By Lindsey Turnbull
Cayman’s business community had hoped that Government’s proposed border reopening date of end of March would become a reality since the vaccine rollout, however those hopes will now have to be put on hold for a further period of time since the Premier’s announcement yesterday that the borders would not be reopened until 90 per cent of Cayman’s elderly and vulnerable people had been vaccinated against the coronavirus. Instead, he hoped that Cayman would be able to enjoy an improved stayover tourism season for the end of 2021/beginning of 2022.
Speaking at the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce on Thursday 28th January, Premier McLaughlin stated that there were grounds for optimism, especially as the United States was getting to grips with its vaccination rollout as the US was Cayman’s biggest source of tourism revenue.
The good news was that the vaccination programme offered hope.
“A successful rollout of mass vaccination programmes across the world offers the prospect that we can now think positively but cautiously about reopening Cayman. Additionally, providing that enough people take the vaccination, we can be confident that our population will have a great deal of protection against Covid-19 disease,” he said.
However, he felt that changing circumstances meant that opening plans had to be flexible. The new variants of the virus and the worry that existing vaccines might not work so well with these new variants meant that that it was harder to confirm when the opening of the borders would take place.
A few weeks ago, the Premier was “relatively confident” in the opening plan for end of March, but new variants were “game changers” to the plan, particularly as these new strains had been detected in travelers coming to Cayman, which had caused the Government to reassess opening plans. The safety of public health was the major consideration, he said.
“We hope to be in a position to enjoy an improved stayover tourism high season,” he said, referring to the high season of end of 2021 and early 2022. He was less clear on the opening up of the cruise sector, the opening of which was “doubtful in the extreme” in 2021.
Any reopening plan would be “absolutely contingent” upon getting more than 90 per cent of Cayman’s vulnerable people being vaccinated, the Premier said.
“Our greatest challenge is persuading enough of the right demographic to get vaccinated. That is absolutely key,” he said. “Without this, quite frankly, there is no way we can open safely.”