Premier Alden McLaughlin is maintaining a firm stance on measures taken to suppress the spread of COVID-19 in the territory, especially the all-day hard curfew on Sundays and the closure of public beaches.
While the government has recently relaxed some of the restrictions which have curtailed business activity and public gatherings, pressure has been mounting over the imposition of the Sunday hard curfew and the continuing beach closures.
There is now talk of a court challenge to test the legal validity especially of the all-day curfew on Sunday.
The continuing closure of public beaches has also become a point of contention thrown into sharp focus with the upcoming Discovery Day holiday weekend.
It was the previous Easter weekend holiday which saw the blanket banning of activities on public beaches by the police as a precautionary measure due to violations of prohibitions in place leading up to that period.
In firing back at critics, Premier McLaughlin affirmed:
“The reason for everything we’ve done and are still doing is saving lives,” adding that in his opinion “saving of lives is not a priority to everyone.”
He spoke about receiving numerous emails “in which people have actually said - some of them lawyers - ‘so what if a few hundred old and vulnerable people die’?”
“I have explained that is not the ethos of the government. All of the measures that we have out in pace are aimed at saving lives and still are,” he stated.
The government has put in place a 5-step process to ease the territory out of the lockdown it has been under for almost two months now.
Mr McLaughlin has repeatedly stated that emphasis has been on saving lives by preventing the spread of the virus in the community, a policy for which the government has generally been applauded.
That has had to be balanced against the economic impact as the lockdown has seen business and wider economic activity practically stalled.
A series of relief policies to support some segments of the private sector, workers and other residents have been put in place.
At the same time, a vigorous ‘test, trace and isolate’ strategy has been yielding results with a reduction in the rate of transmission of the virus.
In his pushback directed mainly at persons whom he identified as lawyers calling for an accelerated easing of the restrictions on the main island, Mr McLaughlin repeated his accusation that “their business is not about saving lives. Their obligation is not about saving the lives of the people of this country," he charged.
He said he has been threatened with court action.
"Let them," he challenged, "but I and my government will proceed with what we think is in the best interest of this country.”
Mr McLaughlin also reminded that the Sunday hard curfew and beach access restrictions are not imposed by regulation but by an order of the Commissioner of Police after consultation with the Executive and with the permission of the Governor.
The Sunday hard curfew and the beach closures were instituted as public safety measures under the authority of the Commissioner of Police, Derek Byrne.
In commenting on the debate surrounding the issue, His Excellency, Governor Martyn Roper, to whom the Police Commissioner reports, pointed out the measures “are entirely in line with the Police law.”
He said: “We are a country that fully follows the rule of law and everything has been done in line with the advice of the Attorney General and due process including meetings of the Cabinet, and the National Hazard Management Executive Council as required.”
A reminder this week from Police Commissioner Derek Byrne states that the Sunday hard curfew remains in effect on Grand Cayman from midnight Saturday to midnight Sunday, along with a full 24-hour hard curfew on access to public beaches on the main island.
These restrictions, as well as others which still apply to the Sister Islands, are in place until Friday May 15th at 5 am.
An update is expected this week especially regarding the situation for the upcoming long holiday weekend.
SIGNS OF SUCCESS
According to Mr McLaughlin, “Obviously, the results that we are having are indicating that we have succeeded so far in keeping the virus from running rampant through this society and killing off hundreds of our people.
“We are going through a measures process of rolling back those restrictions based on the advice we are receiving from WHO, PAHO Public Health England and our public health people here,” he pointed out.
Grand Cayman is currently at Level 4 of the government’s 5-step ‘unlocking’ plan. The main island is coming to the end of the second week under the relaxed restrictions with consideration being given to further roll it back to Level 3 which would open up other sectors of the economy, especially the critical construction sector.
Little Cayman has already skipped one tier and has been placed at Level 3 with Cayman Brac likely to follow suit.
But the Premier has stressed, a lot hinges on the outcome of the ongoing intensified testing and public conduct.
Responding to calls for the government to further roll back the restrictions, he cautioned: “All of that advice is that it is highly dangerous and will almost inevitably result in a resurgence of the virus of if we simply lift all of the restrictions all at once and have people come back together as they were before this pandemic.”
“Over the course of this week, we will continue to do testing, we’ll continue to see where we are and the plan is for next week to ease some of these restrictions if the test outcomes favour that move.”
At the same time, Premier McLaughlin has stated that the government is constantly monitoring the situation with the lockdown and indicated that “one of the things that will be considered the next time around will be the contingent necessity of the hard curfew on Sundays.”
He also said the government is also looking at the beach “and what releases can possibly take place…as we perceive that the risk is lessening.”
CAUSE FOR CONCERN
Meanwhile, Premier McLaughlin has sounded a serious warning over the apparent high incidence of persons proving to be asymptomatic in the ongoing large scale testing for COVID-19.
The level appears to be disproportionately high in Cayman, according to the Premier.
“Given the number or percentage of asymptomatic people who have COVID-19, a percentage which seems to higher in Cayman that other places.”
He has again appealed that “we have to be careful that we do not lull ourselves into a sense of security which could just fall away with dozens of cases in two or three weeks time.”
“That’s why we are taking such a measured approach,” the Premier explained.