Vaccine rate remains central to opening plan

| 08/07/2021 | 148 Comments
Cayman News Service
Premier Wayne Panton delivers his address at the Chamber Legislative Luncheon

(CNS): The government has set a vaccination target of 80% for the Cayman Islands resident population before the limited reopening of the border, scheduled for 9 September, which is 63 days away. On Thursday, Premier Wayne Panton unveiled a 6-month long national plan and the pathway to the full lifting of border restrictions by January. He stressed the importance of the vaccination rate to the success of the phased plan, which will include mandatory verifiable vaccination for new work permit applicants, and said the vaccine remains our best defence.

“The sooner we reach our vaccination target, the sooner we will be on our road to economic recovery from this pandemic,” Panton told an audience of Chamber of Commerce members at the annual Legislative Lunch. “Government will require proof of vaccination for both renewal and new work permits as a part of our phased reopening process. Please impress upon your existing employees on work permits that if they refuse to get vaccinated, they may no longer be able to work in the Cayman Islands. It is a critical public health issue.”

Government remains on target to begin a phased reopening in mid-September, he said, but this will require over 7,000 people getting the full vaccine course in the remaining nine weeks.

“We want to avoid people becoming seriously ill, or even worse, dying. As a country, we have done everything possible to avoid this so far. And we must continue in this effort. It is for this reason – to keep our people safe – that we have decided on a phased approach to reopening. Chief Medical Officer Dr John Lee is working with countries to ensure that we are able to verify their vaccines just as we do now with our own Health Services Authority and the United Kingdom.”

Panton stressed the importance of ensuring the people we let into the country have been vaccinated. He urged the business community to encourage their staff to take up the free vaccine and remind those on work permits that they may no longer be able to work here in future if they do not get vaccinated.

But he asked the tourism sector especially to focus on recruiting local people. While more resources would be invested in, and assistance given to, clearing the permits that could not be avoided, he said the government wants to see a real effort to move towards putting Cayman faces back on the front line. The phased reopening offered an opportunity for employers to hire locals instead of seeking dozens of work permit holders.

Panton told the audience that there were at least five young Caymanians working for the Health Services Authority who had been integral to the fight against the pandemic and the development of testing and gene sequencing. He said that Jonathan Smellie’s undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications in cell biology, genetics and genomics and synthetic biology landed him a forensic assistant job at the HSA laboratory in March 2020, less than a week before the lockdown, and where he developed the proposal to start next generation genome sequencing.

“If we can have a Caymanian like Jonathan Smellie conduct genome sequencing, then we must be able to find Caymanians who can manage hotels, food and beverage,” he said. The premier noted that Smellie and his Caymanian colleagues in the laboratory were there not only by their “own grit, determination and diligence, but because their employer, the Health Services Authority, simply didn’t take the easy route and pursue work permits”.

Panton said that maximizing Caymanian employment was key to the country’s future economic success in tourism and across all sectors of our economy.

“We have the most opportune moment now as we begin to reopen our economy,” he said. “Toward the end of the summer and into the fall, WORC intends to launch a three-level approach training programme that will be geared to preparing Caymanian job seekers for long-term careers within the tourism industry. We are aware of the concerns of business owners that there won’t be enough workers to fill available positions once the country reopens. However, we are assured that through our cross-partnership initiatives there will be many capable Caymanians available to fill these positions.”

Urging the sector to hire Caymanians first, he said there was an opportunity and the incentive to train and nurture Caymanian talent in hospitality.

“We need to do more than just pay lip service to the fact that we need to empower our own people to have the ability to share in the miracle of the Cayman Islands. Let’s start now by truly training up our people so that their future and the futures of their children will mean that they will own as well a small piece of that miracle.”

Panton said that the enforced hardship of the pandemic could end in a glorious result: “The Caymanianization of our tourism product. We have done the research, and heard time and again, that visitors want to meet the locals of the country they are visiting. This is the time when we can make this go from a wish to a reality,” he added.

See Panton’s full address in the CNS Library.

Watch the full event on the Chamber YouTube channel below:

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Category: Policy, Politics

Comments (148)

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  1. Sad Reality says:

    I think all of us wishing and hoping for the islands to reopen need to face the sad reality that it simply isn’t going to happen. The expectation that we must achieve an 80% vaccination rate before we reopen is not realistic. As many have pointed out in previous posts on this subject the numbers don’t add up.

    Our leaders do not feel the pain of businesses on the verge of being closed forever, of losing everything because there are no visitors to spend money, our leaders continue to get their paycheck and live their lives with no fall-out as the result of the borders remaining closed. The reopening plan is a joke, and sadly it’s not a funny one. I do not believe there is a snowball’s chance in hell that we will reach 80% vaccination by 9 September. And what if we do? Is Panton going to call American, Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, etc., and say “Guess what, we have a slot available for you to fly in.” And does he think those major airlines are going to jump at the chance to schedule flights immediately? It doesn’t happen that way, it takes time and planning to ramp up service. Airlines are suffering because they don’t have enough ground crew employees to keep currently scheduled flights flying, look at the number of cancelled flights over the past few weeks. Does Panton think they are going to magically have enough crew to add flights to Cayman?

