Cayman shuts down air travel for three weeks amidst COVID-19

Cayman shuts down air travel for three weeks amidst COVID-19

Hotels and businesses to be faced with hardest hits

Friday, March 20, 2020

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In an attempt to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19), Cayman's authority has said air travel in and out of the island will be on shut-down mode for the next three weeks.

The air traffic closure which takes effect on March 22 covers both the Owen Roberts International Airport in Grand Cayman and the Charles Kirkconnell International Airport on Cayman Brac.

Inter-island travel will also be restricted to essential movement only.
All passenger air traffic, including private aircraft, will cease on Sunday when the islands will essentially be on lockdown.

“People who wish to leave should hustle to make arrangements to leave by Sunday,” Premier Alden McLaughlin said.

This new emergency measure follows a 60-day ban on cruise ship arrivals announced last Friday.

The island which has so far seen only one case of the deadly virus on its shores have taken immediate steps to slow possible spread in an effort to minimise potential risk to its economy.

Reports by the Cayman Compass are that the government is taking measures to limit damage especially to the tourist industry.

“This decision will help ensure that the Cayman Islands will be able to, not only protect our people, but to also protect the welfare of our tourism business and our guests over the long term. There was no way government could afford to cover the payroll for the industry,” he said.

It was reported that already hotels, restaurants and some businesses have already begun closing their doors in response to a drop in tourism. Imposed restrictions limiting public gatherings to 50 people or fewer accounted for much of this.

“Hoteliers across the island are seeing massive cancellations and the prospect of job losses and further temporary business closures is looming,” a news report informed.

Woody Foster, president of the Cayman Islands Chamber of Commerce, said the business sector was grappling with an issue it had never seen before.

“We have a really big problem — hotels and restaurants can't pay salaries if they have no customers. How are these people going to eat?
“There are massive cancellations across the industry. All these servers, dishwashers, room cleaners — they don't have any work,” he stated.

He said that while the chamber supports measures to contain the spread of the virus, discussions remain ongoing as the country has to find ways to keep the economy stable and allow people to take care of their expenses.

It was said that larger hotels and businesses are also facing tough decisions as business evaporates in the middle of high season. Seasonal workers could face lay-offs or temporary redundancies with rooms expected to be empty for months as visitors cancel trips.

At The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman resort, general manager Marc Langevin said the situation had developed at an “exponential rate”.

Tourism Minister Moses Kirkconnell said government was in daily discussions with the banks and the business sector in an effort to find solutions. He acknowledged that similar to what is happening in other countries in the region and around the world, he expects that the country will face harsh economic times ahead as a result of the restrictions and the general global drop in travel.

“The banks have agreed to consider mortgage and loan payment holidays for those impacted on a case-by-case basis and Caribbean Utilities Company (CUC) and the water companies had agreed not to cut people off and to work with impacted customers,” the report also stated.

— Kellaray Miles

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