Even though the economic forecast for the global economy was fairly positive at the start of this year, the advent of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) had changed everything, according to Premier Alden McLaughlin, speaking at last week’s Royal Fidelity Cayman Business Outlook conference.
Premier McLaughlin said that even before the ink was dry on the IMF’s forecast, the world was reminded that global risk could materialise quickly from unexpected sources and that there was nothing that even the best laid economic plans could do to prevent it.
“The fast spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus to more than 80 countries both far away and close to home is a game changer,” he stated. “On Monday of this week, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development warned that over this year the global economy could grow at its slowest rate since 2009 because of the effects of the virus.”
Premier McLaughlin went on to outline the moves by Governments and central banks to try and mitigate the detrimental affects of the Corona virus outbreak by cutting interest rates, most notably the 50 basis points cut by the US Federal Reserve, which was swiftly replicated by Cayman’s local banks.
But while the economic impact was an important point for discussion, the premier said that COVID-19 was, first and foremost, a human story, with, at the time of writing, almost 100,000 confirmed cases worldwide and more than 3,350 fatalities.
“This is driving concern and indeed panic across the globe – including the growing concern of people in these islands,” he confirmed.
While the Cayman Islands had no known cases of COVID-19 as at that time, Premier McLaughlin conceded that Cayman was a “a very open society” receiving more than 2.4 million visitors a year as well as significant travel abroad by Caymanians and residents.
“Clearly, there is considerable risk, if not inevitability, that we will see cases in Cayman,” he stated. “However, health officials here in Cayman continue to ramp up preparations and are providing the Government and the public with excellent, timely advice on how to minimise that risk. Already we have imposed travel restrictions, including restrictions on at risk airline and cruise passengers, and we have instituted screening techniques at our borders to identify anyone who has an at-risk travel history.”
The Premier said travel restrictions had been put in place to prevent all public servants from undertaking non-essential travel, a move that would prevent him from attending a planned trip to London for the Joint Ministerial Council at the end of March.
“I am also urging the public and the business community to restrict travel unless absolutely required,” he said.
In a bid to help local residents prevent the spread of the disease, Premier McLaughlin said Cabinet had decided to waive the duty on all hand sanitisers, protective facial masks and surgical gloves. The waiver was effective immediately and runs through to the end of 2020.
“I encourage merchants to pass on these savings to the consumer,” he said, adding that while Cayman could minimise risk, we could not eliminate it and therefore Government was also preparing for the worst.
“Make no mistake, if there is a significant outbreak here it will have a potentially devastating effect on the health of the nation and the economy,” he confirmed.
As a result, Government had activated the National Emergency Response Operation Centre to co-ordinate all the necessary planning and activity needed for these types of situations, with most of the response being led by the Health Services Authority who were ramping up testing and screening procedures.
The HSA has established an email address for enquiries, email@example.com, and they are establishing a hotline for people to call if they are concerned or if they believe they are displaying symptoms. Should any case be identified on Island, proper treatment and infection control protocols were in place, he said.