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Friday, 17 July Update

Premier, Hon. Alden McLaughlin addresses the press conference.

At the COVID-19 press conference Friday, 17 July 2020, Cayman Islands' leaders announced the phased reopening of Cayman Islands' borders from 1 September that will enable tourism to resume but in ways that will be the "safest possible" for both locals and the air-arrival visitors.

Strict protocols are to be put in place to ensure that the conditions that have made the Cayman Islands one of the safest places in the world in the management of COVID-19 are not affected.

The leaders also enthusiastically lauded the continuing cooperation from the majority of the Cayman Islands' people, who have worked with Government to curtail the spread of COVID-19.

They noted that further relaxation of restrictions will commence on schedule on Sunday, 19 July. This includes is an increase of the public gathering limit from 25 to 50; dancing, karaoke and nightclub can begin, with some restrictions such as social distancing. In addition inter-island travel now only requires that the person(s) travelling should have been on the islands for over two weeks.

Prayer was led by Pastor Reinaldo Dracket.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. John Lee reported:

  • Out of 274 test results Friday, there were no positives.
  • Of a total of 203 positives so far, there are no symptomatic cases, two are asymptomatic, none admitted and 200 have recovered.
  • There are 137 individuals at government- run isolation facilities and five in home isolation.
  • The 'flu hotline had no 'flu related out of seven calls received on Thursday.
  • In comparison with figures from corresponding months in 2018 and 2019, there has been half the number of cases seen in April and May 2020 and only a quarter in June during which there were only 127 patients with 'flu-like symptoms. The drop is attributed to better preventative protocols the entire community is following to suppress respiratory illnesses.
  • In antibody testing, 1,461 have been screened so far or 2.2% of the population; the testing was conducted at the HSA and Health City. 49 of these were positive, 36 were known to be positive, six who were contacted by the authorities as linked to known positives such as spouses and children; and seven had no history of being positive. The tests were not truly representative of the population as 50% of tests were of healthcare workers and the rest included first responders, those with chronic conditions such as dialysis patients.
  • The anti-body testing will be opened to all.

Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin said:

  • "I'm happy to report that we've continued with our steady progress and are on track with our testing regime. I'm also very pleased that during these last two weeks we've only had two positive results reported, and both are asymptomatic."
  • "Thankfully, we are in a very good place and I'm comfortable moving forward with the easing of more of the regulations."
  • Further lowering of restrictions comes into effect on Sunday, 19 July and will remain in effect until 31August 2020.
  • Public gatherings numbers increase from 25 to 50 persons.
  • The support for micro and small business is proceeding well. Since launch, 1,085 applications were received from such businesses. So far, $1,592,000 has been paid to applicants, with a further $386,000 approved for payment.
  • The CI Coast Guard is now hiring for 10 positions. Caymanians between 18 and 35 years who are interested can get details and applications forms at www.jobs.gov.ky.
  • The Premier also discussed upcoming changes to the Covid 19 regulations.
  • For full details from the Premier, see sidebar below.

His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Martyn Roper said:

  • Cayman Islands test results remain extremely encouraging including only two positives from over 3,000 tests.
  • "The strategy followed by the Premier and his Government is an outstanding success. We can be thankful we live in one of the safest places in the world just now. I believe our handling of this pandemic is already giving confidence internationally to Cayman's reputation and good governance."
  • In view of the situation in other places like Florida, Cayman Islands should not let it guard down.
  • Progress on the repatriation flight to Nicaragua is being made.
  • For more from the Governor, see sidebar.

