2020 has been an interesting year so far in the Cayman Islands, if not around the world! Read on for more information.
2020 started with good news on the conservation front: efforts in Little Cayman to protect the critically endangered Nassau grouper were highlighted in an academic report published in January. The Grouper Moon Project which has been an ongoing joint effort between the Cayman Islands Department of Environment and US-based scientists has proven that the implementation of deliberate science-based conservation strategies can reverse significant declines. As one of the scientists on the project said, “Little Cayman is now home to the largest remaining identified Nassau grouper aggregation anywhere in the world." Local Cayman fishermen have been commended for adhering to the rules about not taking grouper from spawning sites, and a complete ban on fishing and diving in the area remains in place. Other wonderful conservation news includes researchers confirming that 675 turtle nests where counted between April and December 2019, making it the longest ever recorded turtle nesting season in the Cayman Islands. 468 nests were recorded in Grand Cayman (342 green turtle and 125 loggerhead and one hawksbill), 154 turtle tests were recorded in Little Cayman (86 green turtle, 65 loggerhead and 3 hawksbill) and in Cayman Brac the total was 53 (48 were loggerhead, 5 were green turtle and there were no hawksbill). The Department of Environment are waiting for the implementation of their Turtle Conservation Plan which is currently in the hands of Cabinet awaiting approval. The plan is incredibly important in the managing of artificial light in critical nesting habitat, reducing poaching and banning vehicles on beaches. Although the lengthy nesting season and good nesting numbers are very positive, wild turtles are still very much endangered.
Then in mid-January a developer, John Burke, was caught clearing mangrove forest and woodland from a four-acre site in West Bay. The Department of Environment have for years been raising issues of people clearing land after submitting an application for planning but not waiting for approval. Children in Cayman are taught the importance of our mangrove wetlands for hurricane protection and the survival of our very important flora and fauna, and the public are becoming increasingly demanding of consequences to such actions.
Later in the month, on January 24th 2020 an even greater problem for Grand Cayman was unfolding. A significant fire broke out at the dump and the plume of smoke became so acrid and thick that Cayman International School next door was closed. Later in the day the Esterley Tibbetts highway between the Butterfield roundabout and the Camana Bay roundabout were closed as well, causing traffic chaos. Properties opposite the dump were evacuated and homes and businesses in George Town were affected. The fire was contained by the afternoon of Sunday 26th January but many residents of Lakeside Apartments chose not to return to their residences until later in the week as the smell from the fire was still unbearable. Numerous questions have been raised as to why a country as sophisticated as Cayman lags so far behind other nations when it comes to recycling, single use plastic policies and general waste management techniques. The dump fire then reignited on March 8th it's caustic black smoke forcing another closure of Cayman International School and other Georgie Town schools. Winds that day were in excess of 28mph making fighting the fire particularly hazardous. It took until March 11th for firefighters to have the fire under control but thick smoke was still billowing across parts of George Town and Seven Mile Beach.
On Tuesday January 28th at about 2.10pm a 7.7 magnitude earthquake shook Cayman and a tsunami warning was issued. People in Grand Cayman were urged to stay away from coastal areas ans seek higher ground. Numerous sink holes opened up but there was no significant damage to properties or roads, and there were no reported injuries. Several strong aftershocks (4.9 magnitude) were felt at 4pm and 4.58pm and over the following 24 hours over a dozen more were felt. Thankfully no tsunami materialised.
On January 30th the World Health Organization warned about the rapid spread of the coronavirus (Covid-19). Worry starts to spread through the local population about the daily influx of cruise ship passengers and someone coming ashore who is infected. Public health officials in Cayman start warning arriving passengers to seek medical attention and share their travel history with healthcare providers if they have symptoms of a respiratory illness.
