By Staff Writer
“If we can’t open up in the coming weeks, no one can.”
That affirmation of confidence by HE Governor Martyn Roper may have set the stage for Cayman to move beyond the current ‘paused Phase 3’ of the government’s reopening timeline.
The much-anticipated Phase 4 of the reopening schedule was due to take effect last Thursday, October 14th with a significant relaxation of quarantine requirements and underpinned by the highest vaccination rate in the region - and one of the hugest globally.
But that plan was thwarted by the outbreak of community spread of COVID-19 cases mainly among school children which pushed the number of cases from single digits to well over a hundred currently in less than a month.
Now Cayman finds itself at a critical crossroad in taking the next and most crucial step in restarting the vital tourism economy.
The government is also being pressed by the new private sector-led initiative, Reopen Cayman, to fully open the jurisdiction to international travel and business - except cruise tourism.
An imminent announcement this week of the reopening of the borders to stayover tourism promised by Premer Panton has also raised several questions about Cayman’s state of readiness.
Premier Panton himself is adamant that Cayman should not follow the path of other countries which have rushed to reopen only to be forced back into lockdown due to rising COVID-19 cases.
In many instances inadequate preventive and control measures have been blamed for such situations.
Speculation is that when the date is announced it’s quite likely to be in line with the date being flagged by the Reopen Cayman lobby as the Premier’s one month lead time from this week would fall close to their preferred date of November 22nd.
Faced with pressure on losing another season with the consequential effect on turnover and jobs, and warning of further business closures, ‘the November 22nd reopening lobby’ has also launched a public information campaign to drive home the urgency of extensively relaxing the current restrictions.
But how ready is Cayman to reopen and stay open…or is it a calculated gamble?
The matter was taken up by the Caymanian Times weekly discussion programme, The Panel.
The programme’s host (Caymanian Times publisher and editor), Ralph Lewis advanced the view that an effective plan is required to ensure that once Cayman reopens, it stays open.
“We need to make sure in all our interests that when we open the borders we stay open. We have been hurting too long and the economy needs to get going. Even businessmen who have done well over the years are now suffering, and the whole country is suffering.”
Commenting on the November 22nd date being advocated by the Repen Cayman consortium, he said: “I think that the consortium is getting the message across that we need to open, and somebody needs to stand up and stick to their guns…and with 80% of the people supposed to vaccinated by next week, which is what the target was. With everything's in place the hotel beds, and the vaccinations the lateral flow test kits are here a number of elements have come into play.”
Mr Lewis is anticipating that Phase 4 will now be activated around the third week of November, in line with the call of Reopen Cayman.
Panel analyst Roy Bodden broadly concurs saying that Cayman cannot continue to live in a bubble.
“It's good that the government can work in tandem with the private sector. If the government feels comfortable with that, then that's the way it should be. It’s clear that you cannot continue to live in a bubble, because I respect the fact that business has to go on.”
However, Dr Bodden added the proviso that “While I resent the idea of business trying to push the government, or trying to make the government look bad, it should be a cooperative effort and at the same time, we should ensure that the citizens are protected to the best level they can be because when we open up COVID will continue and perhaps there will be a time when we'll see an increase and spread. So we have to be prepared.”
With the focus now on reopening analyst, Mario E Ebanks says a detailed plan covering the health, commercial and administrative aspects is crucial if Cayman is going to open and stay open.
“I'm hoping that that kind of project planning is what is going to make us different from other jurisdictions that have opened, and have didn't have all their ducks lined up as they say, and then within six weeks to eight weeks there’s a crisis and they're shutting back down.”
Mr Ebanks also said that it was necessary that all the key stakeholders in business, the community, and politics have an input in devising such a plan and making it work.
“Look, this is no time for politics. There's no time for us versus them. Let's get together and put our heads together and have commitments…All these things need to come up in a frank, honest discussion if you're going to be successful.”
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