Wednesday, April 24, 2024

BCG Commandant retracts comments regarding people returning to Ambergris Caye

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On Monday April 6th, the head of the Belize Coast Guard (BCG) Captain Elton Bennett stated during a television talk show that there is no limitation based on a private vessel moving at sea with a purpose, going so far as to say that persons planning to travel to Ambergris Caye can do so if they have a valid reason. This information raised concerns on the island, as cases of COVID-19 have increased on the mainland. While the Emergency Operation Center (EOC), voiced their disagreement on the idea to have free movement between the Cayes and the mainland, Commandant Bennett quickly changed his position after he was provided with information from the latest amended Statutory Instrument (SI) No. 47 2020, which prohibits people from traveling within districts.

Released on April 2nd the SI Regulation 6 (a) clearly speaks about the restriction of people’s movement in a time when the entire country is in a National State of Emergency. The SI states that ‘During the period of public emergency declared by proclamation, no persons shall move across any district boundaries, nor across localities within any district, city, town, village or community except for the purposes listed in regulation 5 (2).’ This deals with purchasing essential needs, attending for medical or veterinary attention emergencies, among others.

BCG Commandant Captain Bennett spoke with The San Pedro Sun on Tuesday, April 7th commending the efforts on Ambergris Caye to try to keep the island Coronavirus free, but emphasized that there were people left stranded on the mainland and who need to get back home. Bennett had said that as long as they have a purpose, persons on a private boat should be allowed to travel. However, after we shared with him the amended SI, he retracted his previous statement.  Bennett said that given the circumstances of the law, no one can travel to the island or within the districts until there is an update from the Government of Belize on the current National State of Emergency. This situation is to last for 30 days, thus, Commandant Bennett encourages those persons stranded on the mainland to be patient and wait. He added that those persons concerned about their properties on the island should make arrangements for them to be looked after.

EOC’s Chairman and Area Representative, Honourable Manuel Heredia Jr., had strongly refuted the idea of allowing anyone traveling to the island at the moment. “We will do whatever it takes to make sure to monitor and not allow boats to come in during this Easter Weekend to the island,” he said. “It will only complicate matters.” Heredia indicated that they are working on a plan on how to handle this issue. He pointed out that the island has undergone tremendous efforts to keep residents safe and COVID-19 free, and allowing travel from the mainland to Cayes could jeopardize their work so far. Heredia acknowledged that Ambergris Caye is part of Belize, but given the time of emergency set by a proclamation, the safety of the islanders is a top priority.

Heredia indicated that by the end of this week, and if no additional COVID-19 cases develop on the island, Ambergris Caye could start slowly opening up within the community. “Our job is to look after the interests of the island residents,” Heredia ended.

An official statement was expected from the EOC on this development, but we were told it was being reviewed.

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