COVID-19 Update for Wednesday, 10 March 2021
At the COVID-19 press conference today, Wednesday, 10 March 2020, Cayman Islands’ leaders announced upcoming changes to the mandatory quarantine process.
The reduction of the quarantine period to 10 days effective 22 March follows the news that 91 percent of persons over 60 have received the COVID-19 vaccination.
Noting that 38,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccines have already been delivered to the Cayman Islands, Governor Martyn Roper added that an additional 63K doses were expected to arrive on three BA flights, on 11 and 25 March as well as 7 April.
Also speaking at the press conference Health, Environment, Culture and Housing Minister Dwayne Seymour announced a new round of one-off stipends to musicians affected by the downturn in hospitality and entertainment industries. Minister Seymour also noted that nearly a thousand persons benefited in March from the latest round of health insurance premium payment assistance.
Meanwhile Finance Minister Roy McTaggart confirmed that the central government’s unaudited accounts at the end of 2020 showed a substantially lower than expected deficit of 38 million dollars, despite 65 million dollars in COVID-19 mitigation costs.
Prayer was led by Pastor Ashley White.
Medical Officer of Health Dr Samuel Williams reported:
- Some persons receiving the COVID-19 vaccine have reported side-effects such as pain at injection site and low- grade fever, that go away with no medication or with paracetamol. While a few patients have had more serious cases, none have required admission to hospital.
Premier Hon. Alden McLaughlin said:
- Across our three islands we have given nearly 28,000 COVID-19 vaccine doses (of Pfizer BioNTech). Thirty-one percent of the population have received one dose and 15 percent have received a full course.
- When 70-80 percent of population have been vaccinated Government will move to open borders.
- We have reached a much-anticipated milestone in programme having vaccinated 91% of over 60s.
- This gives us confidence that the most vulnerable have been protected from the worst of the COVID-19 disease.
- As a result, from 22 March, the required quarantine period will be reduced to 10 days for those who have completed a valid vaccination programme at least two weeks before travel, where everyone in their quarantine group has also been vaccinated. (A negative PCR test will still be required no more than 72 hours before departure)
- Travellers will be tested again on arrival and again before they can be released from quarantine.
- Government will maintain a degree of caution as: the vaccine is not 100% effective; there is a small chance the vaccinated person can carry and transmit the virus; variants of concern must be followed closely.
- Whether a further reduction in quarantine follows, depends on falling infection rates globally and rising vaccination rates locally. When we reach a threshold where a substantial portion of the population have been vaccinated we could do away with quarantine altogether, but reaching 80% would require vaccination of children, something that is expected this summer.
- Along with new quarantine guidelines Government shortly Gazette penalties for breaches, such as false vaccination certificates.
- For more from the Premier, see sidebar below.
His Excellency the Governor, Mr. Martyn Roper said:
- So far the UK Government has sent 38,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine to the Cayman Islands.
- An additional 20,000 doses will arrive on BA flight tomorrow 11 March. This will be followed by a further 20,000 on 25 March BA flight and a final delivery of approximately 23,000 on BA flight on 7 April.
- This totals over 100,000 doses which should be enough to offer two doses to all those over 16 who wish to be vaccinated.
- All doses will be supplied free of charge by the British Government
- The Governor urged all to take the vaccine, noting around the world there had been no serious side effects or complications. Mr Roper reiterated the positive news about vaccine effectiveness against current variants. He said the vaccine offered an opportunity to protect ourselves our loved ones and our friends and encouraged everyone to form an objective view based on trusted, official sources.
- The Governor noted quarantine is working but reminded anyone coming to the Cayman Islands to follow the rules.
- For more from the Governor, see sidebar below.
Health Minister Hon. Dwayne Seymour said:
- A further round of one-off $1000 stipends for musicians affected by the downturn in hospitality and entertainment industries to be paid by April 2.
- Those who have applied previously and been successful do not need to reapply. Ministry team will reach out to reconfirm details
- Those yet to apply but now seeking assistance may contact email: firstname.lastname@example.org or tel. 345-244-2369.
- The deadline for new applications is 19 March.
- For the second round of the health insurance premium payment assistance programme, a partnership between the Ministry of Health and Health Insurance Commission (HIC). HIC vetted 220 applications, providing 984 persons with assistance in March 2021.
- Persons who have yet to apply, have a deadline of 19 March to receive assistance from 1 April. These individuals should email email@example.com or tel. 946-2084 to obtain an application form or request more information.
- The Minister reminded the public that the programme would run from March through June 2021.
- For more from Minster Seymour, see sidebar below.
