The debate surrounding the decision to pause its border reopening schedule dominated a government press conference on Friday which was called to update the community on COVID-19 in Cayman.
It was confirmed by Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee that a total of 24 community-spread cases have been identified and efforts continue to trace the origin of the outbreak.
The majority of the cases are linked to the George Town Primary School.
“Yesterday I reported a total of 10 people related the Georgetown Primary School outbreak, of which two are adults who had been related to somebody who had visited the school. Today, unfortunately, I have to report a further nine children that are related,” Dr Lee reported on Friday.
He said the investigation into the source of the outbreak is continuing, adding that “we're still trying to trace a few more remaining children and their families.”
PAUSED PHASE REMAINS
With the uncertainty surrounding the extent of the outbreak, although no serious illnesses have been reported, the government is maintaining its position to maintain the current Phase 3 status and not committing to the planned further reopening scheduled for October 14th.
Hon. Premier Wayne Panton, on Friday introduced an element of flexibility saying the situation remained under review. This follows an outcry from the Cayman Islands Tourism Association and others in the business community and other circles who have challenged the government’s rationale.
The Premier had previously indicated that the current pause at Phase 3 was likely to remain until the end of the year.
“We are looking to pause for a period of time, as much as to the end of the year, but we have to have the flexibility and I think if we don't have a specific date that we say we're going to end the pause to reopen, at this point it gives us some degree of flexibility.”
However, Mr Panton was adamant that the next phase - Phase 4 on October 14th - was off the cards.
“Is it going to be October 14? Absolutely not. So people can be assured of that....and the word here depends on where we're at as a country and how confident we can be.”
The government’s published Phase 3 reopening entails “a limited introduction of tourism during the slow season with some restrictions (including a flight slot management system) that allows it to manage the number of persons arriving.” The plan also outlines that “this also allows Government and the tourism industry to develop capacity for dealing with larger volumes of travellers in preparation for high season.”
Plans for the high seasons remain in doubt due to the evidence of community spread of COVID-19.
However, Mr Panton said his government was mindful of the economic concerns but had to balance that against public safety.
“I know that there are people there are components within our society who are unhappy that we have paused the reopening plan, who are concerned about businesses, who are concerned about livelihoods. Every, every component of our society needs to understand that we understand those concerns. And we are looking to be addressing those. We will be engaging with the business community.”
NEW REGULATIONS AND RESTRICTIONS
A series of regulations will now come into effect next week detailing how the community will be expected to function in the current circumstances.
Already some measures are being applied relating to travel to the Sister Islands, public gatherings and boating activities.
“Cabinet met this afternoon, and agreed to amend, travel, and boating regulations to allow for people who have tested negative, or who are verifiably vaccinated to travel from Grand Cayman to Cayman Brac or Little Cayman so we are obviously trying to ensure that we maintain the safety of our sister islands, particularly because they more limited health capacity and resources there.”
It includes a requirement that anyone who arrives in either of the Sister Islands from Grand Cayman and shows respiratory symptoms or symptoms of the virus will be quarantined “until the person is no longer regarded as a risk to the public.”
Mr Panton said, “Hopefully these new regulations which come into effect on the 21st of this month, will provide some comfort to our friends and families on the Sister Islands.”
He also said other regulations are currently being finalised and will be published next week.
Emphasis continues to be placed on encouraging people to get vaccinated as the main strategy to suppress the spread of the virus and reduce the risk of serious illness caused by the disease, especially with the current community spread.
“We have spoken about it often and it is now a fact it is in our community. We still don't know exactly what the source was, but suffice it to say, it is here, and it is a reality. Reality and we must deal with it. We all need both those who believe. Those who believe otherwise. The important thing is with that knowledge, we need to give the country hope,” the Premier stated.
DELAY DIVIDES OPINIONS
HE Governor Martyn Roper also addressed the debate surrounding the reopening schedule saying that it has caused some divisions within the community.
“The government's announcement that following a small number of community cases of COVID, that it was pausing the 14th October reopening date and strengthening measures to contain COVID has created divisions within our community.”
He said, “Many were palpably relieved primarily out of concern for our unvaccinated children under the age of 12, others were distressed, and some angry long-awaited family reunions would have to be cancelled logistics of children returning to Cayman for Christmas from educational institutes around the world was suddenly more complicated and representatives of the tourism industry predicted business failures and an unrecoverable future.”
According to Mr Roper, “Hopefully, now that you have seen what an outbreak might look like, you can better understand the reality, and really appreciate how vaccines work to protect the unvaccinated.”
The latest statistics show that 76 per cent of the eligible population have received the first dose, with 72 per cent have had both doses.
“'I’m hopeful that getting even people vaccinated, rolling out our boosters, demonstrating that we can contain local outbreaks will help heal the divides and enable the entire community, to feel reassured and ready to move forward in a spirit of unity with a safe and cautious reopening plan. I've said before, seeking to wait out the pandemic is a false hope. We have to learn to live with it,” Governor Roper stated.
Hon. Minister for Health and Wellness, Sabrina Turner also acknowledged that the decision to pause the reopening schedule has divided opinions.
But she said the government was being guided by the advice of medical and other experts.
“We must give thanks for the fight for the fact that despite the fair, the fatigue, the uncertainty, and even anger some may have felt, be it for or against what we have announced...We are being guided by public health experts and our very own CMO(Cheif Medical Officer) to be hard and fast in our in controlling the spread,” she said.
Min. Turner said she applauded the efforts of the business community, and the churches, and each and every individual “for being proactive.”
With the government’s handling of this phase of the COVID-19 crisis being closely scrutinised, Premier Panton leader of the PACT coalition, all but rejected overtures from the Opposition saying he had received correspondence from them offering to assist.
While he commended the previous Progressives-led administration for its handling of the first phase of the pandemic, Mr Panton reiterated that the current situation of reopening posed a different set of challenges which he claims the Progressives now in Opposition had no experience in.
“In our view, we don't need to engage with them. Firstly because we are relying on the same advisors that advised the previous government...I don't really see them having that type of skill or experience that is going to be useful,” the PACT government leader stated.
Mr Panton further stated: “From a political perspective, they had the opportunity when they were in government to create a ca national COVID Council. They had more reasons to do it at that time they didn't do it then. So I don't think that this is something that we should be considering from a political perspective.”