Deputy Premier, Hon. Moses Kirkconnell said:

  • A total of eight repatriation flights on Cayman Airways have been scheduled between July and September. These include five to Miami and three to Jamaica. Persons wishing to book travel on any of these repatriation flights are asked to visit the 'Travel Time' webpage on www.exploregov.ky/traveltime and complete the application form.
  • Government is opening a second registration period for displaced Caymanian tourism employees to receive further tourism stipends. Details will be provided at a later date.
  • A phased reopening of Cayman Islands' borders will begin from 1 September 2020. This phased reopening will be done in a cautious way throughout. This includes strict protocols, monitoring and management of the visitors when they are on the islands so that the experience is safe for them as well as the locals.
  • Decisions being taken will have benefited from the input and expertise of all of the relevant authorities and entities. Safety and security will remain as the main drivers behind all decision-making. "We prefer to err on the side of caution rather than take any short cuts, and nothing will be implemented without the ultimate approval of the Health Authority and Chief Medical Officer."
  • From 1 September, Owen Roberts International Airport, including general aviation, will begin a "soft" reopening for at least four weeks, to accommodate returning Caymanians and residents as well as individuals with homes in the Cayman Islands.
  • All inbound travellers to the Cayman Islands will be required to obtain pre-authorisation prior to boarding their flight.
  • To become pre-authorised, travellers must provide a negative COVID-19 PCR test from an accredited facility taken within 72 hours of travel. Children under 10 will be exempted from this requirement.
  • The negative test result must be sent to a CIG portal for confirmation.
  • Following arrival in Cayman, travellers will be subject to self-isolation for five days and wear a health monitoring device for continuous passive medical screening as an additional layer of safety and to further minimise risk after arrival in the Cayman Islands. After five days, they will undergo a second test, and if test negative a second time, will no longer be in isolation. However they will continue to wear the device so that health screening can continue.
  • "I am hopeful that this advanced health screening solution will sufficiently enhance our reopening protocols and provide further confidence so that that we can once again welcome visitors to our shores, while still minimising the risk of introducing new cases to the local community."
  • Protocols and plans are being finetuned.
  • The Ministry will disseminate a press release about this next week.

Health Minister Hon. Dwayne Seymour said:

  • MRCU is diligently battling the existing biting population of mosquitoes across Grand Cayman.
  • The Health Insurance Premiums Payment Assistance Programme continues to be underway. Invoices from approved insurers are being processed. When finalised, payments will follow.
  • For more from the Minister, see sidebar.

Sidebar- Premier Highlights Further Easing of Restrictions

It's been two weeks since our last COVID-19 press briefing and I'm happy to report that we've continued with our steady progress and are on track with our testing regime. I'm also very pleased that during these last two weeks we've only had two positive results reported, and both are asymptomatic.

This progress is thanks to all of you who have continued to play your part in maintaining social distance, continued to wash your hands and wear your masks or cloth face coverings when out in public places.

As you're aware we have been waiting at least 2 weeks between reopening phases to see what the effects has on our community.

Thankfully, we are in a very good place and I'm comfortable moving forward with the easing of more of the regulations.

These changes will come into effect on Sunday 19th July:

  • From Sunday 19th July "Public meetings" will increase from 25 persons up to 50 persons.

  • Managers or operators of a restaurant or bar may permit customers to engage in dancing and karaoke at a restaurant or bar subject to social distancing.

  • Nightclubs will be permitted to open subject to physical distancing.

  • Sheesha or water pipes (Hookah pipes) are prohibited, given the public health risks of COVID-19 transmission associated with these and other like devices.

  • Weddings can from Sunday have up to 50 persons in attendance other than the bride, bridegroom, official witness and the marriage officer.

  • Funerals can also now have up to 50 persons in attendance other than the 6 pallbearers and essential mortuary staff and officiants.

  • Persons will be able to visit residential care home facilities for example the Pines, providing they have had a negative PCR test within three days of visiting. We know residents of these homes are high risk so please maintain social distancing, wash your hands and practice respiratory protocols.

  • Contact sports will be permitted from Sunday. Players and spectators will be treated as two separate groups because they inhabit two separate spaces, so you will be able to have up to 50 participants playing the sport and up to 50 spectators providing those spectators maintain social distance.

  • We have taken advice from the Chief Medical Officer regarding the rental of scuba and snorkelling equipment and he maintains that there are public health risks associated with the rental of this type of equipment and so there are no changes to the regulations at this time.

