The ruling PACT (People-driven, Accountable, Competent and Transparent) coalition on Wednesday announced a revised package of measures easing the current arrival restrictions.
Hon. Premier Wayne Panton outlined the revised arrival protocols which take effect next Wednesday, June 23rd alongside members of his cabinet - Hon. Finance Minister Chris Saunders, Hon. Minister for Health and Wellness Sabrina Turner. and Hon. Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan.
Also in attendance were HE Governor Martyn Roper and Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee who respectively gave updates.
REVISED ARRIVAL PROTOCOLS
“We’re announcing today that the quarantine is being reduced to five days for incoming travellers who have completed an approved course of vaccination against COVID-19 that can be securely verified,” Mr Panton announced.
He said for those travellers who have not been vaccinated or cannot provide satisfactory proof of vaccination, the quarantine period remains at 14 days.
The Premier also stated that the mandatory 72-hour pre-arrival PCR testing for all incoming travellers is being reinstated. The PCR testing on arrival is being removed while the testing remains in place for all travellers exiting quarantine.
He said the government plans to require mandatory weekly PCR testing of unvaccinated frontline workers who will be defined by the Medical Officer of Health and include all those who work directly with travellers.
Persons who quarantine at a government facility, and who take non-essential travel will now also begin paying for their period in quarantine.
Mr Panton also disclosed that the government was considering the ramifications of linking a vaccination requirement to work permits.
SEPTEMBER TO REMEMBER?
Responding to calls by the Opposition for the government to set a September 1st target date for reopening, Mr Panton hit back, saying his government would not rush.
“I have said before, the government has been working on a plan and we will shortly release these details in full to provide a clear phased approach. Perhaps a working draft of these plans in the hands of the opposition, which had its own press conference yesterday, offering suggestions to reopen. To them I say, thank you, but we have this.”
The PACT leader also accused the Opposition Progressives/Alliance of politicising the issue.
He said his coalition government is working on a strategy for a phased, safe and structured re-opening process.
“The plan we will adopt and publish currently has the introduction of tourism beginning in the middle of September during the slow season so that we can restrict and manage the numbers of people, to allow for the collection of data gathering and capacity building to prepare for the high tourism season.”
Mr Panton also said, “A very important point is that we also specifically did not want the reopening to occur at the same time as the commencement of our school year.”
“Opening our borders is not just a matter of picking a date out of the year, which is apparently what the opposition has done,” he countered.
“Every move we make in our plan is calculated to get people back to our shores to spend disposable income to help our economy with a view to eventually removing all quarantine for all vaccinated travellers, while still requiring unvaccinated travellers to get permission to enter our borders and abide by our rules, and to do it safely and right by our people.”
He said the PACT government plans take into account increasing air traffic, different quarantines depending on the travellers and eventually getting to a stage of all clear.
LOCKING DOWN VERSUS OPENING UP
Planning for reopening is more challenging than putting in place the lockdown Mr Panton declared, but he also credited the former government for its efforts in managing the lockdown at the height of the pandemic.
The issue of the earlier locking down and eventually opening up was also addressed comparatively by HE Governor Martyn Roper who credited both the previous and current administrations for the approach to the different issues.
“I’m struck by how this government, like the previous one, is taking the utmost care to safeguard the lives of everyone on these islands,” he stated. “Locking down took courage and bold steps at the right time, and were a great success for which the previous government deserves our thanks and respect.”
But Mr Roper also noted that “opening up is a quite different and more complex process, arguably even more challenging.”
He said that is especially so for Cayman “because we have enjoyed largely normal lives, with no social distancing or masks for so long. As the premier said, almost every other country opening up has had to go backwards. That would be disastrous for Cayman for so many reasons, and a cautious phased approach can avoid that, and gradually build back in the sector.”
VACCINATION VERSUS VIRUS
Cayman on Wednesday received a further consignment of around 12,000 vaccination doses from the British government which will augment the drive to reach the vaccination target.
“Based on the latest figures from the Economics and Statistics Office(ESO), 66% of the population have had at least one jab and 56% have had both but we do have a very long way to go.”
Governor Roper urged residents who have not yet had their vaccine to come forward to get their jab.
“We do need people to come forward and use those doses that are being sent today...we do need to vaccinate a significant number of additional people if we’re going to get within that range of 70 to 80% of the population vaccinated, but that prize is within our grasp.”
Reopening the borders is intrinsically linked to the tourism sector, an issue addressed by Health Minister Kenneth Bryan.
“The last thing that we want, or any one of us wants is a risk of another lockdown, or potentially worse,” he stated.
He reported that he and his ministry’s senior leadership team have been meeting with a variety of key tourism stakeholders to discuss the matters pertaining to their respective sectors.
“The focus of these meetings was to discuss the contribution to the tourism industry, as well as the challenges they’re currently facing with a view to resolving some of the most pressing requests and concerns,” Mr Bryan informed.
He had previously stated that given the uncertainties and rows over vaccination policy by some of the major cruise lines, the focus is shifting to stay-over tourism as a priority in the short-term.
Mr Bryan also announced that he is aiming to raise a further CI$100,000 from the private sector to boost the vaccination challenge to encourage remaining residents to get the jab.
The new push to get the vaccination rate up to the 70 to 80 per cent reopening target was also linked to an upward revision of the local population from the often-referenced 65,000 to 71,160 people.
He also announced that he is aiming to raise a further CI$100,000 for the vaccination challenge to encourage residents to get vaccinated.
The Minister of Finance Chris Saunders, currently working on the budget due to be presented in a few weeks, said the government is currently looking into a further package of support measures for the tourism sector and details will be announced shortly.
Wednesday’s announcements also included a confirmation that the pensions holiday had been extended to the end of the year.
Among other interim measures, Hon. Minister for Health Sabrina Turner said the health insurance support scheme due to end this month is being extended for another three months.
She also addressed the population issue relative to the vaccination campaign saying, “The estimate of population, is based on updated information from the ESO is 71,160 persons. The previous number that we’re working with of 65,000 was as per 2010 census and based on these estimates, 46,911 persons having received at least one dose equates to 66% of our population, and 39,852 persons having two doses equates to 56% of our population.”
Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan said the tourism workers will continue to receive their stipend of CI$1,500 for a further four months and that June payments are now being processed.
However, he also said stipend recipients must complete a mandatory survey which will inform government policy on employment and other issues impacting the tourism industry.
Funding for the stingray feeding and interaction programme and the moratorium on the granting of the wildlife interaction zone licencing have been extended for another three months “to protect those in industry”, Mr Bryan said.
The government press conference came one day after a press briefing by the Opposition Progressives/Alliance which formed the previous administration and was equally replete with political jabs and jibes.