September 22, 2021

Cayman: Press Conference – Talking Points COVID UPDATE

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Screen shot from Broadcast

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.

  • There are other possible community restrictions we are considering, which we will advise on subsequently
  • We strongly recommend social distancing of six feet
  • The quarantine change is seven days for vaccinated people with testing on day 8; 10 for those who are vaccinated but unverifiable and 14 days for those who are unvaccinated
  • This leaves the existing pre-flight PCR and ensures those who are vaccinated are still considered technically quarantined for the 72 hours before flight and the five days on arrival, for a total of what has been eight days of quarantine all along
  • Geo tagging will be coming back
  • No unvaccinated tourism visitors, as defined in the Customs and Border Control Law, are allowed in the Cayman Islands
  • We still need to protect our older vulnerable folks and unvaccinated children
  • We urge those who can and haven’t to get vaccinated
  • We propose to put in security measures for those traveling to the Sister Islands to be vaccinated and/or tested

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:

  • Frequently cleanse hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
  • Cough or sneeze in a tissue and throw it in a bin.
  • If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow and not your hands (with or without a mask).
  • Stay home as much as possible, only leave for essential trips and wear a mask
  • Practice social distancing, stay at least six feet away from other people who are not members of your household at all times.
  • Wear a mask while indoors in public spaces but this must be accompanied with other prevention measures listed previously.

 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. 

To help manage this anxiety, I would like to offer some advice gleaned from local mental health experts on maintaining a sense of peace and well-being as best as possible throughout this crisis. 

Number one: Try to maintain perspective. While it’s reasonable for people to be concerned about an outbreak of the coronavirus try to remember that they Cayman Islands Government, as well as local medical and public health professionals are working hard to contain the virus and treat and manage those affected and likely to be affected. 

Number two: Find a healthy balance in relation to the media coverage. Being exposed to large volumes of negative information can heighten feelings of anxiety. While it’s important to stay informed you may find it useful to limit your media intake, focusing on positive usual everyday activities unless otherwise advised.

Number three: Ensure you haveaccess togood quality information.It’s important to get accurateinformation from credible sources. This will alsohelp you maintain perspective and feelmore in control. Good sources of COVID-19 information are gov.ky; hsa.ky; and who.int 

Number four:  Have conversations with children and young people about COVID-19. Families and caregivers of children and young people should discuss news of the virus with those in their care in an open and honest way.  Try to relate the facts without causing alarm and in a way that is appropriate for their age and temperament.  

It is important to listen to any questions they may have, to let them know that they are safe and that it’s normal for them to feel concerned.  

If you find that the media or the news is getting to be too much for them, then encourage them to limit their exposure.

Number five: Try to maintain a practical and calm approach. Widespread panic can complicate efforts to maintain the outbreak effectively. Do your best to stay calm and follow official advice, particularly around observing good hygiene habits. 

Number six: Try not to make assumptions. To contribute to a sense of community well-being, try to remember that the coronavirus can affect anyone regardless of their nationality or their ethnicity. 

Number seven: Don’t be afraid to seek support. It’s normal to feel overwhelmed by the news of the outbreak, particularly if you have experienced mental health issues before. Where possible, it can help to maintain normal routines unless otherwise advised by your health care professional. 

It can also help to stay in touch with friends and family, eat a balanced diet and stay physically active. 

Try to sleep well, and avoid abuse of alcohol, tobacco and illicit drugs. Acknowledge feelings of distress and seek further professional support if required.

 If you are currently being treated for a mental health condition it is crucial that you stay on your treatment where possible. 

Maintain appointments and stay in contact with your healthcare professional, counsellor and support groups. 

Overall, please remember that part of staying safe includes taking care of your mental health. 

If you feel worried and overwhelmed, there are many resources available to you including the mental health helpline at 1-800-534-6463 (MIND), which is available from Monday to Friday from 9am to 5pm.  

There are also other mental health support services listed online at exploregov.ky/mind. 

Please seek help if you feel that you need it. 

And finally, I must repeat that our best protective and preventative measure is being vaccinated against COVID-19. Having this protection for yourself and your eligible loved ones will surely give you the greatest peace of mind possible in this unsettling time. 

We are so incredibly fortunate here in the Cayman Islands to have the COVID-19 vaccine so easily available. If you are not vaccinated, please get vaccinated as soon as you can. 

Please remember that we are all working together for the health and safety of our people and our home. 

Thank you for your support, your trust, and your cooperation. 

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