Also on January 30th Minister Tara Rivers steered through a batch of legislation to modernise the beneficial ownership regime and enhance the regulatory structures in funds. This was brought to the legislative assembly as a consequence of last year’s damning CFATF review. The Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Limited Liability Partnership (Amendment) Bill, 2020 and the Limited Liability Companies (Amendment) Bill, 2020 were all passed. Officials said that the bills provide clarity on what constitutes a beneficial owner and the responsibilities of corporate service providers to gather, record and file the information with the Registrar of Companies. The Private Funds Bill, 2020 and the Mutual Funds (Amendment) Bill, 2020 enhance the regulatory infrastructure for investment funds, including previously exempted funds, with the familiar sensible and commercially responsive model that has been the backbone of the Cayman Islands’ success as a leading jurisdiction for investment funds, officials from Rivers’ ministry explained. The International Tax Co-operation (Economic Substance) (Amendment) Bill 2019 was also passed and has been the subject of industry consultation. The amendments were designed to maintain alignment with international standards and to facilitate effective implementation of the law in a manner which can better withstand the scrutiny of international monitoring and peer reviews regarding the “substantial activities” requirement for no tax or only nominal tax jurisdictions under the OECD BEPS Action 5 on Harmful Tax Practices. On February 12th it became clear that despite passing a raft of laws the Cayman Islands will be added to the black list by the European Union. It is the first British Overseas Territory to be named and shamed. European diplomats told the FT that EU27 ambassadors decided Wednesday to place Cayman Islands on the list of overseas tax territories that do not effectively co-operate with the EU. According to the FT, the law passed by the Cayman Islands to addressed concerns about companies who claim tax advantages but do not have a sufficient economic presence on the island was “deficient”. Cayman’s legislation on investment funds is also, apparently, not up to scratch for the EU. [Information courtesy of Cayman News Service].
Among record breaking stay over visitor numbers in January and February 2020 (over 93,500 visitors) the Cayman Islands Health Services Authority opened a flu clinic in preparation for their first case of Covid-19. On February 10th the Cayman Islands Government imposed travel restrictions on anyone who had travelled from or though mainland China. All were required to be quarantined for 14 days.
On Wednesday February 19th Justice Tim Owen QC said that the referendum law for the port, drawn up by the Cayman Islands Government, was unconstitutional. It is a clear and emphatic win for the people supporting the bid to stop the government building the port. Opposition leader Alden McLean called for the government to drop the cruise port project and get on with other more important things. Premier Alden McLaughlin gave a brief press release in which he said that the Government would be appealing Justice Tim Owen's ruling.
In February the Single-Use Plastic (SUP) Stakeholder Committee, headed up by Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour, was set up in Cayman with the plan to ban certain single use plastics on New Year's Day 2021. Things to be banned include polystyrene take-out containers, plastic straws, plastic check-out shopping bags, stirrers and cotton swabs. A growing number of retailers have already switched to eco-friendly alternatives, but without a commercial composting facility, which Cayman currently does not have, it is commonly agreed that all corn-based alternatives are worse than recyclable plastic 1 and 2. Alternatives to this need to be found. Cayman has still got a long way to go in its handling of our massive waste-management problems, but in the face of so many other countries, particularly those in the Caribbean, doing something about single use plastics, it was imperative that Cayman was seen to be doing something.
On February 25th 2020 Cayman turned away its first cruise ship due to a threat of someone on board having the coronavirus. It was the real start of the worry and threat to Cayman of Covid-19. On March 4th the Cayman Islands Government opened the Cayman Islands National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) which brings together government and community partners to prepare for the virus reaching Cayman. On March 9th the Caribbean Princess cruise ship asked to offload two seriously ill passengers, one of which was air lifted to Florida for treatment and the other was taken to Health City. On March 12th Premier Alden McLaughlin informed the public that the Italian man taken to Health City from the cruise ship was the first person in the Cayman Islands to be confirmed to have the Coronavirus. The Government was now moving to testing more people and making plans to manage the inevitable spread of the virus. Later that night President Trump issued a ban on flights coming into the USA from 26 European countries. It came into effect at midnight on March 14th. On March 14th 2020 President Trump extended that travel ban to the UK and Ireland. It came into effect at midnight on Monday March 16th.
