In a message that sets the tone for a full reopening of the borders even sooner than anticipated, Hon, Minister for Tourism Kenneth Bryan has resorted to video production to urge residents to prepare for the next critical step on the road to normality.
Set against a monochrome background and a soundtrack matching the theme of various aspects of his messaging, Mr Bryan said the conversation surrounding reopening and transitioning Cayman out of its protective COVID-19 bubble is no longer avoidable.
“I want to talk to you about the way forward and a path that will allow us to live a life as close to normal as possible. COVID in our midst. I know that it's an uncomfortable conversation for most. For others, it's a topic that you'd rather avoid, but it's a discussion that we have to be willing to have together as a community. Because the truth is we can't keep our borders closed forever,” the tourism minister stated.
The debate around reopening the borders and rekindling the economy has been growing in intensity especially since the government announced that it was putting its schedule on hold following the spate of community cases of the disease.
The business sector and government have been having discussions on how best to move to the next phase of the opening plan currently stuck at Phase Three limited opening, with the previously announced Phase Four planned for October 14th now on hold.
The government has said that it would keep its plans under review but with concerns mounting over the economic impact of a prolonged closure, especially the loss of business activity for the upcoming Christmas and peak winder tourist season.
“I think it's fair to say by now most people realise it's only a matter of time before the government would have to make a very, very hard decision to say when our borders will fully reopen so that we can rekindle the tourism industry, and prepare for the rest of the world.”
In the dramatic 10-minute video massage which ranged from the sombre tones of the continuing threat of COVID-19 and addressing the current realities of the public health and economic implications, Min. Bryan’s presentation also equally focussed on the outlook for Cayman.
Although he didn’t go as far as clearly indicating when a shift in the government’s schedule might come, the tourism minister’s video monologue suggests that it could be sooner rather than later - and driven by economic necessity.
“I know for some opening our borders is a scary thought because it comes with risk and the notion of having COVID continuously in our communities is making people anxious and fearful given the seriousness of the disease.”
Mr Bryan accepted that “it's hard to think about living with a virus that can take someone's life. Those are legitimate feelings.”
But he went on to assure that continuing advances in medicine in tacking the pandemic are encouraging and appealed to the community to do its part in personal and public health to enable Cayman to safely reopen.
“The most important thing each of us can do for reopening is making sure that we are ready, mentally and physically to share space with this virus, doing basic things like learning how to keep our bodies healthy, our immune system strong and getting vaccinated are proven ways to keep us from getting seriously sick.”
Tourism Minister Bryan also assessed the risk of reopening in the public health terms against the economic risks of continued closure.
“It's true that opening our borders comes with risk. But it's also true that risk can be managed and has to be managed because COVID isn't going away anytime soon. At some point, we have to be realistic and accept the fact that keeping our borders closed indefinitely, just isn't an option.”
In reviewing the pressures on the economy over the past year and a half, Mr Bryan reminded that “for the last 18 months we've been standing on just one of our two pillars of our economy” - the financial services sector.
“We need to regain our balance, stability and strength by reintroducing tourism back into the mix,” he stated.
He also reported that with 4,000 people unemployed due to the COVID-related job losses in tourism, “government is spending close to $6 million a month, that’s $72 million a year providing stipends, helping people make ends meet because the tourism industry is basically closed.”
According to Mr Bryan, that figure is likely to increase if the borders remain closed.
“If we're not willing to be our brother's keeper and come together as a community to make that decision, the potential losses of businesses and jobs can be catastrophic. The long term implications will eventually ripple through our communities, touching us all in one way, shape, or form,” he said.
With Tourism Minister Bryan’s dramatically-themed solo video address, and recent statements from the business sector against any further delay in fully reopoening the borders with a focus on stay-over tourism, the next adjustment to the government’s reopening schedule is awaited.