Premier outlines priorities to safe reopening of border
Cayman is learning to live with COVID and taking the lessons learned from unexpected community spread to pave the way forward to safely reopen its borders and remain open in a responsible way.
Premier Hon. G. Wayne Panton assured the country in his debate on two bills in Parliament this week that the PACT Government is working to ensure that the Caymanian people and residents can count on solid planning and safety measures once the border is fully reopened to vaccinated travelers.
“Our vision is to get the country to a point where we can continue our reopening programme and remain open in a responsible way; not just trying to stay open, not just fighting against the odds to stay open, but doing it in a safe way where people are not suffering to any large extent,” Mr. Panton said.
He said the community spread that began in North Side in early September and that again popped up at George Town Primary School was a learning curve that identified areas where additional resources are needed and highlighted that there are parts of the Government’s reopening plan that need to be filled in, articulated, tested and communicated to the wider community.
“We are willing to work together to itemize the lessons learned and incorporate the findings into an updated reopening plan, which is designed to further enhance the country’s readiness and response capabilities,” Mr. Panton said. “The reality is that we do have community transmission now and that has forced us to rethink many of our approaches.”
He said the rethinking will involve everyone.
“So now the Government, the Public Service, the business community, our children, our citizens and residents of Cayman have to join together in taking the first collective steps of reimagining and then living our lives in a way that allows us to safely travel and to participate in daily activities,” he said. “To have our children continue to receive in-class learning, and yes, to welcome visitors to our shores so that that essential part of our economy can be revitalized.”
The key to getting that balance right, Mr. Panton said, is to ensure that Government safely keeps business and activities open while not overwhelming the healthcare system. One of the tools that will help is lateral flow testing for fast identification of positive cases. These specific tests play an integral role in the Government’s overall management strategy by empowering people to proactively stay aware of their COVID-19 status by self-testing while reducing the need to attend a healthcare facility for initial testing.
The tests have been ordered and are expected on Island in the coming weeks.
“Many of these tests can be self-administered and have the potential to eliminate the challenges presently faced by employers, patrons, customers, students and those wanting to go to the gym,” Mr. Panton said. “Living with COVID means that we will try to keep our unvaccinated children in school using regular lateral flow testing and the isolation only of those who have tested positive rather than the whole class.”
Lateral flow testing will be used when students return to classes after mid-term break on 25 October.
Mr. Panton also called on employers to do their part in helping the Government safely reopen borders while managing COVID-19.
“Employers will have to do their part if we are to safely control COVID and manage it. We can’t have employees feeling as if they have to choose between their job and their health or that of their children,” he said. “So while we look to make practical adjustments to quarantine periods for those who are vaccinated, we can’t allow COVID-positive employees to simply continue to go to work without isolation. That’s not safe, not healthy or wise.”
Mr. Panton said the ultimate goal of safely and responsibly reopening the country to vaccinated visitors with systems in place that would not require isolation upon arrival while minimizing the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations with no more COVID-related deaths is a balancing act.
“If we can develop a plan that contemplates both reopening and how to live with COVID after reopening, we’ll have the best chance of avoiding any subsequent closing of borders,” he said.
Government will shortly roll out a Cabinet-approved plan that provides predictability, accountability and transparency that can be shared with everyone. Some of the areas to be addressed include the Public Health system, social practices, testing and reporting, isolation regimes, vaccination levels, immigration and entry requirements, employment and labour matters, travel, data and analytics, law enforcement, emergency response, and information sharing and communications.
Mr. Panton said it is impossible for Government to randomly pick a date for full reopening of the border because the decision needs to be based on science.
“It means we rely on the advice and recommendations in an updated plan, which has had the input of experts in the Public Service and the Public Health so that we can evaluate the country’s readiness to not only open but very importantly to remain open safely without having lockdown scenarios; without having to contemplate shutting down,” he said.
Mr. Panton assured the public that residents and businesses in the Cayman Islands will be given at least a month’s notice before fully opening the gates to Cayman’s borders.