People in Cayman are urged not to panic buy and local supermarkets impose a restriction on the number of cleaning products and toilet paper that an individual could buy. The government puts in place a ban on all gatherings of over 50 people which leads to the cancellation of the Cayman Brac Agricultural Show and the Deputy Governor's 5k Challenge run/walk. All other gatherings including sporting events, church services, cinema, bars and restaurants with more than 50 people are no longer allowed. The government also now banned all cruise ships from docking in the Cayman Islands for 60 days. The Italian patient in Health City died on March 14th being the first person in the Cayman Islands to die from Covid-19.
All schools in the Cayman Islands were closed from March 16th to at least April 27th. On March 17th it was announced that all bars needed to close and restaurants could only be open for take-out and delivery. All gyms, spas, beauty salons and public swimming pools were also to close. All students returning from the UK and United States has to self isolate for 14 days. The government announced that all inbound passengers would be stopped from entering Cayman from Thursday 19th March, except for returning residents, and that the airport in Grand Cayman would close from midnight on Sunday 22nd March to all international flights. Flights to the Sister Islands would be limited to residents and essential personnel.
On March 16th the government managed to secure commitments from local banks and the utility companies that they would allow customers a safety net for those who would not be able to pay their utility bills or mortgage payments. CUC, the Water Authority and telecommunications companies committed to not disconnecting anyone for the next 90 days. The ban on flights and cruise ships means that anyone in the tourism industry will be badly affected. On March 23rd the Cayman Islands Postal Service stopped their international mail service. On March 20th all returning residents are now required to self-isolate for a period of 14 days by law. on AMrch 19th two staff at Health City test positive for Covid-19. From March 24th a ten day curfew was imposed. Every resident, other than essential workers, had to stay at home from 9pm-5am. Having received over 20,000 requests from people in the private sector wanting exemptions to the 'stay in place' order, the Premier imposed a full curfew for 58 hours in an attempt to stop the local transmission of the coronavirus.
On March 24th it was announced that a patient at the Health Services Authority tested positive to Covis-19 and that he had no travel history. It has been confirmed that there is now local transmission of the virus. On March 26th the Premier announced that all businesses would close other than medical facilities, pharmacies, gas stations and supermarkets. There would be a nightly curfew from 7pm to 5am and everyone should stay at home other than to go to the grocery store. March 29th, 12 people have now tested positive to Covid-19 in Cayman. The government imposes an alphabet system for those allowed to leave their house to go to the grocery store.
On March 29th it was announced that access to supermarkets would be split by surname: those with a surname starting with A-K can go out on a Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Those with L-Z can go out on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. There is a hard curfew in place on Sunday. People are then allowed to exercise for 90 minutes a day between the hours of 6am to 6pm. Police officers check every person entering a supermarket to check they have the right to be there that day. Supermarkets are open from 6am to 6pm and only the elderly and vulnerable are allowed to shop from 6am-7am. As of April 5th 39 people have tested positive for Codid-19. Local Cayman residents source 200,000 Covid-19 test kids from South Korea and 165,000 of the kits are brought to Cayman on Ken Dart's private jet bypassing the US which has been confiscating anything and everything it could use in its own fight against the virus. The additional 35,000 are on their way to us via London.
On April 4th 2020 Cayman Brac records its first Covd-19 case. With many elderly residents in Cayman Brac this development is very worrying. Cayman sells 20,000 of the test kits to Barbados and 35,000 to Bermuda. All beaches in Cayman Islands close over the Easter weekend and the closure is extended for a week to stop people gathering at the beach. The government announced on April 11th that Cayman's boarders would remain closed until at least the end of May. Cargo ports will remain open for goods. As of April 11th 2020 there are 53 positive cases of Covid-19 in the Cayman Islands and 536 people have been tested. Cayman's borders will remain closed until at least the end of May although cargo ports will stay open for goods and the airport for emergencies. Cayman sold 35,000 Covid-19 test kits to Bermuda. On April 13th the CI Government closed all public beaches and areas along the coast as they are too hard to police. No one may exercise or swim at the beach until the end of the curfew period. Post Offices remain closed although the public complain bitterly that the only way for them to receive cheques is via mail.
