[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Daphne Ewing-Chow (Forbes) reports on the Cayman Islands’ response to COVID-19. She stresses that “Early action, transparent communication and strict quarantine rules have been game changers for Cayman, but what has really made a difference has been the clear choice of life over money or politics.” Here are excerpts:
[. . .] Caymanians are restocking on supplies after having just emerged from a “hard curfew.” No one other than “essential workers” have been allowed outside of the boundaries of their homes—not even to go on a run or walk a dog—and supermarkets, pharmacies and a handful of essential businesses are the only signs of commercial activity.
But Cayman’s Premier, the Honourable Alden McLaughlin, has a reason to be proud. With just 8 cases of COVID-19 and one death, there have been no confirmed instances of community transmission in the Cayman Islands— all positive cases have been connected to travelers.
On a number of fronts, one can say that 2020 has not been smooth sailing for the three-island archipelago. On January 28, an earthquake of 7.7 Mw shook the 102-square-mile island as well as its neighbors, Jamaica and Cuba. Almost one month later, the British territory struggled with what many have considered to be a Brexit-driven blacklisting on EU’s list of non-cooperative tax jurisdictions, and in early March, local schools and residents were forced to evacuate when the island’s landfill burst into a historic blaze that would take days to bring under control. To add insult to injury, the government and members of civil society have not been seeing eye to eye on a number of proposed government initiatives, including a $200 million government proposal to develop its cruise berthing facility.
But as coronavirus trickled its way into the Americas, Cayman began what has come to be recognized as one of the most proactive and decisive disease containment strategies in the hemisphere— a policy regime that has put its people first at the expense of everything else, including the highly influential cruise industry.
These decisions have not come without backlash. In February, the executive chairman of MSC Meraviglia criticized Cayman for denying entry to the ship, after one of its crew appeared to have symptoms of the virus, stating that local authorities acted out of “fear.” Carnival cruises opted to change routes, bypassing Cayman because of its stringent anti-COVID-19 measures.
On March 11, when the World Health Organization announced that the COVID-19 outbreak had reached the level of a pandemic and public health experts urged governments to take immediate aggressive action, Cayman had no need to be reactive.
The government had already implemented COVID-19 regulations about a week and a half prior to the announcement, despite not having yet identified a single case of the virus within its borders. But just one day later, a 68-year-old cruise ship passenger who was being treated for a cardiac condition at a local health facility tested positive for COVID-19, to which he would succumb within 48 hours. Within days, schools were closed and public gathering bans of 50 or more persons (later whittled down to 10 or more persons) were implemented. All patients and staff of the local health facility, as well as the people with whom they had come into contact with, were quarantined.
By March 16, amid stories of the rampant spread of the virus at sea and three days after President Donald Trump declared a national emergency in the United States, cruise ships were banned from docking in Grand Cayman. By March 22, Cayman bade farewell to its final visitors for at least an initial 21 days as borders came to a close.
For a country that relies on tourism for about 70% of its GDP and 75% of foreign currency earnings, this decision was difficult—but necessary.
“The lives of our people in the Cayman Islands are our first and foremost concern,” said tourism minister Moses Kirkconnell. Public orders fluctuated between a “soft curfew,” or shelter-in-place orders, requiring residents to stay at home except for essential activities, to a “hard curfew,” or 24-hour lockdown, which prohibited all movement within the community, except for that of essential workers. [. . .]
Cayman is lucky. Given its status as a British territory, the United Kingdom has provided support by way of public health consultations and has contributed supplies. Cayman’s sophisticated healthcare sector has made it the only British overseas territory that has been able to provide reliable onshore COVID-19 testing.
Early action, transparent communication and strict quarantine rules have been game changers for Cayman, but what has really made a difference has been the clear choice of life over money or politics.
“I don’t want a single one of my people, and that includes everyone who resides here, to die of this disease. That’s what we are aiming for,” said the Premier. “It could be you, it could be your mother, your grandmother, your sister, your auntie, your uncle, your father or it could be you… No one is trying to make your life more difficult. We are trying to save it. Please help us.”