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COVID-19 Briefing – Wednesday, 16 June 2021

At the COVID-19 press conference today, Wednesday 16 June 2021, Premier Hon. Wayne Panton and members of Cabinet announced changes to travel and quarantine regulations that will go into effect on Wednesday 23 June 2021.

Premier Panton announced the reduction of mandatory quarantine to five days for verifiably vaccinated incoming travellers; the reinstatement of 72-hour pre-arrival PCR testing; and the removal of mandatory sampling and PCR testing on arrival. All travellers must be tested before exiting quarantine, and un-vaccinated travellers will have to complete a 14-day quarantine period.

Premier Panton also announced mandatory weekly PCR testing of unvaccinated frontline workers and the requirement for travellers who quarantine at a government facility following non-essential travel to pay for their own stay.

Regarding take-up of the COVID-19 vaccine, the Premier thanked all residents for responding to the government’s call to get immunized against COVID-19 but revealed that due to revised population figures, “the challenge isn’t over.”

He said, “In the absence of current population Census numbers, we asked the Economics and Statistics Office (ESO) to work with us to ensure the assumed number of 65,000 was as accurate as possible. This has led to a revised conclusion that there is likely around 71,100 people living in the Cayman Islands.”

Premier Panton explained, “There are currently 39,090 persons resident in the Cayman Islands that have received a full dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This equates to approximately 55 per cent of the population. The goal for herd immunity is to have 70 per cent (49,770) to 80 per cent (56,880) of the population vaccinated.”

He said, “The latest medical advice suggests that a target ratio as high as 80 per cent of the population may be necessary to achieve herd immunity. Using 80 per cent of 71,100 provides a target of just under an additional 17,000 people in our population that we need to fully vaccinate. Using 70 per cent of that population number indicates a target of just under an additional 10,000 people that need to be fully vaccinated.”

He noted that numbers would increase with the vaccination of 12-15-year olds and revealed that making vaccination mandatory for people seeking work permit approvals and renewals is a likely next step.

Premier Panton said a specific determination on the target vaccination rate needed prior to reopening borders would be made in the coming weeks, and refused to be tied down to an arbitrary date for reopening of the borders.

He said, “As for reopening the border, I have said before that Government has been working on a plan and we will shortly release those details in full to provide a clear, phased approach.”

Central to the Government’s plan is to slowly reintroduce tourism. “We have too many examples of regional territories and countries who have tried and gotten it wrong and the cost of that happening is worse than taking a bit longer to try to get it right,” Mr. Panton said.

He revealed that Government’s reopening plan has tourism arrivals beginning in mid-September.

Saying that his Government would support the business community however possible, he also announced that the current pension holiday would continue through December.

His Excellency the Governor Mr. Martyn Roper reiterated the need for “a careful, cautious and phased reopening strategy.”

The Governor focused on the importance of getting more residents vaccinated, and acknowledged the delivery this afternoon of almost 12,000 additional vaccine doses from the United Kingdom.

He recognized many residents’ disappointment with Cayman not being added to the UK green list for travel, but noted that the relaxation of England’s domestic restrictions had been pushed back, making it unlikely that new countries would be added in the near future.

Minister for Health & Wellness Hon. Sabrina Turner outlined the changes to the existing COVID19 regulations and also announced the extension of the Health Insurance Premiums Payment Assistance Programme for a further three months.  The current programme was slated to end on 30 June and will now be extended to 30 September.

Minister for Tourism & Transport Hon. Kenneth Bryan announced the continuation of the tourism worker stipend of CI$1,500 per month through October with payments at the full amount. The payment is planned to be reduced to $750 per month for November and December.

The Stingray Feeding and Interaction Programme has been extended for another three months, as has the moratorium on the granting of Wildlife Interaction Zone licenses (WIZ).

Minister Bryan also announced “Vaccine Challenge 2.0 – Bigger and Bolder” as a further drive to urge more people to get vaccinated.  

He said, “When I launched the vaccine challenge, Government was still working on the assumption that our population was 65,000. But as we’ve heard from the Premier, the true figure is actually 71,100 – an increase of over 6,000 more people.”

Minister Bryan said he intends to raise $100,000 in cash to be “divided up and given away in the form of a draw, two weeks after we have achieved the 80 per cent target.”

Everyone who has been fully vaccinated, and is either a Caymanian, Permanent Resident or Work Permit holder will have the chance to win.

He called on the local business community to donate, saying “If 20 good corporate citizens or wealthy individuals gave just $5,000 each, we would easily reach that goal.”

To pledge contributions, donors can email or call the Ministry on 244-1259.

Deputy Premier and Minister of Finance Hon. Christopher Saunders gave an updated Government financial picture, including revised deficit projections.

He said, “I want to remind you that when we took office the last government was forecasting a deficit of $98m for Central government and $59m in SAGCs for a combined deficit of $157m.”

However, he noted that excluded from that forecast was at least another $35m in tourism stipend payments. With the stipend payments included, the combined deficit forecast would increase to $192m for 2021.

He said, “One of our primary focuses is to get the country’s finances back in order despite the challenges faced in the tourism sector.”

However, Minister Saunders also had some good news.

“For the first five months of the year we are looking at an operating surplus of approximately $175m which is around $18m or 11 per cent better than budget,” he said.

Minister Saunders noted that total operating revenue of $525.5m was nine per cent better than budgeted, but total operating expenses of $351m came in eight per cent over budget.

Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee noted that while the re-calculation of population numbers could be seen as “disappointing” in that there is more work to do, the vaccination programme has done “very well” with 66 per cent of the population having had their first dose.

He reported that the population age proportions have also been adjusted slightly, in light of the new population estimates. He listed the latest vaccination figures by age, as follows:

  • Ages 12 to 16 – 8.5 per cent
  • Ages 16 to 30 – 66 per cent
  • Ages 30 to 40 – 74 per cent
  • Ages 40 to 50 – 80 per cent
  • Ages 50 to 60 – 84 per cent
  • Over 60 – 87 per cent