On April 11th Governor Roper announced that local developer and investor, Ken Dart, was opening, in conjunction with the government, a support fund to assist with Cayman's healthcare and short-term economic needs. He will seed it with $1 million and then add another $4 million if that is matched by other Cayman-based companies. Cayman sold a further 20,000 test kits to Barbados.
On April 16th thousands of frustrated parents tuned into Education Minister Juliana O'Connor-Connolly (MLA for Cayman Brac) who gave a press briefing. They had hoped to hear what plans were in place for keeping the children of Cayman learning during the Covid-19 curfew, and the closure of all schools, but almost all were left disappointed as the answers were deemed 'woefully inadequate'. Few felt better informed and most felt that the Minister dodged the key questions. Many children do not have access to a computer for home learning and many parents have not collected the learning packets from Government schools. This has added to the problems. While teachers are doing their best, and some schools have grasped and run with e-learning, others have not. It was commonly acknowledge that the interruption in learning was going to cause significant challenges to many of Cayman's children. Schools are now closed until September 2020.
On April 16th 2020 Cayman residents were given extra time to exercise (5.15am to 6.45pm) but they can no longer drive to where they want to exercise. April 20th, a pension holiday is announced allowing employers and workers a break from paying pensions, and people in need, but not civil servants, will be allowed to access up to CI$10,000 as a lump sum from their pensions, if they have that amount in their pension, and then a further 25% of the remaining amount of their fund.
April 23rd 2020, Premier Alden McLaughlin outlined to the Legislative Assembly changes to our work permit system where companies must now post all job vacancies on JobsCayman if they are seeking to apply for a new work permit or renew a work permit. The need to advertise the job in a printed newspaper has been dropped and now employers must post their jobs on the JobsCayman portal for 14 days. Staff at the Department of WORC will ensure that suitable locals looking for employment will have the opportunity to apply and their progress will be tracked. It is the hope that this will help give Caymanian job-seekers priority for jobs.
24th April 2020, a total of 70 people have now tested positive to Covid-19 from 940 tests. The Traffic Law was amended to allow vehicles to be relicenced without the need for a certificate of road-worthiness when there is an emergency or natural disaster. Barbara Conolly, MLA for George Town South, was elected as the deputy speaker of the Legislative Assembly. She will preside over most, if not all, of the LA's sittings between now and next March with parliament is prorogued ahead of the General Election in May 2021. She take McKeeva Bush's position as he has stepped aside for a leave of absence.
27th April 2020, the Chamber of Commerce published the results of their survey of the state of Cayman's businesses and it reveals that between March 13th and April 17th 2020, more than 1,400 employees (about 16% of the respondent's pre-Covid-19 workforce) have been laid off. Chamber President Woody Foster acknowledged that since this survey covered only about 300 of Cayman's employers, the true number of layoffs could be far worse. Therefore good news came on Wednesday 29th April when the Premier announced that the next phase of the shelter-in-place order would allow more services to resume operations. So on Tuesday 4th May the first phase of allowing those businesses which posed the lowest risk of interaction with people were allowed to resume work. Employees of retail stores can go back into work as long as they offer only curbside pick-up service or delivery of their goods. Pool technicians can clean and treat pools, pest control services can resume as long as they do not enter the home, mobile car wash companies can resume cleaning cars, laundromats and drycleaners can operate as long as they can provide a collection and delivery service, and restaurants can now deliver food up to 10pm. The post offices can also now resume clearing local mail and money transfer places can open from 6am to 6pm.
Following the testing of almost every member of the Little Cayman population, and all tests coming back negative, on Tuesday 5th May almost all the Covid-19 restrictions placed on Little Cayman were lifted. People may now move about freely, restaurants can open, people can go to the beach and they can go fishing but social distancing and hygiene protocols will still be required, and only absolutely essential travel to the Sister Islands is allowed. Over 400 residents of Cayman Brac have also been tested, out of a population of 2000, and if they also have no positive cases then they too can come out of the curfew.
