Cayman Islands and COVID-19: A story of a successful response to the impact of a global pandemic

July 8, 2020Blog

By Florence Allan

Cayman has managed to do what few countries around the world have done – contain the spread of COVID-19 within its borders. Now having achieved a Level 2 status (minimal suppression), here is an update on how the islands have managed to successfully face the challenges posed by the global pandemic.

Health

One of the most impressive aspects of Cayman’s COVID-19 response is the widespread testing that took place across its three islands. Extensive testing was seen as paramount in assessing the community transmission of the virus and so Cayman became one of the leading countries in the world for COVID-19 testing per capita.

This was aided largely by securing 200,000 test kits from South Korea (source). The procurement of these kits was a heartening example of the public and private sectors coming together to serve the wider community, as a local philanthropist sponsored half of the kits and Dart arranged and funded an aircraft to transport them to Grand Cayman. This consignment was distributed throughout Cayman and to the wider Caribbean community, including Barbados and Bermuda (source).

These kits, combined with the ability to confirm cases locally as opposed to sending them to Trinidad for verification, allowed Grand Cayman to quickly test over one-third of its population (source), more than half the population in Cayman Brac and the entire population of Little Cayman (source).

Not only has a wide portion of the population been tested, but the positive cases remain few and far between. So far there have been 201 positive cases, with eight cases currently considered active yet asymptomatic (source). Cayman has experienced one death – an older cruise ship tourist who was initially hospitalised following a heart attack and later passed away from coronavirus-related complications.

In addition to the COVID-19 tests, Cayman also began antibody testing in mid-June to paint a clearer picture of the virus’ prevalence on the islands. So far, the positive rate sits at 1.6% (which is lower than expected considering front-line workers have been prioritised for testing. These test results are important, as they will help inform a decision of when the Cayman Islands can reopen its borders and wider economy.

Wealth

Despite the strict shelter-in-place regulations issued by the government, Cayman has not experienced a contraction in the economy of the same scale of many other countries around the world. This is in part due to the structure of the economy and the large reliance on financial services, which contributes to approximately 80% of the country’s GDP (source).

Banking and financial services are a major part of the Caymanian economy. There are a range of retail and as well as ‘Category B’ banks which conduct business internationally with non-residents. There were 133 banks registered in 2019, with over 40 of the world’s top 50 banks holding licenses on the islands. (source).

CML Offshore Recruitment recently conducted a survey of over 40 financial executives situated in Cayman, that suggested that the offshore industry has been largely unaffected by the pandemic (source). More than one-third of respondents said their business had been minimally impacted, with CML predicting that this downturn will be offset by increased demand for insolvency practitioners. This is a promising sign of sustainability for the islands.

Despite the slump in tourism, recent ‘staycation’ bookings have provided a welcome boost for hoteliers across the islands. Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa has all available rooms fully booked for July, with holiday homes and villas also seeing steady reservations for the upcoming months (source).

Additionally, both individuals and businesses across Cayman are receiving support from a variety of institutions. Charities like R3, ARK Cayman and Cayman Food Bank have been providing meals, food vouchers and childcare to those in need (source). Banks including Butterfield, Cayman National Bank, CIBC First Caribbean and RBC have gone beyond just lowering personal lending and mortgage rates by also introducing a three-month automatic payment deferral on mortgages and loans (source). Banks are also continuing to lend during this time.

Governance

Cayman has been praised for its timely response to the virus as soon as it was detected on its shores – from almost immediately closing its borders and schools to the early activation of the National Emergency Operations Centre (source).

This may come as a surprise to some who may not think that the small islands would be able to manage such a task. However, seasonal hurricanes have provided invaluable experience to Cayman to manage other national emergencies like coronavirus. This forward thinking has encouraged sensible government spending to create a budget surplus and low public debt. Moody’s affirmed that the islands have a strong A-3 credit rating (source) which attests to its cash reserves and low risk of default. Despite this strong financial standing, the government was able to tap into the National Disaster Fund (source) – set up to cover the immediate costs of a man-made or natural disaster – to provide support to Caymanian workers, particularly in the tourism industry, which has been especially hard hit.

The islands were also able to secure support from the United Kingdom, by virtue of being a British Overseas Territory, and their assistance in organising the response to the pandemic is a signal of their ongoing support to Cayman. The UK’s Security Assistance Team (SAT) provided both coordination and support to the local police service ( (source). The British government also aided in the procurement of medical equipment and PPE (source), which proved invaluable due to the increased global demand.

Public order was maintained across the islands during curfew due to the strong police presence aided by the SAT and the special constabulary. Officers on the ground were assisted by the police helicopter and jet-ski patrols to keep a watchful eye and enforce the hard curfew across land and sea (source). This tough stance taken by the government was largely welcomed by the Cayman community, with a survey of over 3,400 people seeing the curfews as a “necessary evil” (source).

These actions have allowed Cayman to relax many of the regulations, and have so far led to a fantastic result for the islands. While the government will remain alert to ensure there is not a second wave, for now the virus is contained.

About the author

Florence Allan is a Dart Scholar and a returning intern with Dart’s business development team. She has joined various teams in Dart each summer since 2017, and before this she was a student at Cayman Prep & High School, spending her free time training for the Olympics, where she represented the Cayman Islands in sailing. While born in Scotland, Florence moved to Cayman at just six weeks old; her Scottish heritage and Caymanian upbringing offered her a truly multicultural childhood. For the past three years, Florence has been studying for her undergraduate degree in International Business Management at the University of Bristol, and she will be graduating by the end of summer 2020. Returning home for holidays is something Florence always looks forward to, as she misses her dog Archie when she is away and loves returning home to coach sailing to Cayman’s youth.

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