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The Leader of the Opposition Calls for Clarity on Re-opening Plan

Fellow Caymanians and Residents; good day to you all.

I listened with some disappointment to the Premier’s press briefing last week. I sat through the briefing, and like everyone else, heard little about actual plans on how we will re-open.

We in the Opposition fully support the objective of re-opening the Cayman Islands to visitors. We must re-open, and of that, there is no doubt. We have been clear that as sufficient numbers of our population become fully vaccinated, and the boosters are made available to those in the community who will need them, we should normalise our economy by reintroducing tourism to our Islands. 

However, we have also been clear that the re-opening must be well planned, coordinated, and credibly communicated to the public. This is a time for clarity from Government.

The Cayman Compass’ headline of last Friday was sadly an example of the ongoing lack of clarity by the Premier.  When he paused the full return of tourism a month ago, he indicated that the new re-opening date would be “Sometime in January”.  Friday’s headline now proclaimed in bold that the Premier now promised a re-opening “Sometime in November”. 

To add to the vagueness, the Compass also reported that: “With the country urgently seeking answers, Premier Wayne Panton said he believes with some confidence the country may open next month if everything goes to plan”.

The country does not need vague promises of “Sometime in November”. What the country needs, and deserves, is clarity and certainty.

Our tourism sector, workers, businesses, and the airlines, need certainty about when re-opening will occur to prepare and market their services to prospective visitors.  Visitors who can be confident in our border opening and the possibility of coming to our Islands and enjoying their Cayman vacation.

The broader public needs clarity on a re-opening date, but also clarity on how the re-opening will be managed, including the assurances that the Government has the necessary measures in place to steer Cayman through the challenges that re-opening will inevitably bring. Challenges that, as the Premier has acknowledged, include an increased health risk to the people of our Islands.

The international experience tells us – and our own recent experience has shown – that whilst we can reduce the risks, we cannot eliminate them. And so, we know that we can expect infections to rise as we open up. Regrettably, some of those new cases will be serious. 

The question then is how will the Government mitigate those risks?  Premier Panton, the country is waiting to hear what action the Government has taken to reduce the risks as we plan for thousands of visitors to return to our Islands.

Our people need to understand what plans are in place to ensure that all our Islands, particularly our health services providers, have the necessary capacity to handle a rise in infections?  It is essential that the country understand how the Government will manage the impacts of opening up.  And it is also essential that the Government fully appreciate and adequately deal with the effects of the pandemic on individuals and families.  

We have a tourism sector on life support and will be so for the rest of this year and into the next.  As the near-empty JetBlue flight on the weekend demonstrates, rebuilding tourism will not result in an immediate return of visitors to pre-pandemic numbers. We also have a cruise sector that may not likely return for another year.  What continuing support will Government provide for the businesses and families affected? Our people deserve to know!

It is inevitable that when the number of infections does rise, it will further impact individuals and their families.  Including those needing to isolate because of illness or at risk of becoming ill.   How will those individuals be supported?

The Minister of Health and the Premier apologised last week that they did not have adequate resources in place to assist those in isolation, particularly those individuals who are not earning an income while they cannot work.  The apology is appreciated, but frankly, this is not good enough.  These concerns were first publicly mentioned by the Opposition and have been known about for weeks now.  People lives are being negatively affected by the inactions of the Government, and this needs the Health Minister’s full attention.

These are all valid concerns of not only the Opposition but of many people in the country. So, before the Premier or anyone else again insinuates that we in the Opposition are playing politics, let me say this. No one in the Government or at the press briefings cares more for the people of these Islands than we in the Opposition do. We have supported the Government where we agree, and where we do not, we say so. It is our sworn obligation to protect our democracy and to defend our people. Simply put, that is not playing politics.  That is doing our job. 

In almost every instance where the Opposition has expressed concern about the Government’s actions or inactions, the country has seen the Government acknowledge our positions and adjust aspects of their plans accordingly. 

It is no fault of ours that the Government has provided little that the Opposition or the country can support in their management of, and their response to, COVID-19.  Again, we are not alone. A look at the poll published on page four of Friday’s Cayman Compass indicates people’s feelings.  When asked how satisfied the public was with the Government’s response to the COVID-19 community outbreak, a mere 8% said they were very satisfied and 10% somewhat satisfied with the Government.  In contrast, 78% were dissatisfied, broken down as 67% being very dissatisfied and 11% somewhat dissatisfied.  Similar concerns can also be seen across the various social media platforms, in the comments on the news blogs, and even in the comments during the Government’s own press briefings.  This level of dissatisfaction can be placed squarely on the shoulders of the Premier and Minister of Health as the ones who are leading the Government’s response to the pandemic.

We in the Opposition take our responsibility seriously. We will continue to ask questions of the Government and insist that the Premier provide the clarity and reassurance that the country needs on a full border opening.

We will also continue to promote vaccinations as the best way to protect our people from serious illness as we re-open. We accept that there are those who choose not to take the vaccine, and we respect their choice.  But I continue to urge that as many people in our islands who can… please take the vaccine.  And those in need of vaccination boosters, please do get it as we prepare for the return of tourism “Sometime in November”.  I certainly plan to get my booster.

I will say again that the Opposition fully supports the border re-opening and the return of tourism.  However, we continue to highlight that a full re-opening needs to be done in a thoughtful, planned manner and that the country is updated on these plans and has confidence in them.

Last week the Premier hosted a news conference to announce that he would hold another news conference sometime this week. Whenever that promised news conference is held, the Premier must answer the critical questions that the Opposition has raised on behalf of all the people of our Islands and at last give the country the clarity it needs to move forward.

In closing on behalf of the Opposition and the Progressives family I want to wish all those in isolation well.  May your time pass quickly and if you are ill we pray for your speedy recovery.

May God continue to bless all our people and our wonderful Cayman Islands.

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Submitted by: Leader of the Opposition & Political Leader of the Progressives