By Staff Writer
Calling it a ‘pivotal moment in our handling of the pandemic’, HE Governor Martyn Roper has welcomed the announcement that Cayman will be moving to the important Phase 4 and reopening the borders on November 20th.
The announcement was made by Hon. Premier Wayne Panton last Friday.
Welcoming the news, Mr Roper stated: “I want to congratulate Premier Panton and his Government on the border reopening announcements. As a community, we have all been working hard, in effect since March 2020, to get to this position.”
He pointed to the current vaccination rate as a critical component in reaching this stage.
Recently the government had in fact played down the 80 per cent target with the Premier stating that the targets “were becoming somewhat fuzzy and meaningless particularly when it comes to issues around the Delta variant.”
However, the 80 per vaccination rate was very much back on the cards in last Friday’s press conference with the Premier appearing to the remaining few hundred people to get their jab.
Government statistics up to last Friday showed that 111,772 Covid-19 vaccinations have been administered of which 56,106 (79% of 71,106) have had at least one dose and 53,813 (76%) have completed the two-dose course. Additionally, 1,853 (representing 10% of those over the age of 50) have had a third or booster dose.
“We are now almost at 80% of the entire population having received 1 dose and (over)75% have had both. That puts us in a very strong position,” the Governor wrote. “It is in large part down to each and every one of you have come forward and taken the vaccine.”
Mr Roper who has been advocating that Cayman must learn to live with COVID-19, reinforced that outlook in his statement saying “the time has come to move forward with our reopening and live with covid. We can no longer stand still because the costs – economic, social mental health – are mounting and will only rise further if we remain stuck.”
He cautioned however that “we have to move forward as safely as possible.”
According to Governor Roper, scientific and medical advice is clear both from Dr Lee and independently confirmed by the UK’s Health Security Agency (UKHSA) - formerly Public Health England - that it is safe to take this decision and welcome back fully vaccinated tourists.
“It will give a much-needed boost to our economy and help many people get back to work,” he noted, while reiterating that “we are as well prepared as anywhere in the world to take this next step.”
He also commended the Premier “for his leadership, courage and vision” saying that these are incredibly difficult decisions, but they are the right ones for everyone in Cayman.
Mr Roper said he also recognised “the superb efforts of all the civil servants who worked around the clock to produce the national critical preparedness, readiness and response plan for Government.”
That plan was outlined by Hon Deputy Governor Franz Manderson during last week’s government press as the basis for the delayed November 20th reopening which had to be postponed from October 14th due to an unexpected and continuing surge in community-spread COVID-19 cases, especially among school children.
According to Mr Roper, “We now have to be ready for a new normal and live with COVID – as we have been doing for the last month since we first had community spread.”
But with the number of local cases increasing, the Governor has tempered his advice of Cayman learning to live with the disease, in what he called ‘the new normal’.
“Let us be clear, living with Covid in Cayman remains a cautious and careful approach with significant mitigations in place to protect our community (in that sense it differs very markedly from the more open policy followed in the UK). In Cayman our high vaccine take-up combined with other mitigations eg roll-out of boosters, using lateral flow tests to detect and isolate positive cases, mask-wearing, good hand-hygiene and social-distancing measures – these are all crucial to our new normal and how we live with covid safely.”
He said while it’s likely that case numbers may increase following the reopening of the borders, “the science gives us confidence that when combined all these measures will contain the spread of the virus and prevent the overwhelming majority of us from getting seriously ill or dying.”
Despite the ongoing spike in infections, serious illnesses and hospitalisations have been low.
Interestingly Governor Roper noted, in the Turks and Caicos Islands the majority of COVID-19 cases are not tourists but the local population travelling overseas and then circulating in the community.
He is urging those persons who have not yet been vaccinated to get their shots, and for those who have had their two doses to take advantage of the booster shots which are now available.
The Governor who has also received his booster shot said: “Our booster programme is now in full swing – we have already ordered another 11000 doses to arrive on island in the second half of November or sooner if needed.”
He stressed: “As we move towards a new normal of living with covid each of us needs to assume personal responsibility for protecting everyone in our community by following the public health regulations and guidelines. The majority of us have done that outstandingly over the pandemic.”
At what he referred to as “this key moment in our response to the pandemic” Mr Roper declared that “we are ready to move forward and I remain highly optimistic about Cayman’s future. We are a strong and resilient community. I remain convinced we will succeed.”