As of May 5th 2020 over 2,750 have been tested for Covid-19 and there have been 78 positive cases. 45 of those cases are active and 35 are asymptomatic.
Overview of 2019
2019 saw an explosion of growth Island-wide as industries expanded and developed and record-breaking tourism numbers defined the entire year. Air arrivals set new records, with over 40,000 tourist air arrivals each month for six consecutive months. By the end of 2019 we had 502,739 tourist air arrivals which is an all-time record for the Cayman Islands. According to the Department of Tourism this is an 8.6% increase from the 2018 air arrival numbers and the tenth consecutive year that tourism numbers have grown.
There were also lots of new developments and roadworks continue to appear around Cayman to cater for the influx of tourists and new residents. Changes included expanding the Linford Pierson Highway and extending Elgin Avenue, among many others.
Government discussed plans to build Cayman upwards instead of outwards, and Dart continued in this vein with a proposal for a 1.5 billion dollar skyscraper. Palm Heights, formerly Beach Suites, was reopened with a stunning new look, the Locale Hotel finally opened and, along with 351 licenced Airbnb listings, increased the number of rooms available in Cayman to 6,688. This number will continue to grow with the opening of the new Grand Hyatt Grand Cayman, and the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Beach Bay.
The George Town revitalisation project is underway, with immediate plans to improve the lighting on Edwards and Albert Panton Street, add some city furniture and plant some much-needed shade trees, among other short, and long-term plans to beautify the capital.
Plans to develop Barker’s Beach into a resort and beach bar have caused public outcry by those wanting to preserve the last undeveloped stretch of beach in West Bay. Proposed plans for the property include clearing 180,000sq ft of the surrounding seagrass to construct a 300ft dock, significantly impacting the delicate ecosystems in the marine park.
The proposed port extension and cruise berthing facility in George Town remains controversial. Concerned citizens started a petition in August 2018, and have now gathered enough signatures to initiate a referendum. Yet even without this expansion, Cayman welcomed a record-breaking 2.4 million visitors to the Island in 2018 as stayover visitor numbers grew by 10.7% and cruise ship passengers increased by 11.1%. Even without a dock we welcomed 1,921,057 cruise ship passengers.
Renovations to the Owen Robert’s International Airport are complete. The new 200,000sq ft facility, designed to handle up to 2.7 million travellers per year, has already received a record-breaking number of arrivals. Amongst these arrivals, the Island welcomed the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall in March to officially reopen the terminal. Improvements to the runway have also been planned to enhance safety and efficiency. New airport links continue to be forged, including links with Denver, Baltimore, Houston and Dallas. The new Boeing 737 Max 8 aircrafts added to the Cayman Airways fleet have been suspended until further notice following safety issues with the aircrafts.
The unemployment rate in Cayman has dropped to 2.8%, from 2018’s low of 3.4%, the lowest that unemployment has been since 2006 (2.6%). These statistics correlate with the 9.9% rise in the labour force, caused by Cayman’s ever-growing population. The population expanded by 3.8% last year to reach 65,813 in December of 2018.
Cayman’s economy expanded by 3.3% in 2018 with record visitor numbers and a boom in construction moving the economy forward. Cayman’s per capita income rose to $70,956 from $67,887 the year before.
Cayman hosted the KAABOO festival and the CARIFTA games in 2019; both were a huge success. KAABOO sold out both days with 10,000 attendees for the weekend, enjoying musical performances, artwork, food and drink, and other entertainment. Sadly it will not be returning in 2020. The 48th annual CARIFTA games hosted 52 of our own athletes, over 600 guest athletes, and officials from all over the region. Cayman took home the bronze javelin medal, won by Rachell Pascal.
The Government mandated green iguana cull has been a great success. By the end of 2019 hunters had killed 1,123,526 iguanas and have been allowed to continue the culling into 2020.
There are major capital developments and big changes in Cayman’s infrastructure to look forward to in 2020.Read More
Based on statistics and collected data, the outlook for the future of the Tourism industry in the Cayman Islands continues to be on an upward swing.Read More