How best to navigate the Cayman Islands out of a period of lockdown with alternating hard and soft curfews back into an open and thriving economy is the next big challenge on the Government’s to-do list.
Fewer violations of the hard nighttime and soft daytime Shelter-In-Place curfew are being reported by the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service(RCIPS).
That's an encouraging sign and a clear indication that after the initial period of adjustment coinciding with the upward creep in the number of COVID-19 cases here, the message is finally getting through and people are acting more responsibly.
Even in a generally law-abiding society such as Cayman, the psychological adjustment to curtailed freedoms with a goal of curtailing the spread of this killer virus, takes some getting used to.
The clampdown on COVID-19, so far successful in suppressing a major outbreak in Cayman, has had the unintended consequence slowing down business turnover.
The exact scale of the slowdown in economic terms is yet to be quantified but it’s patently obvious that the dip is dramatic.
Temporary business closures, staff lay-offs, a tightly-controlled and rigidly-enforced ‘essential services' eligibility criteria, tourist departures and border closures have all meant less money circulating in the economy and consequently less revenue for the government.
This state of affairs in the current global environment is unique to the Cayman Islands.
The unexpected dual global crises of a public health pandemic and its knock-on effects have the global economy teetering in the brink of recession.
Government here, while reminding of its adequate short-term reserves (for which it rightfully takes credit for fiscal prudence), is however quite aware that even Cayman could face severe economic shocks if this crisis - and the accompanying local restrictions - prolong.
Saving lives had to be the priority, and it's clear that the Cayman was in that group of countries and territories which moved early to prevent COVID-19 becoming an even bigger challenge locally than it already is.
In the aftermath of this crisis, there will be enough time to debate the pros and cons of the actions taken.
It’s fair to say though that some countries misread the scale of the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and are still struggling to manage the public health emergency and economic dislocation its causing.
Some might have been preparing for a 'disturbance' but have instead got hit by a full-on Category 5 hurricane.
But as with any disaster, a recovery plan is necessary and the scale of the recovery is only really known after the disaster has done its damage.
In the case of COVID-19 in Cayman, it’s reassuring to learn of the planning underway for an exit strategy from this nightmare reality.
The business community has been quite vocal in calling for it.
Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin was indeed correct when he voiced his frustration earlier and even reprimanded some in the business community with a warning not to be careful not to be seen to be prioritising commercial interests over human lives.
His biblical invocation that while the Cayman economy could be rebuilt “only Jesus is known to have raised the dead” seems destined for local folklore.
By the same token, the constant reminders that he and his government have been receiving from the business community about the real challenges their companies are facing is worthy of note.
The government’s welcome first step this week towards providing a safety net of soft loans, grants, technical support and training for small and micro enterprises is a step in the right direction.
The bigger challenge is navigating Cayman out of the COVID-caused economic downturn.
As the Premier himself has repeatedly reminded; it will be a different ball game going forward.
The expected period of adjustment will be long, winding, possibly painful road for some, but there’s a rainbow at the end of the proverbial tunnel. However, as is the case coming out of tunnels, the light filters in gradually. It won't be business as usual in the broadest of terms.
But a few remarks earlier this week by Premier McClaughlin bring hope.
“If we can soldier on through this time that we’re in for the next few weeks and we don’t wind up with widespread community transmission of the virus, a whole lot of things we’ll be able to change as far as the local economy is concerned.”
Cayman did it before with Hurricane Ivan. While that rebuilding was more of the infrastructural network, this time calls for a reset of the systems that underpin the economic success that Cayman has become.
But, a reality check: We are not there yet.
Let’s use this the next few weeks to reflect and strategise how we are going to move beyond this phase of the unprecedented history that we are living through.
While addressing a question about disputes between landlords and tenants over rent payments, the Premier's response further encapsulated the challenges ahead.
“At this stage I just exhort everyone to be as patient as you can and to be as reasonable as you can (whether you are landlord or tenant).”
Wise words for contemplation over this difficult period, which this year in Cayman will be unlike any other.
Stay safe. Stay indoors. Use the extended time to plan for the life that lies ahead.
This coronavirus crisis is not yet over, but as Cayman Can, we’ll get through this together.
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