Finance Minister Hon. Roy McTaggart said:
- Unaudited financial information for central government shows a deficit for the financial year 2020 that is substantially less than forecast.
- Central govt ended the year with an operating deficit of $38 million. This takes into account operating revenue of $789 million (a shortfall of $35 million) and operating expenses including financing costs of $827 million.
- The debt balance at the end of the year was $248.6 million. With a GDP of $4.7 billion, this means the Cayman Islands debt to GDP ratio at the end of 2020 was 5.2%, one of lowest in world
- Government’s bank balance was $447.6 million. Of this $104.3 million represented General Reserves.
- Seventeen ministries and portfolio have submitted their annual reports, which include financial statements, to the Auditor General’s Office. These will be consolidated with those of Statutory Authorities and Government Companies (SAGCs) to comprise the Entire Public Sector accounts for the financial year.
- Revenue streams that posted strong performances during the fiscal year included categories such as stamp duty which totaled $20.6 million. The recently introduced private fund fees also yielded $5.7 million.
- The improvement in the deficit also came about as a result of a reduction in expenditure. Notable examples included personnel expenditures which were $6.7 million below budget. Supplies and consumables were also underspent by $27.3 million.
- The public should also understand that deficit reflects a significant level of COVID-19 expenditure. COVID mitigation spending reached $65.4 million. This included: $32.3 million for health, quarantine, PPE and related costs; $15.6 for displaced tourism workers. $4 million for support for micro and small businesses, $2 million for individuals in need, and the $1.9 million laptop initiative.
- $2 million was spent to procure standby borrowing, which will only be incurred where necessary.
- Government continues to be challenged by extraordinary demands from people experiencing hardship
- For more from Minster McTaggart, see sidebar below.
Sidebar: Premier Says Government to Reduce Quarantine Period
I am pleased to be with you today to bring some good news regarding Government’s National Vaccination programme. As a country we have done extremely well with the vaccine rollout and we can all be very proud of this.
There have been nearly 320 million COVID-19 vaccinations given around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine accounts for around half of them. Here across our three Islands we have given almost 28,000 doses with many of these being the completion of the two-dose course.
I can further report that some 31% of our population of around 65,000 people have received at least one dose and 15% have had a full course. As many of you would have heard me say on several occasions, we would need to have 70% – 80% of all residents fully vaccinated to allow us to safely open up our borders while keeping other protections in place. We have a way to go still to achieve that goal but we are certainly well on the way and we have many to thank for this.
So, let me start by extending sincere thanks to all the staff at the HSA for working tirelessly to roll out the programme, to the United Kingdom, and the Governor’s Office, for supporting us in this opportunity for our people, and to you, the Public, for coming forward and availing yourselves of this protection.
Increasingly positive information is being received for the success of the vaccinations which have been approved for use by the World Health Organisation and Stringent Regulatory Authorities, such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and the European Union. Only recently, we have learned that the Pfizer-BioNTech and AstraZeneca vaccines are likely to give a good degree of protection not only against the infection itself but also protection against the transmission of infection from one person to another.
Further to this, studies are now showing that although some of the Variants of Concern which have caused many countries to double down on their border controls for fear of spread, the approved vaccines continue to offer protection against serious illness and death. Information available only this week suggests that the protection offered by the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination offers protection against one of the Brazilian Variants of Concern – something that has taken a while to come to light. But we are glad that it has become known.
I am extremely pleased to also announce that we have reached a much anticipated milestone in the delivery of our programme in that we have now vaccinated well over 91% of those in our population over the age of 60 years. This gives us confidence that the most vulnerable have been protected from the worst of the COVID-19 disease. With this target having been met, I am able to announce today that from the 22nd March the required quarantine period will be reduced from 14 to ten days for those who have completed a valid vaccination programme at least two weeks before travelling to the Cayman Islands, provided that everyone in their quarantine group has also been vaccinated. Other requirements are that a traveler:
- must provide a negative PCR test that was taken no more than 72 hours prior to departure;
- A negative PCR test also completed when arriving on Island;
- the traveler is staying in a group where all people have received a full course of the vaccination;
- to be released from quarantine the traveler must receive a negative PCR test.
Here in the Cayman Islands, we do not believe we have any community transmission of COVID-19 which is a most enviable position to be in. Therefore, we will still maintain a degree of caution for three principal reasons.
Firstly, vaccination is not 100% effective. It works exceedingly well, but there will still be some people in whom no immune response develops in spite of having completed the course.
Secondly, although a good deal of protection is afforded by vaccination, there is still a small but finite chance that a fully vaccinated person might have a good immune response, but might still be able to carry and transmit the virus to someone else.
