09/15/2021 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 09/14/2021 21:19
Premier Hon. Wayne Panton advised today that the Government will be 'pausing Phase Three' of the Cayman Islands' border reopening plan 'for the rest of this year'.
The Premier was speaking at a COVID-19 update press conference called to announce the Government's response to a rash of new positives over the past few days that have been confirmed to be the result of community transmission.
Premier Panton also announced the increase of the quarantine period for vaccinated incoming travellers from five days to seven days, and said the entry of unvaccinated individuals will be limited.
Geo-tagging will be reimplemented for all those in quarantine. This requirement was previously removed on 9 August for verifiably vaccinated travellers on a five-day quarantine period, but will be reinstated for all quarantine periods.
He also confirmed the reintroduction of COVID-19 suppression measures, including mask wearing mandates and safe distancing in public places. Additionally, the number of people allowed to gather indoors is likely to be reduced to 100 and those gathering outdoors to 250.
New regulations will be introduced shortly clarifying all of the changes and details will be provided at that time. However, Premier Panton emphasised that a lockdown is not envisaged at this time.
Further security measures will be put in place specifically for those travelling to the Sister Islands in order to minimise the spread of COVID-19 in Cayman Brac and Little Cayman, which have a proportionately large vulnerable population.
Premier Panton reiterated that all measures are vitally needed to put a ring of protection among the vulnerable and especially children below 12 who have currently no vaccinations available.
H.E. Governor Martyn Roper announced that the Cayman Islands has ordered booster shots of the COVID-19 vaccine, which are now approved for those over 50 by the UK and these are expected to arrive in short order.
The need for all eligible residents to get vaccinated was once again emphasised by all members of the panel.
As of 5p.m. today, a total of seven community transmission cases had been confirmed, with the leaders underscoring that community transfer within Cayman Islands was inevitable.
Providing a recap on three community cases that came to light last week, Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said: the one in-patient is doing well and is in 'very stable' condition. The other two are also stable and isolating at home.
One additional individual has tested positive who is associated with this community transfer group and is quarantining at a government approved facility, which brings that total to four community transfers in last week's incidence.
There have been 35 direct contacts and 48 including the households tested. An additional 40 individuals have been screened.
Regarding this week's positive in a George Town Primary School (GTPS) student who presented to the HSA Flu Clinic, two further students have been identified as positive for COVID-19 but remain asymptomatic.
Following further contact tracing, one more individual has tested positive who may be connected to the GTPS infection. Of the 45 students in Year 6 of GTPS, 28 were tested and three have resulted in positives.
The Public Health team swabbed over 600 people at GTPS today and those results will come in gradually overnight so that a fuller picture emerges, Dr. Lee added.
Across Grand Cayman, there are seven households that have tested positive for COVID-19 and all are in different geographical locations, with no known common exposure among them.
The Cayman Islands' community transfer is now at the World Health Organisation (WHO) lowest level of transmission at Level One, Dr. Lee said.
Dr. Lee explained that Public Health will follow WHO guidance on contact tracing whereby only primary contacts of someone who is positive will be asked to isolate themselves.
A direct contact includes someone living in the same household or someone having immediate physical contact such as a hug or a kiss, and being less than two metres or six feet from infected person for more than 15 minutes.
Dr. Lee related that when in the UK recently, he spent time with family and friends going about daily life and realised by their collective experiences that it is possible to lead a full life in a community with COVID-19 transmission as long as safety protocols are followed.
In attendance at the press conference at the Government Administration Building were Governor Roper, Premier Panton; Minister for Health Hon. Sabrina Turner, and Minister for Education Hon. Juliana O'Connor-Connolly as well as Dr. Lee.
Pastor Winston Rose of Bodden Town Church of God led the prayer at the start.
The full broadcast of the press conference is posted on the CI Government YouTube Channel at https://youtu.be/WeGlBsXMr8E .
Premier Hon. Wayne Panton's Talking Points
Thank you for once again joining us for a COVID update.
I thank Public Health officials for their diligence and hard work to help protect us and keep us safe. I also thank the Programme Board for the speed in which it has offer4r constructive advice on the way forward to keep our borders safe. Once again, we are listening to the advice coming from the technocrats and acting on that advice.
We always knew that COVID would arrive on our shores and the past two weeks have shown that the vaccinations are working because level of spread has been low.
