By Staff Writer
The current wave of Covid-19 community cases continues its rampage through the Cayman Islands in what the Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee has now described as “widespread” and the Minister of Health and Wellness, Sabrina Turner, has termed “a shock to the system”.
Between Monday and Thursday alone this past week, 447 additional community-spread cases were recorded with numbers increasing daily from 81 on Monday, to 90 on Tuesday, and 123 on Wednesday. By the time the update was released late on Thursday for tests in the previous 24 hours the number of positive results had jumped to 153.
Case rates for Friday were likely to be higher and further concerns about potential super-spreader’ events from weekend Halloween festivities were also likely to trigger a further surge.
With the government ruling out any further postponement of its plan to reopen the borders on 20 November - previously delayed from 14 October due then to the emergence of community cases - increasing calls are being made for details of the reopening plan and measures to mitigate the impact of the current surge in cases beyond the current guidance on mask-wearing.
Cayman’s high vaccination rate - one of the highest globally - is highlighted by government and health officials as a buffer along with the current low number of hospitalisations from the disease and the introduction of lateral flow tests.
However, significant areas of concern remain, among them the large number of people required to isolate. The latest available figures up to 26 October was 1,458. That number would have increased since then.
The PACT government has set aside an ‘isolation stipend fund’ of CI$1 million which has been estimated to equal the tourism stipend of CI$1,500 (which is expected to be halted once the borders reopen).
In the event that the current surge continues and necessitates more isolations especially among the working population, the cost to the government in paying additional stipends, and the costs to the private sector from lost staff and business turnover could be severe, adding to an already stressed economic climate.
The implications for the business community with workers having to isolate for up to 14 days if someone in their workplace or household becomes infected is also known to be occupying the attention of business owners, with some now calling for clear and enforceable policies on public movements to safeguard the reopening plan.
The government has ruled out a lockdown and, in an address late Friday evening aimed at reassuring the community in the face of the surge in the community cases, Hon. Premier Wayne Panton had quashed such rumours and insisted that his administration would not ever from its new reopening target of 20 November.
He called on residents to be responsible and follow the guidelines to prevent further spreading of the virus in the community.
The guidelines at present are heavily focused on mask-wearing with the public being required to “exercise good judgement” for their own safety and that of the wider community in other circumstances.
The Delta variant is said to be the dominant feature of the virus in Cayman but the emergence of the even more infectious DeltaPlus variant is now becoming a cause of worry for governments around the world.
Many countries, including the UK, are now experiencing another spike in cases with several already putting in place or considering mitigating measures.
‘The Panel’ calls for clear strategies
Prior to the latest developments, this past Wednesday’s edition of the Caymanian Times programme, The Panel, highlighted several of the issues now coming to the fore.
Stating that the intention was not ‘destructive constructive criticism’, host Ralph Lewis (Caymanian Times publisher) and panellists Roy Bodden and Mario E Ebanks, drew attention to the importance of clear measures and information to suppress the further spread of the disease so as not to jeopardise the reopening plans.
Describing the current crisis as a “war on Covid” that should not descend into a local turf war, it was suggested that a level of response equal to that of a hurricane activating hazard management was now required.
The ability of the health system to cope with the increased demand for tests and results as well as the availability of beds should hospitalisations increase were among the issues addressed.
The official line has been that there is currently enough spare capacity to cope, once hospitalisations remain at the current low level. However, it is feared that any worsening of the situation - from serious illnesses to staff themselves possibly having to isolate - could put the healthcare system under severe pressure.
The call was repeated on The Panel for an individual or agency to be charged with coordinating the reopening plan with clear measures, practical restrictions to curb the escalating spread, and a workable communication strategy.
With Cayman looking to rekindling stay-over tourism industry, it was felt that should visitors contact the disease while in Cayman due to lax measures, the fall-out from that could seriously damage the recovery effort.
(Listen back to this week’s programme via these links) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EilMPFasspc