As the Cayman Islands contemplates reopening its borders, the scale of the challenge is reflected in developments in other countries.
Stating that there’s is a recognition that “the Cayman Islands cannot remain sequestered indefinitely”, Hon. Premier Alden on Friday announced the establishment of a Reopening of Borders Committee (RBC), to advise on reopening the territory’s borders to international travel.
The committee comprises 10 government ministries, departments and related agencies.
It will be guided in part by a document produced by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) as a guideline for governments in North America, Central America and the Caribbean on reopening their borders to international travel.
“The proactive and stringent measures put in place by this government at the outset off the COVID-19 pandemic have proven successful,” Premier McLaughlin said, “and have allowed the country to move from Suppression Level 5 (Maximum Suppression) to Suppression Level 2 (Minimal Suppression) in the span of roughly 12 weeks.”
He called it “an encouraging indication which shows that our islands are in a much better place than many would have imagined just a short time ago.”
Without stating any specifics, Mr McLaughlin went on to say that he was “pleased that we are now able to prudently consider taking further steps towards normalisation and more importantly towards rebuilding of our tourism industry.”
Adding that it was “absolutely essential that when we do reopen the process is handled in a methodical and responsible way”, Premier McLaughlin said the establishment of the RBC will help to ensure that “the extraordinary efforts and sacrifices this country has undergone together to fight COVID-19 will not be squandered and the risk of inward infection to our island is minimised in every way possible.”
The government says it is closely monitoring the trend in other places where reopening borders and lifting lockdown is proving to be a huge challenge for authorities to manage over fears of the second wave of COVID-19.
With mounting concerns over new outbreaks in several cities in the US and elsewhere, including the Caribbean, Premier McLaughlin said he was disheartened but not surprised by those developments.
Under pressure to stimulate their economies in the face of huge downturns caused by the pandemic, many countries, including the UK, have taken what they regarded as a calculated risk of reopening against signs suggesting a slowdown in the spreading of the virus.
But new concerns have arisen as public gatherings in many peoples are resulting in hordes of people ignoring social distancing and other safety protocols, giving rise to fears of a second outbreak.
Several cities have already gone into targeted lockdowns.
Pointing to Australia as an example which had become almost COVID-free, Premier McLaughlin relayed that the government there is now considering delaying fully opening its borders possibly until the middle of next year due to a new outbreak in the city of Melbourne linked to tourists.
This is an important lesson for Cayman, he stated.
“There’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on now about the reopening of our borders,” the Premier said, cautioning that, “we have to be very careful.”
“We are reopening our economy slowly and carefully and this is why we are also considering how we can safely reopen the border.”
The risk of a resurgence of the virus in Cayman is uppermost in the minds of the authorities he pointed out citing renewed lockdowns which have taken places in targeted locations in some countries.
Recently renewed spikes in Miami are a particular source of worry, especially as it's closer and more critical to Cayman as a hub for trade, family connections and cruise travel.
The ban on cruise ship visits, many of them originating in Miami remains in place until the end of August. The airports are also closed initially until that date.
The advice of the RSA will be crucial in the decision to reopen the borders.
Mr McLaughlin again reiterated an appeal to the Cayman public.
“Please let’s not jeopardise and compromise the tremendous position that we are in,” he urged.
He was particularly worried about developments at some bars which he felt were in flagrant violation of current regulations.
Saying that the understood the exuberance of both premises owners and their patrons after three months of lockdown, Mr McLaughlin nevertheless warned that continuing to break the regulations risks those businesses losing their liquor licences.