Tough times ahead with difficult decisions for government, families and businesses, but amidst that “Cayman’s recovery has already started.”
That short-term outlook for Cayman through the lens of Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin tempers an otherwise overall optimistic projection.
The Premier was at the time updating the Legislative Assembly on how the jurisdiction has been weathering the COVID-19 crisis thus far.
“We face more tough times ahead. There will be difficult decisions for government and tough times for families and businesses in our communities. This crisis has shown however, that we can face the uncertain future together and that by working together Cayman will grow even stronger,” he stated.
Against that background Premier McLaughlin did however point to some encouraging signs that Cayman is weathering the COVID storm.
“The impact of COVID-19 has been tough for business and for our people, including our children and the elderly. But it has also been tough for Government. But despite the challenges, there is no doubt that it is the strength of our response, and the understanding and compliance of our people that have helped to almost eradicate the virus here and has enabled us to return to some sense of normalcy.”
In that vein, the Premier reported that “much of the local commerce, save for tourism, has for the most part been able to return”, adding that, “We are indeed in a much better place now than we were in the early phases of our response.”
“We are looking at how best to safely expand the number of people who can arrive here over the coming months,” he said, pointing to the introduction of what is called a Hotel or Resort ‘Bubble’ as one initiative being considered.
The concept of that ‘bubble’, he explained is to allow visitors to remain at a hotel or resort that keeps guests separate from the rest of the population. It would also require physical distancing, wearing of masks and other protective equipment and other on-site safety procedures.
Those would include, visitors being tested on arrival “and their health watched while here”, and staff also being tested periodically, Mr McLaughlin outlined.
But there are inherent challenges which he said are proving difficult to get around.
“For this to work as a true ‘bubble’, it would mean that staff would need to remain at the resort as well, away from their families and friends.”
This is not an easy ask, he said, adding that “it has been but one of the challenges, and there are others, in considering this option.”
Among other ideas being examined is a proposal from stand-alone villas as to how to allow them to be a part of the solution.
“They are often self-sufficient homes with beaches and in theory would allow people to visit, be tested, and to remain at the villa. But this too has some risks. But like the Hotel ‘Bubble’ concept Government has not been ruled that possibility out,” the Premier said.
In the meantime, Cayman is pushing ahead with its tourism remote-working Global Citizen Concierge Programme, “strategically designed to welcome high net worth individuals here for several months and indeed up to two years.”
Mr McLaughlin updated that the programme has just launched and the interest to date has been promising.
"All of these initiatives are promising, but we are still being cautious, because we know we are still nowhere near out of the proverbial woods just yet…We know cannot remain closed forever and we must do what we can to open up. But we are determined to do so with safety as our first consideration.”
Globally the management of the pandemic has revolved around the ‘lives or livelihood, health or wealth’ debate.
On the situation for Cayman and his administration’s approach, Premier McLaughlin stated: “I say again that we cannot remain locked down forever so a way must be found, and we will need to accept some level of risk. But my Government will ensure that the risk is reasonable and that our people will remain safe and that any risk from reopening is low compared to the danger of leaving our borders closed.”
He defended his government’s strategy - commended for its handling of the public health aspect of the crisis but less so for the economy - Mr McLaughlin remained confident that they got the balance right.
“Our focus since March has been on the immediate public health crisis. I make no apology for that. Had we not maintained that focus I believe that instead of now being able to talk about how we will open things back up we would still be trying to come to terms with a greater crisis and attending funerals.”
However, he said: "During that period we have not simply ignored the realities of Cayman’s economic position and we have not forgotten the families and businesses facing hardship. Instead, we have acted swiftly and positively to put in place a range of short-term measures that help to get us through the immediate crisis period.”
Mr McLaughlin referred to the economic impact assessment report released by the Economics and Statistics Office which calculated that, despite the impact of the COVID-19, government’s actions will boost GDP by a total of around $185M and will reduce by more than one-third the expected contraction of the economy this year.
“This means nearly 1,500 jobs saved, hundreds of which will be jobs held by Caymanians,” he pointed out.
Injecting some optimism into the outlook for Cayman, notwithstanding the global economic downturn, Premier Mclaughlin asserted that “Cayman’s recovery has already started.”
“As we on these Cayman Islands begin to get back to something approaching normal, we need to chart a new course back to economic prosperity for all Caymanians and residents. And, Mr. Speaker, I have no doubt about our will or ability to achieve what we set out to do.”
“Cayman’s recovery has already started,” the Premier asserted.