The Cayman Islands border will reopen on the 20th November 2021, Premier Wayne Panton announced on Friday October 22nd 2021.
At that point, all quarantine requirements will be lifted for most vaccinated travellers entering the jurisdiction as the island moves to Phase 4 of government’s reopening plan.
The much-anticipated announcement, made at a government press briefing, paves the way for visitors to return to the islands.
There are still several restrictions in place, including testing requirements for arriving passengers. But the removal of quarantine is considered key to allowing tourism to resume. As it stands, children – who cannot be vaccinated – will not be able to come to the islands without quarantining, but Panton said this was being kept under consideration.
He said, “While we’ve had some visitors during the recent months, our tourism partners have always made it very clear that the real economic turnaround will come with the removal of quarantine for vaccinated travellers.
“This now gives us the opportunity as a country to rebuild our reputation, rebuild our world-class tourism destination and get many families and businesses back to work.”
He said Cayman was on the cusp of reaching the 80% vaccination target and he expects that threshold will be reached before 20 Nov.
Panton added that the government was moving forward cautiously with the health of the community as the number one priority.
“COVID-19 will be with us for the foreseeable future. We know there’s no better time than now to continue with our reopening plan,” he said.
“We’ve looked at this issue every which way. We don’t see… a better time to do this. So this is our time. This is the moment that the country will go forward and succeed.”
Tourism minister targets recovery
Tourism Minister Kenneth Bryan confirmed that visitors will still be required to show proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival and proof of vaccination.
With those conditions met, he said, “visitors will be allowed to head straight to their hotels to begin enjoying all that the Cayman Islands vacations have to offer.”
Bryan acknowledged that it had been a “long and difficult year” for tourism but highlighted the announcement of the reopening date and the return of commercial air services, which began last Saturday, as the beginning of the recovery.
“There are now four airlines with confirmed routes to the Cayman Islands, namely, British Airways, JetBlue, Air Canada and Cayman Airways. I thank these airlines for the confidence that they are showing in the government’s reopening strategy, and I hope that following today’s announcement, the other international carriers will consider bringing their return dates forward in line with the government’s commitment to reopening.”
Bryan said the ministry and department of tourism would continue to work with the private sector to fine-tune preparations to welcome back visitors.
As the tourism industry prepares for a “new reality of living with COVID”, he said vaccination levels in the industry were extremely high, mask mandates would be in place and that training was taking place to ensure safe interactions with visitors.
Lateral flow tests to be deployed
Health Minister Sabrina Turner said 29 additional staff had been hired to support the work of the Public Health Department.
She also revealed a $1 million budget to help support people who suffer financially after being forced to isolate because of COVID.
Turner said various modelling exercises of a potential COVID outbreak indicated Cayman was well equipped with enough beds and ventilators as well as medical personnel.
She said the ministry was “poised, prepared and funded” to procure further resources in case of a “surge scenario”.
Turner highlighted the arrival of rapid lateral flow tests as a “game changer” that was already helping to reduce the number of people in quarantine when a positive case is identified.
She said the Ministry of Education is in the process of implementing a policy for how the tests can be used to ensure continuity of learning. Turner said 20,000 tests are being made available to schools.
She said the tests would be distributed free of charge and would be a useful tool in the community alongside mask wearing, contact tracing and, where necessary, quarantine requirements to prevent the spread of the virus. Further details on how the tests will be used in the wider community are anticipated before reopening.
Deputy governor outlines plan
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson outlined some details of the plan designed to allow the country to reopen safely and not have to shut down again, something he said few countries in the world have achieved so far.
Deputy Governor Franz Manderson at Friday’s press briefing. – Photo: Alvaro Serey
He said the Cayman Islands COVID-19 Critical Preparedness, Readiness and Response Plan would seek to ensure there was no significant escalation in serious cases once quarantine requirements are removed.
Manderson said the plan would include 10 key categories including policies to ensure continuity of essential services, healthcare systems and educational institutions, among others.
He added there would also be procedures for managing cases at hotels.
Manderson said the plan would be made public and feedback invited.
He added, “We are now engaging with the private sector, the people who are going to help us make this magic happen.”
Panton said vaccinated travellers from countries where at least 60% of the population had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine would not be required to quarantine upon arrival in Cayman. Also, passengers from countries with less than a 60% inoculation rate but who can provide electronically verifiable documentation that they had been vaccinated can also forego quarantine.
He added that there would be a portal through which travellers can upload their vaccination documentation, which Customs and Border Control will review. If approved, the travellers will be issued with a travel certification.
The premier said more details of the specifics of the reopening plan would be released in the coming days.
Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee meanwhile confirmed 34 new cases of COVID-19 in the latest round of testing, comprising four travellers and 30 community cases, including 11 children.
Individuals in quarantine either because they have come into contact with community transmission cases or there is a positive case in their families, and who need assistance with groceries or other deliveries, are now being advised to contact a newly set up Isolation Support Team. Previously, they had been advised to contact the Flu Hotline for assistance.
Danielle Coleman, director of Hazard Management Cayman Islands, said the Flu Hotline had been “somewhat overwhelmed” by the number of calls it has received recently, as the numbers of people in isolation grew.
As a result, a new dedicated support line has been established, she said. It can be contacted on 946-3530 or 1-800-534-3530, or via email on email@example.com.
Jim Hepple is an Assistant Professor at the University of Aruba and is Managing Director of Tourism Analytics.