Thirdly, the Variants that are of Concern need to be followed very carefully – we have seen a worrying increase in infectivity which will have a direct knock-on effect of the numbers needed to be vaccinated to ensure good community protection.
The Ministry of Health is watching developments both in terms of understanding of the disease and the effectiveness of the vaccines. We are also monitoring what happens around us for those travellers who wish to come to Cayman.
The prevalence of COVID-19 disease is falling rapidly in the United Kingdom and the United States due to combinations of non-pharmaceutical measures, such as masks, distancing and hygiene, and a rapid roll out of the vaccination. This will be coupled with the arrival of Spring time in the Northern hemisphere, and the coronavirus family tend to be seasonally affected so this will likely add to a further fall in infection rates.
If the falls in infection prevalence continue, and our vaccination numbers continue to rise, we should be able to further reduce the quarantine period while watching the Variants of Concern. When we reach the threshold that a substantial percentage of the population will be vaccinated, then we should be able to remove the need for quarantine altogether, but to reach a rate of, for example 80%, it is likely we will need to have vaccinations available for children too which should be coming by the Summer.
There are a few other changes which the regulations bring that I will touch on:
- Should a traveler provide a false vaccination certificate then the person will have committed an offence and are liable on conviction to a fine of ten thousand dollars and to two years imprisonment;
- Medical Vaccination Certificates can be submitted in electronic form.
Before closing I repeat again that we have so far successfully managed our response to the pandemic and have started on the road to recovery and eventual re-opening. Let us stay the course and stay safe.
If you have not already done so, please come forward to be vaccinated. You are not only doing so for yourself, but also for your family, your loved ones and the community at large.
Sidebar: Governor Shares Arrival Schedule for COVID-19 Vaccines
As the Premier said, it is wonderful news that 90% of our over 60s have now been vaccinated. That means we are now able to begin reducing the mandatory quarantine period for incoming vaccinated travellers from 14 days to 10 days. This is the start of the cautious, gradual and safe opening up of the islands that we all very much want.
I am also pleased that as a result of the supply of the Pfizer vaccines from the UK, we were able last week to further open up our vaccine programme to anyone over the age of 16.
So far the UK has sent Cayman 38,000 vaccine doses. Tomorrow approximately 20,000 additional doses will arrive on the BA flight from London. We have a further 20,000 doses arriving on the 25 March BA flight. The final delivery of approximately 23,000 doses is expected on the BA flight on 7 April. These vaccines continue to be supplied free of charge.
So after the final delivery on 7 April we will have received over 100,000 doses which is enough to vaccinate the entire adult population of 50,000 people in Cayman. This means that by the early May, all those over the age of 16 who want to be vaccinated could have received their second dose.
This is a fantastic achievement, especially as the supply of vaccines remains such a challenge globally. I just want to take a moment to reflect that on 13 March last year we closed schools across our Islands. On 22 March we closed our borders. It has been an incredibly long year and an incredibly tough one for all of us. The community in Cayman has rallied around and we can all be proud of the progress we have made. But if anyone had said last March, that by May this year we would have a safe, reliable vaccine against Covid and have vaccinated all adults over 16 in Cayman, not many would have believed it. We have come a long way but that achievement is within our grasp. As a community, what an opportunity we have. Let’s grasp it.
So I urge everyone to take the vaccine when invited to do so. As the Premier said about 3/5ths of our adults have already had one dose. In the UK that figure is 23 million and over 100 million in the US.
Vaccines continue to be rolled out to millions of people across the world with no serious side effects or complications. Here on Island there continue to be no severe adverse reactions.
As the Premier said there was excellent news yesterday that the Pfizer vaccine is effective against the Brazilian variant. We already know that it is effective against the UK and South African variants. That is incredibly good news about vaccine efficacy, but we have to remain cautious as new variants may emerge.
As the data in the UK is already showing in the over 70s, the vaccine is highly effective at stopping hospitalisations, serious illness and death. It is the way for each of us to protect ourselves and our elderly and vulnerable relatives and friends. These vaccinations were trialled on many tens of thousands of people. They have gone through rigorous testing. Hundreds of millions are receiving them across the world. Once again I urge those who remain hesitant to please not listen to unsubstantiated, false and irresponsible conspiracy theories. Form an objective view from trusted, official and objective sources. Talk to people who have had it. Think about protecting your loved ones. The objective case for taking the vaccine is a powerful one.
