By Lindsey Turnbull
In his contribution to the Budget debate, Opposition member and former Premier, Alden McLaughlin, praised government’s handling of the pandemic only as far as its success with the vaccination programme. But, when it came to how business hoped to recover from the prolonged border closure while Covid rages in the community, he said the government’s handling of the issue was disastrous.
Mr McLaughlin thought that government members must live in “some parallel universe” if they thought they were succeeding.
“I move around this island every day, in every district. I spend a lot of time these days in places of “ill repute” (some would say), but I learn what people are thinking and what is on the ground and I can find no constituency of support, no approval of the way the government is managing and has managed the covid pandemic since they took office. None. I understand that there is an assessment that is being written now that will probably be out in another few weeks. We shall see what that says.”
Mr McLaughlin said were he still the Premier, the management of the pandemic and border opening would have been very different.
“Without doubt, at some point the country had to reopen, but I don’t know who thought that the best point to reopen was when the virus was at its highest peak in terms of spread through the community, because that’s where we are now,” he fumed.
He did however, point out the incredible success of Cayman’s vaccine programme, whereby more than 80% of the entire population had been at least partially vaccinated against Covid-19.
“Continuing the vaccination programme and having achieved a level of cover that frankly no one on my side thought was possible, that is excellent. The vaccine is preventing us from having significant numbers of deaths although every life lost is costly,” he confirmed. “We don’t know what this Omicron variant will do, but so far so good.”
But, the “disaster” of having allowed community spread of the virus to the extend it currently was, had been a huge misstep by government, in terms of the country’s ability to recover economically.
“It presents a major obstacle to the two main goals that any government may have: one the reopening, so that our tourism business can start to come back; and two, that local businesses, many of them having been hanging on by their finger-tips over the last 18 months, can start to get the benefit of this new economic activity.”
However, the community spread of the virus at the level it was scared local people away from events, from bars, from restaurants, from stores, he said.
“And seriously, who in their right mind is going to travel to a country where the level of community spread of the virus is so high that you are almost guaranteed to get the virus? For your vacation!” he worried. “And if you test positive for the virus, you are then going to be condemned to your hotel room until you test negative. Now, who is going to pay for that privilege?”
“If I am a father in Minnesota, one of those cold states in the US, and I’m tired of the cold, tired that I haven’t been able to travel for a couple of years, and want to go someone somewhere sunny for Christmas. And I say to the wife: “Hon, let’s go to the Cayman Islands. Lovely place.” And she says: “Hon, we can’t go because the kids can’t get vaccinated, and if we go, we have to test negative before we go, we have to do an LFT on days 2, 5 and 10. There is such a high level in the community right now the CDC has issued an advisory that its dangerous to travel to the Cayman Islands.” Who is going to pay for that privilege? You have to leave the kids at home with grandma, have to do these tests, and if you fall positive you have to stay in your hotel room!”
Mr McLaughlin said without effective control of the community transmission of the virus the economy could not and would not ever recover.
doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out,” he said, acknowledging places like the Turks and Caicos Islands, which had had success because they had been able to manage the community spread.