The Spring of Hope

Written by Alan Markoff, Camana Bay Times Editor
In his address at the beginning of the Royal Fidelity Cayman Economic Outlook conference on 6 March, Premier Alden McLaughlin quoted Charles Dickens.  

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” the Cayman Islands’ leader told the conference attendees at Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. When the premier spoke, Government had been busy dealing with issues facing the financial services sector. Heavy on his mind, however, was a storm that hadn’t yet arrived, but was surely on its way: COVID-19, better known as coronavirus.

Premier McLaughlin said he and the government realised that this global event — which was yet to be classified as a pandemic at that point — was assuredly going to affect the Cayman Islands. How much of an effect was yet to be decided — and still is — but the signs weren’t good, even then. 

Within weeks of his address, Grand Cayman was already experiencing something it never had to deal with before. There were several confirmed cases of COVID-19; scores of workers in the hospitality industry and other sectors were without jobs; people stocked up on food and dry goods; schools were closed; all cruise ships were barred from stopping; and the Government announced a three-week closure of the airport to passenger traffic. 

Then, a curfew was instituted and residents told to shelter in place at their homes. 

After reciting the part of Dickens’ quote that everyone knows, Premier McLaughlin said most people do not know what comes after “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” in his novel, “A Tale of Two Cities.” 

“It was the age of wisdom … it was the epoch of belief … it was the season of Light … it was the spring of hope … we had everything before us ….” are all words that follow in the first, long sentence. 

We still don’t know if COVID-19 will amount to the worst of times for the Cayman Islands, but we already know that it’s ushering in unprecedented times. Life, as we knew it just a couple of months ago, has changed drastically. How long that change will last is anybody’s guess. No one knows, either, what the other side looks like once the immediate disease threat has passed. The world economy has already taken a serious blow; it will take significant time to fully recover. 

But looking beyond the worst of all this, there are silver linings, just as there were in Europe in 1775, in the years leading up to the French Revolution - the setting of Dickens’ most famous novel. 

In practising social distancing and self-isolation, terms few of us had ever used before the COVID-19 outbreak, we will spend more time alone or with our families. This could be an opportunity for self-reflection, a time of deciding what matters most to us, a time to connect with our family members in a way that our normal busy lives don't allow. 

It is also an opportune time to acknowledge the good in our society, and the jobs being done — and sacrifices being made — by those working in essential services.

We continue to salute health and medical professionals, police and fire services, airport personnel and other government workers who are providing essential services. In addition, there are other roles which often go unrecognised yet are important to the smooth functioning of our community e.g. the cashiers, bank tellers, gas station attendants, service technicians.

We should pause to appreciate them and thank them for their contribution. Maybe we should even tip our cashiers when next we go to the supermarket, for they are risking their health and that of their families to make sure we can purchase food and supplies. Some refer to them as the unsung heroes during this crisis. We’re all in this together, and they are there for us. 

Make no mistake, this — like every other pandemic in human history — will eventually pass. What the world will look like when it does is unknown.

Regardless of the uncertainty, Dart’s leadership says the company will be there for the Cayman Islands. Dart is committed to its employees throughout this uncertain period and will continue to make financial provisions for staff who are unable to work in the weeks to come. 

“With a substantial investment across the three islands of the Cayman Islands, we appreciate the human and economic hardship our country is experiencing. We will always put our people and community first,” said Dart CEO Mark VanDevelde. “As we have been for over twenty-five years, Dart remains committed, through good times and bad, to the continued health and prosperity of our islands. We are in this together.” 

Rest assured Dart will be back to work, doing its part to make the Cayman Islands stronger and more resilient, as soon as it is safe to do so.  

It is unknown how long the current threat will continue or how long our lives will be turned upside down by measures adopted by the government to keep us safe and measures which Dart fully supports. 

But there is reason to hope. Less than three weeks after the Cayman Economic Outlook conference, Premier McLaughlin spoke about the government’s reasoning for an initial 10-day “shelter in place” order that included a 24-hour curfew for a 58-hour period ending on Saturday, 28 March at 5 a.m.

The “shelter in place” provision, scheduled to be lifted on Friday, 3 April, seeks to restrict people’s movement in order to decelerate the spread of COVID-19. Residents are allowed out only for a once-a-day trip to access services and businesses that have been given “essential” status.

All other businesses will be closed for the duration of the provision. There will also be a 90-minute-a-day allocation for people to exercise or walk their pets in groups of two or less.

 “With our borders having been locked since last Sunday, if our strategy is successful in suppressing community spread, in a matter of a few weeks we may be able to relax these restrictions and return to some level of normalcy,” he said, noting that if that were to happen, schools could open and various business activities vital to the domestic economy - like construction, banking and financial services – could operate again. 

These might be the worst of times in the Cayman Islands, but they should also be the spring of hope, just as Dickens wrote.