CAYMAN CAUTIOUSLY STEPS TOWARDS REOPENING BORDERS
“Cayman is probably in the most enviable position in the world when it comes to managing COVID-19 pandemic.”
That assertion by Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin came as he announced the newest series of changes to the current restrictions as Cayman works its way back to normality.
The territory will now remain at Level 2 Minimal Suppression until September 30th which is in line with the date for the first phase of the reopening of the borders. That was deferred to October 1st from the initial target date of September 1st.
However, the ultimate Level 1 All Clear state remains a distant prospect especially as when and how to reopen the borders is still being planned and debated.
Mr McLaughlin said the issue is “exercising the minds of the government right across almost every department” and that “a massive team of people is looking at all of the possible permeations of this - what can and what cannot be done.”
Acknowledging that it is a contentious issue, the Premier said:
“Everyone is keenly interested in the reopening of the borders. Some vehemently opposed to such a thing - even to contemplate such a thing and others are anxious that we do whatever we can to get some tourism business back here and also to allow our own people to be able to travel and return more freely than is currently the case.”
Prior to the phased reopening of the borders to international flights on October 1st, a previously-announced system of pre-screening and monitoring persons arriving will be trialled with a British Airways flight scheduled to arrive on September 17th.
Critical to this will be the introduction of a wearable health-monitoring device called a bio-button whilst in isolation whether in a government-run facility or in their own property, and be monitored by a medical team.
“We have concluded that there is no one measure that can effectively do that. And so the plan must necessarily involve a layer of protocols to ensure that we reduce as close to zero as possible the chances of someone who has the virus actually getting out and mixing with the broader community,” he said.
‘BIO-BUTTONS’ and ‘GEO-FENCING’
As explained by the Premier, the system which is still being finalised includes; the participants taking a test at their overseas destination 72 hours before departure.
If negative, they will travel and be admitted into Cayman after receiving a bio-button which will monitor vitals (“how many times you cough, how many times you sneeze”) as well as respiration and temperature.
They will also get a ‘geo-fencing’ tracking device “that will give the authorities the ability to know whether or not you have exceeded the perimeter of the place at which you are isolating”.
A further PCR virus test will be done eight days after arrival to complete the screening process.
To ensure that this elaborate system works effectively, the government will be putting more resources into the Public Health Unit which will be “significantly beefed up” as Mr McLaughlin described it.
A government statement says: “Based on the results, further refinements will be done to the programme and a second trial will begin on 1st October when the borders initially open in a phased manner to a relatively small number of people. It should be borne in mind that before anyone can enter the Cayman Islands from overseas they must receive the approval of Travel Time.”
It was also stressed by Premier McLaughlin that the precautionary steps being taken around the reopening of the borders “was not a question of us opening wide and saying all you who want to come and visit a beautiful Caribbean island, please come.”
He said the first phase of the reopening is aimed at “those people who either own a place here or have access to a place here and who intend to stay for significantly more than two weeks” - an indication of the more high net-worth tourist that Cayman will be targeting in a post-COVID tourism drive.
The average tourist visit to Cayman is between five and seven days.
Meanwhile, HE Governor Martyn Roper observed that “The Cayman Islands, as of now, has effectively eliminated the virus from the Islands, one of very few countries that can say that.”
“I strongly support the lifting of so many of the remaining restrictions – making masks optional, no need for physical distancing and gatherings of up to 250 allowed”, Mr Roper said, “all of which reflect the excellent progress made locally.”
But he reminded: “Yet there is need to remain vigilant and alert and be ready to re-impose restrictions if they become required.”
The Governor’s Office which has been coordinating the repatriation fights will soon hand that responsibility over to the new government agency TravelTime.
In the interim, Governor Roper announced that arrangements with British Airways for the next few months include a BA flight arriving on Thursday, 27 August from the UK bringing in around 150 Caymanians, Permanent Residents and work permit holders who will spend two weeks in a Government quarantine facility.
The final British Airways air-bridge will depart Cayman for London on Friday.
The flight will be full and is predominantly for students travelling to start school and university in the UK and their families.
The Governor reported that “this will be the final air bridge that my office will organise having worked on a total number of eight return air-bridge flights.
“Since the beginning of April, the flights have enabled a multitude of nationalities to travel home, some in desperate need. Over 2,600 passengers have travelled on the air bridges, two of which went to the Philippines and one to India. We’ve also supported our neighbours by using the flights to help transport passengers to and from TCI, BVI and The Bahamas.”
Under the new arrangements, British Airways will introduce a regular fortnightly service to London Heathrow starting September 17th which will be kept under review until normal service can be resumed.
That flight will also be a test run for new COVID screening system for visitors arriving in Cayman when the borders are initially opened on October 1st.
Hon. Minister of Health, Dwayne Seymour, announced that starting September 1st free COVID 19 testing will be available at the old ‘flu clinic’ by appointment only which can be booked online.
He is urging residents to avail themselves of this opportunity.
At the same time, the Health Minister is urging the public to stay alert despite the encouraging news about how the virus is being suppressed in Cayman.
Commenting on the plans for the reopening of the borders, Mr Seymour remarked: “In one sense some would say that we have missed business opportunities but here in the Cayman Islands we would rather say we are COVID-free.”
“We have waited a long time to reopen and therefore we should not get it wrong when we do open up as we have watched the mistakes with most opening and then closing because of a spike,” he cautioned.
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