I exchanged messages with a distant cousin over Easter, for the first time since Christmas. He told me his family was recovering from Covid-19. He had just been gardening, but was still in lockdown. He assured me that since he had not experienced the symptoms for 14 days he would not need to be retested. It was the new normal in an English town I had once lived in myself.

The United Kingdom government warned the British public that it might have to stay in lockdown into June to prevent a deadly second peak of infections, while a European Union leader has advised member countries to keep their more vulnerable citizens in self-isolation until end of year unless a vaccine becomes widely available before then.


In the VI

I had felt rather smug in telling my cousin how well the Virgin Islands government had coped with the crisis — until I realised that I had no idea how soon we dare join the world. While looking out at the motionless village during lockdown, I noticed some small children running along the middle of the road, careless of social distancing. Since I could not do anything myself, I wondered if I should call the police. We are also experiencing a new normal.

Following my concern that Flow had messaged me that social distancing meant keeping three to six feet between yourself and others, especially if you have a cough or fever, I was even more alarmed by a recent video from the Ministry of Health and Social Development reducing that to just three feet. I assume they were following the World Health Organisation’s recommendations. However, those recommendations were derived from fighting tuberculosis in the 1930s, and they are totally inadequate to avoiding the spread of Covid-19.

Guidelines should err on the side of caution, particularly when public safety might be at stake (e.g. if police have to control crowds outside a supermarket). A friend complained about a woman’s rude reaction to being asked to move back from her in a supermarket. Cutting the limit in half is likely to increase such abrasiveness.


US guidelines

The United States Centers for Disease Control recommend people keep about six feet apart, but perhaps more in certain circumstances. Examples include health care settings, in which Covid-19 has been found to be transmittable via aerosols, tinier particles than droplets that evaporate and linger in the air for someone to inhale, swallow or touch.

Pre-symptomatic people singing together have reportedly spread the virus between them, and cyclists might become infected from the slipstream of other cyclists riding in front of them.


‘Stay Home, Cayman’

The Cayman Islands Cabinet recently approved a plan which its premier called, “Stay Home, Cayman.” It also passed amendments to the shelter-in-place regulations aimed at containing the spread of Covid-19, clarifying the rules governing people’s movements during the day and toughening penalties for breaking them, with a maximum fine of $1,000 or six months in prison. Fines include $250 for not staying six feet from another person; $500 for visiting the supermarket or being outside your house or yard without lawful authority; and $750 for holding a public meeting.

The shelter-in-place rules (or soft curfew), apply Mondays to Saturdays from 5 a.m. until 7 p.m. People must stay home unless legally exempt. There are exemptions to visit supermarkets, gas stations, banks or minimarts on certain days. Residents with surnames A-K can go on Mondays, Wednesdays or Fridays; L-Z surnames on Tuesdays, Thursdays or Saturdays. Liquor stores remain open for purchase of alcohol on a person’s allotted day, but some stores will deliver on other days.

Healthcare facilities, including pharmacies, are exempt from the split-shift system and can be visited any day they are open. All restaurants are closed to sit-in diners, but can be open for takeout and delivery.

Applications for exemption by other businesses via email are reviewed case by case. Baby shops, for instance, can open for expectant mothers from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

People can exercise for 90 minutes a day between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., except on Sundays, but access to public beaches (i.e. up to high watermark) and all sorts of fishing are banned — as are water sports for now — as part of efforts to conserve police resources.

Separated parents are permitted to take their children from one house to another for shared-custody arrangements


Cayman roads

At other times, only emergency services and essential workers with written exemption letters are allowed on the road. If police believe someone has breached those regulations, they can issue on-the-spot fines to be paid within 28 days or be brought to court. The accused can plead not guilty plea at Summary Court on the date specified on the ticket, but risks a higher fine or even a jail sentence.

Sundays are hard curfew days, with no exercise or trips out of the house or yard permitted, except that a specific exemption allows people to leave their homes at any time in emergencies when they are at risk of injury or death.

Taxis could operate with up to two passengers.

Public gatherings of more than two people are banned, and schools and churches are closed, although most churches are trying to provide virtual services. The continuation of the original exemptions for weddings and funerals with under 11 guests was under review.

Exit strategy

The Cayman premier has rejected some businesses’ calls to reopen the economy now, prioritising saved lives over economic concerns, by keeping the borders shut to visitors and using mass testing to trace contacts and stop the virus. If Covid-19 takes hold in that community, Public Health England projects from other countries’ experiences that the worst-case scenario could result in nearly 1,000 deaths in that territory.

Public Health England and local health officials advised the premier that after 14 consecutive days with no new positive cases, restrictions might be lifted carefully on a “phased basis” learning from other countries’ experiences and what had worked elsewhere. Better economically and health-wise to endure the current soft and hard curfews than to reopen too soon and risk being in and out of lockdown until 2021.