With caution at the forefront, the Cayman Islands has shifted the dates for the phased border reopening plan in a move that could impact the return of cruise ships to this popular Caribbean port.
This is due to uncertain COVID-19 numbers on vessels, the spread of the Delta variant, and breakthrough cases among vaccinated passengers, as well as the return of community spread on the islands.
Border Reopening Dates Changed
According to Cayman News Service, increased community transmission of COVID-19, including rising breakthrough cases on cruise ships, has caused the Border Reopening Plan to be slightly delayed, with Phase 4 beginning November 20 but dates for Phases 5 and 6 not yet announced.
Phase 4 includes a lifting of quarantine restrictions for vaccinated travelers from countries with a minimum 60% vaccination rate for the first dose of an approved vaccine.
Phase 3, which began September 9, permitted limited resumption of tourist travel, but cruise passengers are not permitted entry under either Phase 3 or Phase 4. Cruise travel will still be banned under Phase 5, but is projected to resume under Phase 6, subject to further assessment of the situation at that time.
For now, there is no date set for either Phase 5 or Phase 6 to begin, though Phase 5 is expected in January 2022. With no date for Phase 6, however, it could be several months before cruise travel is permitted to resume to the island nation.
“During the final phase assessment continues of COVID-19 in the local and international contexts to determine when and how to proceed with further relaxation of restrictions, including for cruise tourism,” the government of the Cayman Islands states on its border reopening website.
That final assessment had been slated for January 27, but that is now likely to be pushed back.
Cruise Ship Numbers Difficult to Determine
Part of the caution for resuming cruises to the Cayman Islands is because despite extensive precautions with vaccination requirements, pre-cruise testing, medical checks, face mask policies, contact tracing, and enhanced cleaning regimens, there continue to be breakthrough cases on cruise ships.
“Despite the implementation of strict protocols by cruise ship operators to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 from passengers, ensuring passengers are uninfected at embarkation has proven difficult,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has stated.
“There have been several instances of passengers being symptomatic on the day of embarkation and denying symptoms to the cruise line, or passengers being symptomatic for several days on board the ship before reporting their symptoms to the medical center.”
A total of 1,359 laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 cases among passengers and crew members were reported on cruise ships sailing from the United States between June 26 and October 21, based on CDC data.
When compared to the estimated 600,000 passengers to have sailed between June and October, however, far less than one-half of one percent of individuals on cruise ships have tested positive for COVID-19.
At the same time, community transmission has risen slightly in the Cayman Islands, with a three-day total of 678 positives noted from November 5-8. Of those cases, 669 are residents with only 9 travelers testing positive. Further restricting travelers will ensure that no additional cases can be introduced to the nation until the community transmission rates have fallen again.
As of November 5, 82% of Cayman Island residents have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to Our World in Data.
Cayman Islands Exploring Alternatives
The Cayman Islands, which first extended the ban on cruise ship travel in August, prohibiting ships through the end of 2021, has been one of the most cautious of the Caribbean islands to reopen to tourism as the pandemic gradually comes under better control. Unlike other islands that are more heavily dependent on cruise tourism, however, the Cayman Islands has other economic options.
In addition to tourist travel, which also includes hundreds of thousands of land-based visitors each year, the Cayman Islands supports thriving financial and construction industries.
Furthermore, the Cayman Islands has been reluctant to move forward with large pier construction projects that could damage its delicate marine ecosystem. Without large pier facilities to accommodate ever-larger cruise ships, the nation’s cruise-based tourism sector is becoming more limited.
Also Read: Things to Do in Grand Cayman During a Cruise
Activists in the Cayman Islands have also expressed concern about emissions from cruise ships and the damage they may do to air quality and other parts of the Caribbean ecosystem. At this time, the nation’s government has no plans to expand port facilities, but may be considering policy changes about the size of ships permitted to visit as well as the frequency of ships’ visits.
While cruise travel continues to be banned, the urgency to address environmental concerns is lessened, but still a concern to many in this beautiful Caribbean nation.