Island reopening plans are complex at best. Often it is two steps forward and one step back, given the fluid developments of the Covid-19 saga.
Stricter entry requirements can be expanded or, in worst cases, the borders again close to U.S. residents as happened recently in the Bahamas, a decision that was reversed just three days later (but with forced quarantine restrictions added).
The game plan for one destination, the Cayman Islands, drastically changed on Aug. 7 when the government extended its border closures to Oct. 1.
The announcement came just one day after the U.S. State Department advisory lifted its blanket warning against foreign travel. The Cayman Islands is now listed with a Level 3 advisory: Reconsider Travel.
Citing the continuing spread of Covid-19, particularly in the U.S., tourism minister Moses Kirkconnell said in a statement, "It is unfortunate that this decision had to be taken, but we believe it is the most prudent thing to do given the environment beyond our shores."
Even so, the islands will not be open to tourism in October; commercial flights are not included in the first reopening phase, which will apply to government-arranged repatriation flights of returning Cayman workers as well as home and property owners.
Kirkconnell said that the situation will be reassessed on Oct. 1.
When the borders do reopen to international travelers, the Cayman Islands will deploy a health monitoring device to passively monitor incoming travelers for early Covid-19 symptoms when they arrive and during their time spent on Grand Cayman, Cayman Brac or Little Cayman.
The BioButton, developed by a U.S-based biotech company called BioIntelliSense, is about the size of a half dollar, sticks to the upper chest area and can be removed as needed or worn continuously to monitor heart rates at rest, respiratory rates and temperature.
The sensors on the device communicate via Bluetooth with the BioMobile smartphone app as well as with BioHubs, which can be placed at the wearer's hotel to monitor their whereabouts during the self-isolation period.
The BioButton's ability to provide an alert to any changes in vital statistics that could indicate trending toward a respiratory infection gives Public Health in the Cayman Islands an opportunity to intervene as soon as possible, according to Kirkconnell.
This is all part of the Ministry of Tourism's strategic tourism reinvention plan named The Road Back to 500K, a reference to the 500,000-plus stayover visitors in 2019, a year that Kirkconnell described as "the best year ever for Cayman Islands' tourism."
"This is a blueprint for our phased return of tourism," Kirkconnell told me in a phone interview in late July. "We want to lead tourism safely, responsibly and sustainably now and into the future."
As of Aug. 7, the destination had recorded 203 Covid cases, one death, 202 full recoveries and 31,299 tests administered. No one had tested positive in the past 24 days.
"This advanced health screening solution enhances our reopening protocols, providing further confidence that we can once again welcome visitors to our shores while minimizing the risk of introducing new cases to the local community." he said.
"We recognize that keeping our borders closed indefinitely is neither reasonable nor sustainable and cannot continue from an economic standpoint," he said. "Choosing to wait to begin the phased reopening will ensure that all of the necessary precautions are in place to restart tourism."
As of now, the plan is for arriving visitors to submit proof of a negative Covid-19 test taken 72 hours before departure and proof of Covid insurance in an online application to [email protected] and await permission to travel. Upon arrival at Owen Roberts Airport in Grand Cayman, travelers will pay a fee and receive the BioButton monitoring device, self-isolate at their hotel for five days and then take another test. If negative, visitors will be free to begin their vacation but must continue to wear the monitor until departure.
Masks and social distancing will be required at the resorts, on tours, at attractions and in public spaces. In-dining restaurants will be available with six feet between tables.
"As we gear up for the phased reopening, hotels and other tourism partners have been putting in place new measures to increase sanitation and social distancing. Good hygiene practices remain our first defense against the virus," Kirkconnell said, adding that the country wants to ensure the guest experience remains at the high standards "that visitors have come to expect."
"We are confident that we are worth the wait."