    The plan is a plan that sets us up to fail. It sets us up to remain closed for the remainder of this year and into 2022. Sixteen months ago we knew very little about Covid. The world was terrified, we know a lot more now, we have vaccines that can prevent serious illness and death. The initial cause of lock-down everywhere, not just in Cayman, was to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed with sick Covid patients. Lockdown was never about keeping Covid out forever but somehow here in the Cayman Islands it morphed into that and keeping covid out forever is not realistic unless we plan to remain as we are today and not move forward.

    Personally, I am ready to move forward. This one step forward and two steps back is getting old.

    • Anonymous says:

      I agree with you. I would even go so far as to say I would start wearing a mask again just to get this process moving. I think we would be open already if our initial outbreak had not been contained, because ‘living with it’ wouldn’t be a choice we’re still struggling to make. The problem is the attraction of holding onto our current position.

      It looks like a stalemate will have to be reached between vaccine resisters and government. Would be great if government could tell us which groups are letting the team down – a bit of social pressure could clear this all up. I suspect its the stubborn religious community holding out the most.

  2. Truth says:

    In other words Cayman will remain closed until long after the money runs out and the loans are due. Jobs are already starting to go where there is work. Costumers are going where there is something to buy. Cayman will be a Covid free until it’s not. A great lesson for the rest of the world.

    • Mario says:

      I am so proud to be A Caymanian. When I read this plan the first thing that jumps out at me is that it is people centered.

      Thank you Premier Ministers and and Civil Servants. I am one proud Caymanian today.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Franky I get chills reading the comments here. Mass madness has descended on people’s minds. Scary.

    • Anonymous says:

      If you have chills, you might have Covid. I hope I don’t catch it from reading your post.

  4. Anonymous says:

    This approach is fundamentally flawed. There are two ways to heard immunity of 80 per cent… vaccine or catching COVID. Unlike in normal developed countries like the uk where people are all desperate to get the vaccine as soon as available, it’s clear there are some people in cayman for whatever bizarre reason won’t get it.

    So keep this reopening plan but commit to opening regardless of vaccine rate in September. Open the field hospital and unvaccinated who get COVID can pay for treatment. It’s their fault and their fault only when they get sick after we reopen and the virus is in the community ,which will happen as it is impossible to avoid. Good news is if vaccinated you are extremely unlikely to need hospital treatment.

    Then use the remaining stock of vaccines for boosters for vaccinated in October time. Personally I’d like to have a Pfizer booster, an AstraZeneca 2 jab and a moderna jab in October just to be extra safe. But hoping all will be available to pay for here if necessary at places like doctors express later in the year.

    • Anonymous says:

      Do you believe covid is the last virus that will strike humans?
      The environment is so f.d up, it won’t surprise me if new, unknown to science pathogens will develop. Then what? You will continue injecting fast cooked concoctions?
      At least there is a hope that those whose innate immune system is not altered by experimental “vaccines”, will fight it successfully.

      • Anonymous says:

        It really is the tip of the iceberg the more we encroach on wildlife habitats and force them to adapt to unnatural diets.

    • Anonymous says:

      In October it will be announced we need to get to 80% of the entire population with the 3rd shots.

  5. Anonymous says:

    So many people posting the increased delta variant and case rates in the UK below. The us is opening up fully on July 19 – of course there will be more cases and deaths but the vaccine had broken the link between case rates and hospitalization and deaths.

    We have to open in cayman soon, and we will never keep COVID and delta variant out… the key is that vaccines reduce the chance of mass deaths when we do open and inevitably have community spread. We can’t pretend we will stay COVID free… it’s impossible. COVID is here to stay.

    Therefore how do you try and maximize vaccine uptake before reopening? Very simple to me… the below fair and reasonable rules:

    1. Encourage all cayman bars, restaurants to only allow vaccinated people in… have an app to verify on phones.
    2. No government stipend, jobs, taxi driving, tourist facing employment, or any other support or in office roles allowed for any caymanian or work permit holder who is unvaccinated
    3. No travel to or from airport allowed for any unvaccinated person
    4. All unvaccinated must where masks and socially distance in supermarkets

  6. Anonymous says:

    A few questions raised while watching and listening to this speech.

    Will vaccination also be mandatory for eligible dependents on a work permit for the permit holder’s application or renewal?

    Will vaccination be made mandatory for any expatriate government contract holder for renewal or application?

    On the same subject of vaccination levels, what is the plan where, if we’re utilizing the new projected population level (71,000), it turns out that reaching 80% of this estimate is actually impossible because 65,000 was closer to the actual physical population in the first place? Particularly given that somewhere slightly more than 10% of the population is age-ineligible. Do we have to wait on preliminary ESO results from the October 2021 census, or is 80% the best-case target?

    Last thought that came up as well since it was listed in the latter part of this article…

    Is the Premier suggesting that we should push for greater local employment in the tourism sector because tourists want to encounter more “locals?” That argument really felt like tokenism to me – while I appreciate everyone can be an ambassador for our islands, I’d rather not exist to be oogled for foreign travelers who fetishize the encounter. Shouldn’t we simply push for greater local participation in tourism because it presents a viable opportunity for a satisfying career?

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