Medical supplies purchased by the Health Services Authority have been confiscated by the United States government, Premier Alden McLaughlin confirmed.
The supplies were already loaded on a container and aboard a ship ready to depart when the vessel was stopped and items removed by US authorities, he said.
“Yesterday [Tuesday], the US authorities removed from a ship that was coming to Cayman a container which contained four ventilators, 50,000 masks and various other bits and pieces,” McLaughlin said during Wednesday’s COVID-19 briefing.
“That has been a huge disappointment to us. All of those were things that were procured and purchased in the US,” he said.
According to international reports, five other countries, including Canada, Germany and Barbados, have also had their medical supplies blocked due to an executive order issued by US president Donald Trump.
McLaughlin said everything will be done to get the supplies that have been seized returned as soon as possible.
“We are working through various diplomatic channels on it. There seems to be a policy now to prevent the shipment out of the US of certain key pieces of equipment. Personal protective equipment and ventilators are in quite short supply in a number of the US states that have been harder hit,” McLaughlin said.
The premier said Cayman is trying to get another 30 ventilators on island “which, in terms of per capita, would put us in the stratosphere compared to any other country in the world”.
He said Cayman will have to talk about what “workarounds” could put in place.
McLaughlin added that a significant amount of PPE is on its way to Cayman from China.
“We are a bit nervous about even that going through the US. There are a whole lot of moving parts and a lot of work to ensure that, should the worst occur, we will be super prepared here to deal with very sick people in numbers and we will be able to ensure that our front-line staff have the best quality and quantity of PPE to be able to deal with patients,” he said.
The US has denied reports alleging that it had seized supplies.
The United Nations has established a COVID-19 supply-chain taskforce to address issues surrounding medical supplies.
World Health Organization Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, speaking at Wednesday’s WHO briefing, welcomed the creation of the taskforce.
“We’re working hard to ensure supplies of essential medical equipment for front-line health workers,” he said.
So far, WHO has shipped more than 2 million items of personal protective equipment to 133 countries and it is preparing to ship another 2 million items in the coming weeks.
“We have sent more than 1 million diagnostic tests to 126 countries in all regions and we are sourcing more but we know much more is needed. This is not enough so we’re working with the International Chamber of Commerce, the World Economic Forum and others in the private sector to ramp up the production and distribution of essential medical supplies today,” he said.
The Cayman Compass reached out to HSA CEO Lizzette Yearwood on Wednesday morning for comment about the seizures. No response was received by press time.