Once again, let me also urge everyone coming in to our islands from overseas to follow the protocols to help keep everyone here safe. Our systems continue to work very well and we have avoided any community transmission. I would also like to pay tribute to the Civil Service who have done a heroic job to keep it that way. We need to remain alert and on our game to keep it that way. There are strict penalties for anyone breaking the rules and they will be enforced where there is clear evidence.
In conclusion, I want to thank Health Services Authority for an outstanding effort on the vaccination roll-out. Thank you once again to everyone in the community for what you have all done individually to get Cayman into this positive situation, one of the most favourable anywhere in the world just now.
The vaccine roll-out gives us much hope and confidence for the future. We are now in an incredibly good place to re-open safely and bounce back strongly from this global pandemic that has so tested the entire world.
Sidebar: Minister Seymour Announces Renewed Stipends to Musicians
Good morning and thank you for joining us as we continue to keep you informed about the Government’s ongoing COVID-19 related measures and vaccine updates.
Thank you to each of you as you continue to do your part by participating in the vaccination program. The latest numbers of approximately 28,000 vaccines having been administered as at yesterday (with 9,447 having completed the two-dose course) is most noteworthy to highlight. The uptake has been amazing and we want to continue this trend as we do all that we can to continue our current direction in this regard. Many thanks too to our Public Health professionals who continue to do an amazing job with administering the vaccines. We thank you!
I am pleased today to also be announcing a further round of stipends to our Musicians who continue to be affected by the continued downturn in the tourism/hospitality industry. This additional one-time stipend of CI$1,000 will be paid by April 2nd. Persons who applied previously and received the stipend do not need to re-apply. Our Ministry team will reach out to you over the next couple of weeks to re-confirm your details.
Persons who did not previously apply and are now seeking assistance, should contact the Ministry’s Policy Advisor for Culture, Natasha Powell at Natasha.firstname.lastname@example.org or on 345 244-2369 to obtain and submit their application. Deadline for new applications is March 19th 2021.
Also, I am pleased to provide an update on the second round of the health insurance Premiums Payment Assistance Program (PPAP) through the Ministry of Health and in conjunction with the Health Insurance Commission, which recommenced on March 1st. The Health Insurance Commission vetted 220 applications and assistance has been provided to 984 persons, for March 2021.
As previously announced, the Program is scheduled from March through June 2021. Unemployed workers from the Tourism and Hospitality industry are encouraged to access the Program, if in need of assistance.
For persons who did not apply in time for the March assistance, the deadline to submit an application to the Health Insurance Commission to obtain assistance commencing from April 1st is on March 19th 2021.
Applications should be made through the Health Insurance Commission. Persons may contact the Health Insurance Commission via email to email@example.com or by phone on 345 946 2084 for additional details about the Program, or to obtain an application form.
My thanks again to my Ministry staff and the Health Insurance Commission as we seek to ensure that this assistance is available for our people.
Thank you and God Bless.
Sidebar: Finance Minister Confirms Lower than Expected Deficit for 2020
Thank you, Hon Premier, for your introductory remarks.
[On assumption the Hon Premier speaks first and then invites Minister for Finance to speak. If assumption is wrong then we’ll have to change the above opening sentence.]
A very good morning to the viewing and listening public!
My main purpose at this Press Briefing is to provide unaudited financial information with respect to Government’s Financial Year that ended on 31 December 2020.
Tremendous Impact of COVID-19 on Government’s Finances
It bears repeating that the COVID-19 pandemic started having an impact from the third (3rd) month in Government’s 1st January to 31st December 2020 Financial Year. Much earlier in the 2020 Financial Year, Government was faced with the possibility of having a Deficit as high as $168 Million.
Preliminary Results: Deficit of $38.0 Million for 2020
I’m pleased to report that the 2020 Deficit is substantially less than the $168 Million feared earlier in the year.
Unaudited financial results show that Central Government itself ended the 2020 Financial Year with an Operating Deficit of approximately $38.0 Million. This is comprised of Operating Revenues of $789 million and operating expenses, financing costs and other costs of $827 million. It is particularly pleasing to report that the shortfall in revenue for the year was only $35 million. This, despite the shutdown of the second pillar of our economy, tourism, for 9 months of the year.
Additionally, at 31st December 2020:
Government Debt Balance stood at CI$248.6 million. With the Cayman Islands having an estimated Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $4.7 billion at 31 December 2020, a Government Debt balance of $248.6 million, means a Debt to GDP ratio of 5.2% which would put the Cayman Islands in the very favorable position of having one of the lowest Debt to GDP ratios in the world ; and
Government’s bank account balances totaled CI$447.6 million (of which $104.3 million represents the Islands’ General Reserves).
