Last week at the Chamber of Commerce lunch the Cayman Islands premier outlined the Cayman Islands reopening plan. This was a highly anticipated announcement and the entire country and those looking to visit were keen to hear the government’s plans to reopen and move forward.
Right now, we are in Phase 1 (Reduced Quarantine Period). People allowed into Cayman include returning Caymanians, residents, work permit holders and others with close ties to the country such as property owners. A pre-arrival PCR test is required for all. People who are fully vaccinated from the UK and Cayman can quarantine for 5 days while other fully vaccinated people must still quarantine for 10 days. All unvaccinated travellers must quarantine for 14 days. All travellers must apply on Travel Cayman Portal.
Between now and Phase 2 (Reduced Repatriation Restrictions), which has an effective day of August 9, we will see the same requirements as Phase 1 but will see an easing of the monitoring of vaccinated travellers by the removal of the GPS monitoring. This will allow them to build capacity to manage the increase in traveller volume anticipated by the opening of the borders in Phase 3.
Phase 3 (Limited Introduction of Tourism) is slated to begin September 9 and is subject to the achievement of an 80% fully vaccination rate, which is currently at 65%. This phase will see a limited introduction of tourism during the slow reason with some restrictions including a flight slot management system. This allows the government to limit the number of people arriving. This also allows the CIG and the tourism industry to develop capacity for dealing with larger volumes of travellers in preparation for high season. This will also open up the opportunity for people in Cayman to travel off island, which has been very limited in the last year and a half.
With respect to quarantine periods, vaccinated travellers (verified documents) must quarantine for 5 days, vaccinated travellers (other documents) must quarantine for 10 days, and all unvaccinated travellers must quarantine for 14 days.
With respect to verified documents, this is a challenge every country is facing with respect to opening their borders. As of right now, the dominant digital method of proving your vaccination status is a QR code that can be called up on your smartphone. When scanned, that code uses data from medical institutions to verify that you did indeed receive the shots you say you got. We’re gradually moving toward a system in which one QR code can work everywhere, but we’re not there yet. The EU, UK and many Canadian provinces are rolling out QR codes, but U.S. President Joe Biden has said he has no interest in creating a federal system for verifying vaccination status. This is anticipated to be handled by each individual state.
Phase 4 (Reduced Quarantine Restrictions) is slated for October 14 and will have the biggest impact on visitors. Vaccinated travellers will be required to make a declaration of travel and vaccination status (checked upon arrival). Quarantine requirements will be removed for all securely verified vaccinated travellers. Unverified vaccinated travellers will be required to quarantine for 10 days and unvaccinated travellers for 14 days.
Phase 5 (Travel for Unvaccinated Children) is scheduled for November 18 and sees the removal of quarantine requirement for unvaccinated children. With respect to the quarantine periods, vaccinated travellers will no longer be required to quarantine but the 14 days for unvaccinated travellers will remain in effect.
Beginning January 27, 2022, it is hopefully that are borders will be fully open, but this date is an assessment date. 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. It is at this point when all travellers are welcome, vaccinated and non-vaccinated, and no quarantine is required.
Not set in stone
One thing that was reiterated numerous times was that Cayman doesn’t want to open up its borders and then regress into a state of either lockdown or closing our borders. As with our previous government, this new government is taking a conservative approach to opening to protect the people of these islands. As of July 11, 2021, it has been one year since Cayman saw its last community spread COVID-19 case, which is a huge achievement unmatched globally.
There is a fine line between opening too soon and too quickly and not soon enough which we’ve seen in other Caribbean countries. Some of these countries are fluctuating like a yoyo and having just been on a trip with my family for personal reasons I can tell you that it is not easy traveling from testing, to flight availability to accommodations for quarantine and the list goes on and on. You certainly don’t wish for a visitor to come here only to have their holiday cut short if we have an outbreak.
Real estate market impact
As I’ve stated in previous articles, we are seeing a strong real estate market in the Cayman Islands. This is being driven by local investors as well as international investors, but we are beginning to move into a holding pattern with respect to new international investors looking to purchase real estate in the Cayman Islands.
Over the last year and a half, we have seen a substantial number of foreign real estate investments for new people to the Cayman Islands which I believe has been driven by several factors. As we saw prior to the pandemic, people were slowly shifting to work-from-home opportunities either part or full-time, but this shift sped up substantially during the pandemic. Over the last few years people were slowly become more aware of the appeal of the Cayman Islands from our tax neutral status, close proximity to the US, safety, strong government, schools and healthcare systems to of course, our incredible lifestyle. As the pandemic raged in many countries, Cayman became one of the only countries in the world to control the spread. This shed an additional light on Cayman and its benefits particularly from a homeowner’s perspective. Many buyers who maybe thought about living the Cayman dream saw that this dream could become a reality. It was no longer the Cayman dream, but the Cayman reality.
With the phased re-opening, many new visitors, who may be interested in Cayman will now be able to come and visit, with many becoming real estate investors.
Personally, I have a substantial list of people, particularly vacationers, who are interested in buying but want to be able to come to Cayman and see the properties for themselves. The biggest percentage of those fully vaccinated buyers are not prepared to come until there is a zero-quarantine period. The reality is most people, especially those coming on vacation, do not have the time to quarantine for 5, 10 or 14 days and then begin their stay in Cayman.
I’ve also received communication from several property owners who are frustrated with the Cayman government’s overly restrictive policy on accessing their property. One client stressed his frustration that “only persons with vaccinations from Cayman or Great Britain receive the benefit of a 5-day quarantine. This seems to say to all US based owners of property in Grand Cayman that we are not trusted to be truthful when we produce our vaccination records on arrival in Grand Cayman. Or, perhaps, government is saying that Pfizer, Moderna and J&J vaccines are not effective when given to US citizens”. I did go back and explain the country’s policies noting that it’s the verification of the vaccination records not the vaccinations themselves that is the biggest challenge.
This client is not alone as was revealed in a quarantine and travel restrictions roundtable hosted by the Cayman Compass on July 7 where many people, particularly from the US who are property owners in Cayman, voiced their frustration about the current quarantine requirements.
It is key that the government recognize vaccination documentation from the US and Canada, which make up not only our largest tourist market, but our biggest number of foreign investors. People are still interested in buying or returning to their second home, but they will only be patient for so long. We could easily see a shift of people deciding to visit and thus purchase real estate in other Caribbean countries as we saw when many parts of the Caribbean were basically shut down by the hurricanes in 2017. It is also likely that homeowners here may want to sell and buy somewhere else.
Unfortunately, our reopening plan timeline is already in jeopardy given the slow vaccination pace we are seeing. As stated above, Cayman’s reopening plan calls for a fully vaccinated rate of 80% to enter into Phase 3 on September 9. On July 15, the Cayman Compass indicated that “if the weekly average of the period since June 17 can be maintained, it would take another 13 weeks, until October 8, to reach the threshold of 80% of the population for first-time vaccinations. But it would take at least another three to four weeks for everyone to get a second jab, to be fully inoculated against the virus.”
We are close to a tipping point in this regard, and I believe some changes need to be made particularly with respect to fully vaccinated current property owners who want to come to Cayman and not quarantine.