When Hon. Premier Alden McLaughlin pinned Cayman’s further reopening on the pace and success of the ongoing vaccination programme that projection was also hugely dependent on vaccine supply.
"Any reopening would be absolutely contingent on getting 90 per cent of the population vaccinated," he said at the AGM of the Chamber of Commerce.
Take-up of the vaccine in Cayman has been encouraging with over 10,000 doses already administered to the extent that the arrival hall of the Owen Roberts International Airport has had to be utilised to facilitate the demand and the long queues.
Were it only dependent on that, the prospect of some semblance of a further gradual reopening by March (as was previously hinted), might have been well within reach.
Now, even an outlook to the end of the 2021 high season is shrouded in uncertainty and looking more like a longer-term 2022 probability.
Vaccine supply and how emerging strains of the virus respond to current drugs - and new ones in development - have become an increasing part of the equation, and not just for Cayman.
Two shipments have already been received from the UK totalling close to 20,000 doses.
The target of 90 per cent of the population indicated by the Premier would require an estimated further 38,000 doses - depending on the age group of persons eligible to receive the vaccine from Cayman's estimated 65,000 population (or less, factoring those persons who would have returned to their home countries because of the pandemic).
Availability might also be another consideration when recent pronouncements by the vaccine manufacturers, Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca-Oxford are brought into the picture.
Pfizer-BioNTech, the joint American and German entity which manufacturers the vaccine currently being administered in Cayman, has reduced production at its Belgium plant in order to ‘scale-up’ operations to meet demand.
That decision, which was met with surprise by the European Union, came before the UK and the EU later clashed over the production of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine which is produced in the UK by a British-Swedish company.
The AstraZeneca drug also being administered in the UK and shipments have been despatched some other OTs.
Cayman currently receives the Pfizer-BioNTech from the UK, although it was not clear if the AstraZeneca drug might also be included in future consignments.
HE Governor, Martyn Roper recently reminded that although vaccine supplies remain challenging across the world, the UK is committed to supplying Cayman “with a proportionate amount of the vaccines they are procuring for the UK according to our population size.”
He had also stated that with a second batch now delivered here, he was “in touch with London about the next batch in February.”
The supply issue was put to Premier McLaughlin at the recent AGM of the Chamber of Commerce, by immediate past-president Woody Foster.
Addressing the equally important points of public health and economic well-being, he had asked the Premier about “a Plan B if the vaccines stop coming?”
In response, Premier McLaughlin reassured that in his view vaccine availability was not expected to be a challenge given the pace at which they are being developed in the UK and elsewhere.
“The greater challenge” he felt, “was in persuading our people to take the vaccine.”
“Without that,” Premier McLaughlin added, “there is nowhere to open safely.”
He had also said that a successful roll-out of mass vaccinations across the world "offers the prospect that we can now think positively but cautiously about reopening Cayman."
That view by the Cayman Islands Premier echoes a narrative coming out of the UK which has been a world leader in its vaccination programme but is also struggling with its reopening expectations.
Comments by the UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock that the country will enjoy a “happy and free” summer were being interpreted that the UK's current third lockdown might be further extended due to mounting concern about emerging new variants of the COVID-19 virus.
British health authorities have rushed to put measures in place aimed at addressing not only the fast-spreading UK variant but also South African and Brazilian strains which are proving to be more transmissible than the original virus.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has tempered expectations of even a summer reopening with a note of caution.
“I don't want to give too much concrete by way of dates for our summer holidays,” he has stated.
"We have got to make sure we don't get thrown off course by new variants, we have got to make sure that we continue to keep the disease under control and the level of infections come down.”
Given Cayman’s current dependence on vaccine supply from the UK, the territory and mother country seem destined to be in lockstep for the immediate future on their separate reopening plans.