Submission of Financial Information to Auditor General
The 17 individual Ministries, Portfolios and Offices that make up Central Government, each have prepared their own Annual Reports (which include their financial statements), and have submitted these to the Auditor General’s Office for examination, by 28 February. The majority of these audits are to be completed by 30 April 2021.
The Treasury Department within the Ministry of Finance, has to consolidate these 17 sets of financial statements of Central Government entities along with 25 sets of financial statements of Statutory Authorities and Government Companies, to produce a set of “Whole of Government” or “Entire Public Sector” consolidated financial statements and, have these sent to the Auditor General by 31 May.
Revenue Categories that Performed Better than Budget
One of the reasons the Deficit isn’t as significant as initially projected, was the great performance of a few of Government’s revenue categories.
When compared to the original revenue projections for the 2020 year, the following revenue categories outperformed those original projections:
Stamp Duty on Land Transfers: this category exceeded its initial 2020 projection by $20.6 Million;
Private Fund Fees: this category is a new revenue stream which came into effect with the implementation of the Private Funds Act, 2020, yielding $5.7 Million;
Other Revenues: had a favourable variance of $4.2 million – which is made-up of $1.7 million with respect to sales of supplies and other items to jurisdictions in the region to combat COVID-19 and to other local on-Island health care facilities, and $2.5 million of revenues from the “air bridge” flights; and
Donations: had a positive variance of $2.9 million – this includes a donation of CI$1.8 million/US$2.2 million from Mrs. Susan Olde, towards the costs related to COVID-19 mitigation.
Expenditure Categories that were Less than Budgeted
The improvement in the Deficit also came about due to certain expenditure categories having incurred less costs at the end of 2020 than initially budgeted for the year and, these categories are:
Personnel Costs – were less than the initially budgeted costs of $365.4 Million for 2020, by $6.7 Million; and
Supplies and Consumables – show savings or an underspend of approximately $27.3 Million.
Improvement in Deficit is Despite Significant COVID-19 Expenditures
It is very important that the public understands that the unaudited $38.0 million Deficit figure is after, or takes account of, a significant level of COVID-19 expenditures being incurred in 2020 – were it not for the occurrence of this necessary expenditure, Government would have produced its usual annual surplus.
The unaudited figure for expenses incurred to 31st December 2020, which came about because of COVID-19 mitigation, is approximately $65.4 Million.
Some of the major elements of this overall total are:
- health-related , quarantine, PPE and other costs, totaling $32.3 Million
Some of the major cost components of this $32.3 million category are:
- COVID-19 testing of individuals, purchase of swabs, purchase of PPE (such as masks, gowns, gloves),purchase of ventilators totaling $21.3 million;
Management of isolation/quarantine facilities $4.8 million; (costs of cleaning, security and meals at the facilities) purchase of COVID-19 test kits $3.7 million;
costs arising from Travel Cayman, Curfewtime,
- Traveltime and monitoring of persons in quarantine facilities $1.6 million;
- Public Health programmes, investigations and treatments $0.9 million
Continuing with other major elements of the $65.4 million expended to 31 Dec 2020, I can provide the following additional details:
- $15.6 million was incurred to provide financial assistance to displaced Cayman tourism workers;
- $4.0 Million was awarded as grants and technical support to micro and small businesses. The total facility made available by Government for this purpose was $9.5 million;
- $2.2 Million was incurred with respect to contracted services between the Ministry of Education and service vendors that were paid for by Government even though COVID-19 prevented the delivery of such services;
- $2.2 Million was spent on arranging “air bridge” flights but, the revenues received from such flights exceeded the costs incurred;
- $2.1 Million was incurred as the cost of putting standby borrowing arrangements in place, in case Government needed to undertake borrowing. Government did not incur any borrowing in 2020 and it does not intend to incur borrowing unless it becomes absolutely necessary;
- $2.1 Million was used to provide temporary financial assistance to persons in need, to assist with their living expenses;
- $1.9 million was incurred with respect to the laptop initiative in Government schools undertaken during the COVID-19 pandemic; and
- $0.8 million was spent assisting Seamen, Veterans and persons receiving permanent financial assistance.
It has been the political leadership and strong financial stewardship of this Government that has brought us to this point. However, I hasten to add that the pandemic is not over, not by a long shot. Government continues to be challenged by the extraordinary demand for assistance and services from our people who are experiencing unprecedented hardship.
In closing, I take this opportunity to thank my Cabinet and Caucus colleagues, the Deputy Governor and all civil servants who have worked so diligently and tirelessly to keep our country safe and continuing to deliver for our citizens during this very difficult time.
I will now turn it back to the Hon Premier.