  • Persons who wish to travel by air between the Islands will now be able to do so without having to take a test providing they have been in the Cayman Islands for more than two weeks.

  • Boating:

    1. Commercial boats will be able to carry up to 50% of their licensed capacity not exceeding 50 people, providing social distancing is maintained.

    2. Gathering of boats will be able to take place with up to 50 persons.

    3. Persons will be permitted to travel between the islands by boat for pleasure from Sunday.

      • Only operators of commercial boats who have a Wildlife Interaction Zone (WIZ) license are permitted to access Stingray City and the Sandbar.

      • Access to Starfish Point and Rum Point remains prohibited for all vessels.

        A long standing concern in the community has been the way these areas of natural beauty have been managed. Government is taking this opportunity to consult with the Department of Environment as well as the Coastguard and Department of Commerce and Investment and will give us the opportunity to improve the management of these areas to provide a better experience for wildlife, residents of the area and visitors.

        These regulations will remain in effect until 31 August 2020.

        I am pleased to announce that the Cayman Islands Centre for Business Development will open its doors to walk-in clients early next month.

        Since the launch of the Government's relief measures for businesses in April (which is being managed by the Centre), 1,085 applications have been received under the micro and small business grant programme.

        $1,592,000 have so far been paid to applicants with a further three hundred and eighty-six thousand ($386,000) approved for payment under this grant programme.

        • Of the 1085 applications, 84% have been processed, with 347 business owners so far receiving full payment of $3,000.00.

        • Based on the number of approved applications, the total funds so far committed by government are $ 3.147 million. The programme currently has a 97% application approval rate.

          Seventy-three (73) applications with a total value $2,451,759 have been received under the low interest loan programme.

          Eleven of these have so far been approved, with another seven currently being assessed for approval. The total value of loans at the approval stage is $615,000.

          For the benefit of those applicants who are unable to adequately present their financials to the bank, the government has also implemented a technical assistance programme where qualified accountants have been employed to help prepare these documents at no cost to the small business owners.

          So far, they have prepared financial statements and business plans for 42 loan applicants.

          Sidebar - Governor Urges All Not to Let Guard Down

          Results remain very encouraging. Only 2 positives in July from over 3,000 tests. Now conducted an impressive 27,000 tests. The strategy followed by the Premier and his Government is an outstanding success. We can be thankful we live in one of the safest places in the world just now.

          Sadly, that is not the case in other parts of the world, particularly the US. Over 77,000 cases in the US yesterday - highest ever figure with Florida tragically seeing over 100 deaths.

          My key message is that we should not let our guard down. Our success should not lead to a false sense of security. We remain in minimal suppression level 2 because while the risk is considerably reduced, it has not gone away. Please continue with social distancing, basic hygiene including regularly washing hands and wearing masks in public places. These are good practices that will keep us safe until a vaccine is developed. They will best protect our vulnerable and elderly.

          I believe our handling of this pandemic is already giving confidence internationally to Cayman's reputation and good governance. That will be a key element of our narrative in building back more strongly. But locking down is easier than opening up.

          The US situation demands maximum caution on any reopening of our borders. But if we can get that right - cautious, gradual, not rushed - we can avoid having to do what many others, who have opened too quickly, have had to do - that is being forced to lock back down again. If we succeed, it will help build an even stronger narrative about Cayman as a successful, highly effective, well managed and strong jurisdiction.

          In that context, the work of the Reopening the Borders Committee, chaired by our excellent Deputy Premier, is progressing well. Our capacity to do lots of testing is a major advantage, which not every country has. New cutting edge technology, which the committee is considering, is a possible way forward.

          In the meantime we continue to provide emergency travel options to a range of destinations. Pleased to say that we are making progress with a flight to Nicaragua and hope to get agreement to operate an aircraft to Managua soon. There will be another flight to Manila via London on 28 July and a further London flight on 31 August, the first of our flights to enable students and families to get to the UK. There will be another student flight later in August.

          I know Travel Time are working closely with Cayman Airways on additional flights to Jamaica, Canada and Miami.

