COVID-19 heroes recognised

2020 was a year that will be etched in our collective memory, largely due to the COVID-19 pandemic that continues to grip the world.

However, in the Cayman Islands, we now live life as normal as possible during these times, with no face masks, no social distancing and a peace of mind knowing that we are safe from the virus as we move around freely throughout the community.

Decisive action was taken early, with the Cayman Islands going into lockdown for 10 weeks starting in mid-March. Subsequent decisions would shape the course for the country through the pandemic. It was also during that time that heroes emerged, stepping up to steer the Cayman Islands towards the enviable position it now enjoys.

Governor Martyn Roper bestowed a number of special awards to people across the community who played a significant role in the battle against the virus, including healthcare workers, emergency responders, charitable organisations and essential employees working in the civil service and the private sector.

Two of these COVID-19 heroes work at Dart.

Chris Duggan, Dart vice president of business development and commandant of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Special Constabulary, said little was known about the coronavirus or the impact it would have on the country when the pandemic began.

“What we did know was that we needed all hands on deck and my responsibility was to ensure that all of our special constables were ready to assist in whatever way we could.”

Over the course of the days, weeks and months after lockdown began, the Special Constabulary unit worked day and night in many aspects of policing the islands, including regular patrols, curfew enforcement, roadblocks, crowd control at the supermarkets, beach and marine patrol and relief efforts.

“I attended the [Royal Cayman Islands Police Service] Senior Management Team meetings first thing every morning and last thing every evening, seven days a week, to make sure that the Special Constabulary was ready and available to assist the RCIPS," Duggan said. "In addition to these daily meetings, I was regularly out on the road, mainly at night after work, to help the team with the curfew enforcement and with the response to the usual emergency calls."

Left: Dart Vice President of Business Development and Commandant of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Special Constabulary Chris Duggan after Governor Martyn Roper, left, presented him with a Certificate and Badge of Honour for his contributions during the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020. Right: Dart Compliance Manager Vernie Coe.

Vital test kits

Dart Compliance Manager Vernie Coe was recognised for his role in securing 200,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea, something that is considered a game changer in the country’s battle against the virus. Working with two others, the three men made what was considered impossible at the time, a reality.

“None of this could have happened without them," said Coe. "Working with my cousin Fernando Nicholson, councilman for Mexico City, and dear friend Craig Merren, local small businessman, was amazing. Their connectivity and grace were nothing short of miraculous.”

It’s a tale that highlights the inextricable nature of family and community in a Caribbean setting.

“It was Fernando, who after being approached by a representative of the manufacturer to secure an audience with his government for the purchase of at least half a million tests, immediately inserted the Cayman Islands into the conversation," Coe said. "In turn, it was Craig who got us an audience with our minister of health and his team at the Health Services Authority."

The efforts of the three men along with other benefactors, including Dart, led to the purchase and transport of 165,000 COVID-19 test kits from South Korea. The test kits allowed for rigorous testing for the virus and the isolating and contact tracing of those who tested positive. Because of that, Cayman effectively snuffed out the virus within its community.

Recognition 

In all, 77 people received Certificates and Badges of Honour for their COVID-19 related work.

“It is a tremendous honour to have been awarded this Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour, and to be recognised alongside the individuals who also received it, is fantastic," said Duggan. "The COVID crisis has really shown how important community involvement is in any country and certainly Dart is a shining example of how an organisation can invest in its people and its community to make a tangible and impactful difference."

Duggan also praised the government's response to the pandemic.

“The government has, without a doubt, done an incredible job in steering the community through this crisis,” said Duggan. “Some very hard decisions had to be made very early on to get ahead of this crisis and our government made those tough decisions when other governments around the world did not.”

Coe agrees.

“Our government’s actions are to be commended. Throughout, they have acted quickly, definitively and with much ingenuity," he said. "They’ve ensured not only our immediate safety, but also our future prosperity. I feel confident that the long-awaited re-opening of our borders will take this same measured approach, with great success."

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This article appears in print in the March 2021 edition of Camana Bay Times, written by Tammi Sulliman.

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