The Cayman Islands will be put under a 24-hour-a-day curfew from 7pm tonight until 5am Saturday morning, Premier Alden McLaughlin announced.
He said government had been forced to take drastic action because it had been unable to get co-operation from the business community for an order to shut down non-essential businesses.
He said there had been requests for more than 850 exemptions, totalling more than 20,000 workers, and it was therefore impossible to put more measured constraints in place.
Government leaders will continue efforts to put a more flexible order in place by this Saturday (March 28), he said.
Supermarkets and pharmacies will also be shut during the 24-hour-a-day curfew over the next three days, though staff will be allowed some flexibility to stock up and take deliveries.
Emergency services and other essential services will be allowed to operate on an emergency basis but no businesses will be able to open. Government has published a full list of services with exemptions here. Enquiries can be submitted to email@example.com.
The Premier said, “We know this is a really radical measure but anyone who is paying attention to what is happening in the rest of the world must understand if we get widespread community transmission of this virus, it is going to have devastating consequences.”
He said it would overwhelm the ability of Cayman’s health services to deal with it. He added that the World Health Organization was recommending ‘testing, testing, testing’ and Cayman didn’t have the capacity to do it.
He added, “We are trying to prevent the community transmission of COVID-19 by restricting the number of opportunities people have for coming into touch with each other and surfaces on which the virus might be living.”
He said the closure of the borders from last Sunday meant there could be no new introduction of the virus to the islands after that date. Within the next two weeks, he said it would be very clear where Cayman stood in terms of the influx of coronavirus through the community.
“The prize is that if the strategy succeeds we will be able to open schools.. domestic activity, construction, banks, financial services will be able to carry on as close to normal as possible. That is where we are trying to get to.”
He added that the borders would have to remain closed while the virus raged in other countries.
Commissioner of Police Derek Byrne said extra patrols would be on standby to police any panic buying during the last hours before the curfew begins.
The 24-hour lockdown lasts until Saturday morning. Assuming more flexible provisions can be worked out in that time, Cayman will then revert back to the nightly curfew of 7pm to 5am, which was initially put in place from Tuesday night to last 10 days.
The Premier also sent his best wishes to Prince Charles who has contracted COVID-19 and scotched rumours that he could have caught it from him during a meeting a month ago.
Meanwhile Cayman has three new cases of coronavirus including one case that was initially declared as negative after preliminary tests in the territory.
That case came back as positive when it was vetted by the Caribbean Public Health Agency. The patient is still in isolation, Cayman’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. John Lee said.
The two other new positive cases were from people with a travel history who had samples taken in the community, he said.
The patients were travellers. It was not clear if they had been in isolation since returning to the island but Dr. Lee said those incidents emphasized the urgent need for anyone who had travelled to self-isolate.
In total Cayman now has 8 positive cases and one suspected positive case, announced yesterday and involving a patient at the Cayman Islands Hospital with no travel history, that is being subjected to further investigation.
“All of the confirmed cases we have are related to travel incidents in one way or another,” he said.
“We still have one case we believe to be community acquired but the test result is still being investigated.”