A model for reopening that can fit the Cayman Islands.
Michael Tibbetts, MD
Updated January 4, 2021
All major tourist destinations in the Caribbean have reopened to visitors or have a plan to reopen soon. We can learn from what has worked well and also what has gone wrong to guide the development of the Safe Plan to Reopen Cayman. The chart below lists the reopening strategies for 10 other countries in our region with case statistics updated as of January 3, 2021 from worldometer.com.
*Increase in Barbados cases linked to outbreak within a prison.
One of the first islands to reopen was our fellow Overseas Territory Bermuda. From the outset, Bermuda implemented a rigorous testing protocol for visitors requiring PCR testing prior to arrival, on arrival and then every 4 days after arrival. Bermuda’s successful testing strategy has been celebrated as the island hosted more than 25,000 visitors including an international professional golf tournament without an outbreak from July through December. Unfortunately, the country has suffered a setback with a recent outbreak.
By studying the source of the outbreak, we can learn from the flaws in Bermuda’s system – including a policy to not require pre-arrival testing of returning residents. In addition, returning residents were allowed to travel freely around the island and return to work.
As has occurred in other islands, the outbreak was caused by returning residents transmitting the virus to family members and co-workers. According to Bermuda’s Premier David Burt, “The numbers do not lie and the story they are telling cannot be ignored. This outbreak is being driven by residents, more specifically young residents. More than half of the new infections reported over the last six days are residents under the age of 30.”
In response to the outbreak, Bermuda has not changed its policy for arriving visitors but has increased the fee from $30 to $300 for returning residents who did not have a pre-arrival test. This action emphasizes the value placed on pre-arrival testing.
A primary concern for reopening is the potential for COVID-19 outbreaks in the local community. The experience of numerous islands has demonstrated that returning residents, like in Bermuda, are unfortunately the source of community spread. Visitors are much less likely to travel if they are feeling ill and do not interact with large gatherings of residents at funerals, weddings or other social events. Furthermore, additional restrictions can be placed on visitors to stay within designated resorts and only visit approved attractions and restaurants.
In the late summer, Turks and Caicos saw a spike in COVID-19 cases that was traced to returning residents. As a government minister noted in a Miami Herald article, “It has been proven that the cases are not coming from the outside; the cases are community-based, so there is no point in shutting down the borders.” A similar outbreak was more recently observed in St. Lucia. A government official there noted that “the outbreak was due to illegal entry of Saint Lucians coming from Martinique. Nationals who decided they wanted to come to a funeral or to visit family and came in via fishing boats….we have no reported transference from the visitors.”
We are not aware of any situations in which stayover visitors seeded COVID-19 outbreaks in countries requiring both repeated PCR testing and resort/villa bubble isolation despite tens of thousands of visitors traveling to many of these countries.
A consensus for a reopening strategy is building among those islands that have more recently developed plans to reopen. St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands have reopened with policies that are most similar to the Safe Plan for Cayman. All three countries are implementing a combination of PCR testing with a resort/villa quarantine bubble protocol. Since reopening, St. Kitts and Nevis, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands have recorded very few cases and no outbreaks (see chart above). We can continue to learn from these islands as we refine our reopening strategy.
The luxury vacation travelers that Cayman is known to attract are still planning vacations to the Caribbean. In fact, many view the sun, sand and island breezes as the best way to escape. The Ritz Carlton in St. Thomas (U.S. Virgin Islands) has reported 60-70% occupancy. In contrast, the Ritz Carlton Grand Cayman has less than 5% occupancy even with staycation guests. The luxury Amanyara Resort in Turks and Caicos has even seen revenues increase year over year since reopening. Other destinations have realized that vacationers are willing to undergo testing and be subject to rigorous protocols as they want to remain safe.
With the benefit of comparing the 10 different reopening strategies of other Islands, we have drafted the most comprehensive reopening protocol in the region. We believe that if there is a will, there is a safe strategy to reopen. Now that we know the most vulnerable members of the Cayman community will be vaccinated in the coming weeks, we can be even more confident in proceeding to implement the safest strategy to reopen to stayover visitors in the region.
For a complete guide to the latest travel protocols in our Caribbean neighbors, check out this website: https://www.travelweekly.com/Caribbean-Travel/Caribbean-readies-for-a-wave-of-reopenings
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