Now we are taking steps to maintain that spread, but we still have concerns with contract tracing because we found last week that 60 per cent tested were not vaccinated, so we need to get vaccinations up. We are also ensuring proper facilities are in place to deal with COVID in our community, taking full control of the situation.
As for this week, 3 children from GTPS have tested positive and there are more positives coming up as testing is ongoing. We just don't have the numbers yet, but will let you know when we do. The strain the children have contracted is unknown as of yet. One further adult who is not related to the children has also tested positive.
Going by the WHO definition, we are technically in community transmission but at the lowest level, so right now we are only isolating primary contacts.
As for our plans, we are pausing Phase 3 of the Reopening Plan for the rest of this year.
We don't want to be rushing right now as we want to remain cautious considering what is happening with community spread.
We will soon change some of the regulations including mandating masking in all indoor areas such as churches, schools, supermarkets, bars and insisting on the use of hand hygiene.
Masks will not be required for outside activities as long as crowd limits are acknowledged.
His Excellency the Governor's Remarks
I recognise this is a time of stress and anxiety for everyone in our community after living in an incredibly safe bubble for 18 months. We should remain calm and take much comfort in the fact that our vaccination rates give us a lot of protection, one of the highest rates anywhere in the world.
We still have only a very small number of cases of community spread, itself a sign the vaccines are doing their job, though this could go up as testing and tracing continues. We are a long way from having to go into lockdown. That is not necessary.
We do have to learn to live with Covid as we have said repeatedly in these press conferences. It is not going away, especially because Delta is so infectious, a game-changer in this global pandemic.
I know it is even more upsetting for everyone in the community to hear that children have tested positive for COVID. It must be an especially worrying time for their families.
The global COVID experts working for Public Health England spoke at length to Cabinet and the Premier's caucus yesterday about many issues relating to the pandemic and did reassure us that, when children become infected, they generally get a much less severe disease than can affect adults. I very much hope the small number of children so far affected, and anyone else recently infected, recover swiftly.
This week's events have proven that there is COVID in Cayman with 7 different households affected by community spread. So far, we are not able to categorically say if it has got into the community through a quarantine breach, or in some other way.
I am well aware, because of my responsibilities under the constitution, that some people involved in illegal activity arrive on our shores after undeclared boat trips to or from Jamaica. We do not know if that is a source of this breach but it is one possibility.
But notwithstanding that, quarantine should not be treated lightly. Whilst we still have these protective measures in place everyone must adhere to the rules.
Do not leave your place of quarantine, do not have visitors whilst in quarantine, and make sure you receive deliveries in a COVID safe, contactless way. Read the instructions you are given before your quarantine starts and follow them very carefully. Every one of us needs to assume responsibility for the welfare of our community. Otherwise you are likely to be prosecuted.
The recent cases of community transmission have encouraged more people to take the vaccine to protect themselves. Our vaccine rate is now at over 75% of the population. In fact, 81% of the eligible population are fully vaccinated. But more young people - and especially those between 12 and 18 and the under 30s need to come forward as that is the group with the lowest vaccination rate.
If every eligible age group was at 80% coverage this would give us the very best chance of stopping COVID in its tracks - this is called the firebreak effect, and even for new variants a high percentage of vaccine uptake will give us a very strong firebreak effect. So please keep coming forward.
I know some people have been asking why we cannot offer the Sinopharm vaccine in Cayman. We asked the Public Health England experts that direct question yesterday. They told us that the manufacturers have not asked for UK approval for the vaccine so it has no licence in the UK. The UK therefore has no plans to provide us with that vaccine.
On boosters, we heard that the UK today approved a booster programme for the over 50s, and that Pfizer is the vaccine of choice for that programme because it is well tolerated and has a good effect. We have ordered our booster shots today and are waiting to hear when they will arrive. I expect we can start our booster programme very soon.
I know that the Government has not taken the decision lightly to postpone removal of quarantine for vaccinated travellers on 14 October. Public Health England advice was that we were in a strong place if we decided to go ahead.
But they said we should consider 3 key things before doing so - 1) our health system must be very well equipped to respond to any cases of community transmission - while the recent cases were an incredibly useful test run of our systems they did show that they could benefit from additional resourcing, 2) higher vaccination rates amongst the under 30s would really help ensure effective firebreaks and 3) infection rates in feeder countries need to be considered in any policy response.