          The Premier and I are working closely together on the Cayman Regiment. Next Thursday will see the arrival of an RAF Voyager aircraft from the UK. This large aircraft will be bringing the training team which will conduct the initial training for the Cayman Regiment and will also deliver the kit and uniforms. The aircraft will only be here for a couple of hours and the crew will remain airside. The training team has been in quarantine in the UK and will do a further period of quarantine in Cayman. They will also be tested for COVID before leaving their base in the UK. We are taking no risks in consultation with Dr Lee.

          Recruitment for the Regiment has gone really well. We have our first 50 reservists identified - the vast majority are Caymanians. They have been interviewed and have undertaken fitness tests. The training course will commence on 3 August and run for 2 weeks.

          Our five officer cadets have been doing really well at Sandhurst and are now in their final week of training. They are due to pass out (graduate) next Thursday and will be returning to Cayman on one of the BA airbridge flight. We can be very proud of how they performed and represented our Islands on this prestigious course. So to Theo, Shanice, Jonassi, Halston and Gabi, we are very proud of what you have achieved.

          And finally, I am sure everyone will join me in wishing HRH the Duchess of Cornwall a very Happy 73rd Birthday. We fondly recall the visit by The Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall last year. It was a wonderful occasion.

          Sidebar: Minister Seymour Updates on MRCU, Health Insurance Premiums

          I want to begin with an update from MRCU - I know many of you are happy to know that they have been hard at work in ridding us of the nuisance mosquito problem. I live in Bodden Town so I too am very happy!

          I am pleased to report that MRCU has been diligently battling the existing biting population of mosquitoes across the island, as well as to contain mosquito reproduction resulting from the weekend's rainfall and flooding.

          Both planes were active all week, spraying flooded areas containing mosquito larvae as well as spraying at night to reduce these biting mosquitoes. Likewise, all of MRCU's Disease Prevention Officers have been actively treating smaller bodies of standing water throughout the island's neighbourhoods.

          The DPOs, have been out with the fogging trucks nightly to fill in areas not treated aerially and in response to any service requests.

          I would just like to add here that an additional truck will be out in the area from Rum Point to Hutland tonight in response to a request.

          Trap counts indicate spraying has been effective in reducing the biting mosquito populations and I am pleased that requests for service are also trending down, so this is good news to the success of their hard work. MRCU does recognize however that there are still pockets of annoying mosquitoes and they will continue their spray efforts until these are eliminated.

          The entire MRCU team is to be commended for their ongoing efforts to suppress the mosquito population. During this past week, in particular, the aerial team and Senior DPOs have continued to work tirelessly in their coordination of ground and aerial functions to achieve success. MRCU is also active on both Sister Islands and the teams there are also being recognized for their hard work.

          Additionally, most persons should have seen by now the release to the public with regards to the Health Insurance Premiums Payment Assistance Programme. I hope that this has helped to allay fears surrounding coverage and payment of premiums. To reiterate, the Ministry is now in receipt of invoices for the April and May premiums from the approved insurers and these are currently being processed. The June numbers should be finalised shortly as the deadline for applications was 15 July. Once these are finalised, payments will follow.

          There appears to have been some confusion surrounding the submission of invoices but I would like to assure the public that Ministry's requirements in this regard are to ensure proper and transparent handling of public funds.

          During such an unprecedented time it is fair to expect some glitches on both sides and for those on our part we apologise. However, I can promise that the hard work and dedication to fulfill this promise has remained a priority for the Ministry and the HIC.

          In conclusion, I want to remind people that even though additional regulations are lifted this weekend it is imperative we all follow the rules of social distancing, prevention measures of washing our hands frequently, sneeze and cough etiquette and the using of hand sanitizers, as applicable. As we look to international news we are reminded of the still very real threat of COVID-19. A look at the resurgence in the Southern States in the USA, are stark reminders of this. Let us not become complacent please.

          Have a blessed weekend!

          GIS

          For further information contact: Bina Mani