possible campaign against mask wearing: “That lovely mask mandate thing. We’re gonna get a new campaign called ‘Unmask Cayman’. I’m pretty sure we’re gonna that started really soon.”