These are areas now requiring further work - lengthening the 5 day quarantine to 7 days, reinstating electronic tagging and we have to reducing the number of positive cases that are coming in to our islands through further restrictive travel measures.
I want to add my voice to what the Premier said about misinformation, I've seen an incredible amount of it this afternoon and it really is unhelpful. Please get your information from official sources and please do not spread misinformation on social media because it causes so much alarm, upset and anguish to many people.
I fully support today's decision by the Premier and his Cabinet. The situation is under control and our health teams from Dr Lee downwards are working incredibly hard under enormous pressure. I have been greatly impressed by the resilience of these three Islands since arriving and I am confident we will meet these latest challenges with confidence and resolve.
Health and Wellness Minister Hon. Sabrina Turner's Remarks
Thank you for joining us again today. We understand that a lot has been happening, and that many of you may be feeling anxious and worried.
I am here to reassure you that not only are we reacting quickly to the rapid changes in the local COVID-19 situation, we are also proactively planning ahead on how to handle any potential eventuality.
By virtue of the nature of this pandemic, we have to remain flexible and nimble in order to shift our course as needed. Unfortunately, there is no tried and true playbook to refer to as we work toward suppressing this virus and eventually reopening our borders.
However, we can act swiftly and decisively to the ever-changing parameters - as we are doing today.
While much has been made of areas in which people may not have been cooperating with us and thinking of the public good, such as in observing quarantine regulations and the like, there has been a huge positive public response in others.
The swift voluntary re-adoption of public health measure such as the wearing of masks, and observance of social distancing is one. And the take-up of the COVID-19 vaccine is another.
I have to thank, congratulate, and indeed celebrate all of you who have responded to our call and gotten vaccinated. The numbers don't lie. The vaccination rate is steadily rising, and I sincerely thank you all for taking not only your own health and safety in hand, but also looking out for the safety of our entire community.
We have been doing all that we can to support you in this effort by making the vaccination readily and easily accessible to as many people as possible.
Public Health is offering several special clinics to bring the vaccination to you where you live and work throughout our Islands.
Coming up tomorrow, we have a vaccination clinic in the morning in Cayman Brac at the Aston Rutty Centre from 9am to 1pm, and in the evening there is a vaccination clinic in East End at the district health centre from 5pm to 8pm.
Please avail yourself of these opportunities to be vaccinated if you haven't done so already.
We have seen that getting vaccinated is vitally important in the global fight against COVID-19 even if it doesn't stop transmission.
The vaccine has proven to reduce the likelihood of severe illness; has reduced hospitalization rates in those who have been fully-vaccinated and has proved to reduce the possibility of death from COVID-19.
Beyond getting vaccinated, we will also have to become vigilant again in our own personal hygiene practices.
Right now, the most important thing for all of us to do is to prevent the spread of infection.
Cayman, I would like to remind you of the best and most effective ways to prevent the spread. These are to:
Please note and understand that businesses may require you to wear a mask or face covering and CAN refuse entry in accordance with the current regulations in place.
But in order to limit the spread of the virus, we must know the facts first.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough, shortness of breath, tiredness and loss of smell or taste. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia or breathing difficulties.
These symptoms are similar to the flu (influenza) or the common cold and it's important to note that right now cases of the flu and the common old are quickly emerging in our Islands. It is a seasonal norm.
If you are experiencing any symptoms, please follow these directions:
1. Stay at home
2. Contact the 24-hour Flu Hotline or your general practitioner to speak to a health professional about your symptoms prior to visiting the flu clinic.
3. Call 1-800-534-8600, 345-947-3077, 345-925-6327 or [email protected] .
4. Stay calm
5. Practice preventative measures
If you are experiencing symptoms, please do not visit any public places, any friends, or family, and especially not go to the hospital or nearest pharmacy.
Call the flu hotline first! The professionals staffing the hotline can help to allay your fears, and ensure you get tested for COVID-19 if needed.
Because this is such a stressful and anxious time and topic for most people, I want all of us to be conscious of our own mental health and that of our loved ones.
We all recognise and understand the feelings of anxiety, distress and concern that many people may be experiencing in relation to the coronavirus.