Saturday, April 20, 2024

PM Barrow addresses the nation in regard to COVID-19 Pandemic

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On Wednesday, March 11th, the World Health Organization declared the Coronavirus, dubbed COVID-19, a pandemic due to the disease’s rapid spread across multiple countries around the world. Over 100,000 confirmed cases have been registered, with almost 5,000 deaths in 114 countries. Belize remains free of the deadly disease, which first appeared in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. However, the global impact is already beginning to affect the country’s main industry-tourism. The situation is being treated very seriously on a global scale, prompting Prime Minister Right Honourable Dean Barrow to address the nation on Thursday, March 12th in Belize City.

Prime Minister Barrow began his address to the nation by making it clear that there are no confirmed COVID-19 cases in Belize. He announced the formation of a COVID-19 National Task Force and a National Oversight Committee to contain the deadly disease. The National Oversight Committee is headed by Barrow, the Leader of the Opposition Honourable John Briceño, along with social partners and members of the business community. This committee will look at everything: it will especially zero in on the economic aspects of the crisis. Barrow said that on Monday, March 16th, he will meet with the Governor of the Central Bank, the Financial Secretary, and Chief Executive Office of the Ministry of Economic Development. The Social Security Board will also come on board and help the committee map out the necessary response to deal with the impacts of the crisis on employees, employers and all sectors of the Belizean economy. Barrow added that they will be looking at emergency aid to workers, including a possible tax payment extension, a supplementary allocation for Corona-related outlays, duty-free importation of essential supplies, a moratorium on loan repayments at banks and credit unions, and a post-Corona stimulus by even more accelerated capital spending, salary advances among other things.

Dr. Marvin Manzanero

The COVID-19 National Task Force is headed by Director of Health Services at the Ministry of Health (MOH) Dr. Marvin Manzanero, and other members of the health sector. The task force will deal with the day to day public health response. They will meet weekly, or as often as may be needed.

Barrow said that they will do everything in their effort to keep Belizeans safe, saying that they are working closely with their external partners on the updates of this pandemic. The Prime Minister indicated that government will continue to meet and make decisions accordingly on whether or not to continue allowing cruise ships into the country or mass gathering, to close schools, banning air travel and restrict freedom of entry at the land port of entries. He added that a meeting with members of the MOH, including the Leader of the Opposition, will take place after the press conference to decide if and when any of these decisions will be implemented. The prime minister discouraged non-essential travel and to start practicing what is called ‘social distancing.’ Barrow asked everyone to be calm and to join together to overcome the threat of this pandemic crisis.

What the Ministry of Health is doing

MOH is closely monitoring the situation after two cases were confirmed in Honduras. According to Manzanero, they have conducted several tests on persons suspected to be infected, resulting in negative for COVID-19. On Wednesday, March 11th, seven tourists were tested and they did not test positive for the virus. Manzanero said that their screening infrastructure at the entry points to the country have been scaled up, and they are doing all the best to prevent the virus from entering the country. He added that the country is capable of doing tests and they are getting additional testing strips to continue doing so. Manzanero said that whenever a case is confirmed, they will quickly isolate the victim and communicate the country of the situation. The National Emergency Management Organization will also assist, and their flag system of identifying the strength of hurricanes will be used to mark the severity of the disease in case the country experiences an outbreak.

covid 19 WHO facts

In terms of travel, MOH advises Belizeans to avoid places/countries that have ongoing transmission like in Asia and Europe. Although Costa Rica, Honduras and Mexico have confirmed cases, the infection there is not considered an ongoing issue at the moment. However, Belizeans traveling to such areas must take the necessary personal precautions. Upon their return from any area of active spread, they are being advised to self-quarantine for at least 14 days

Measures taken by the government towards suspected infected persons entering the country

The Government of Belize (GOB) advises that all nationals coming from an area with ongoing transmission who land in Belize and appear with cold or flu-like symptoms will be placed under self-isolation upon arrival, and all costs related to that will be the responsibility of the traveller. GOB highly recommends that all travellers to the country purchase travel or health insurance for the length of their stay.

covid 19 WHOThe government and the Ministry of health hopes to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and as such is setting such measures based on the recent development of the disease.

Effect on Tourism

While countries like El Salvador, Guatemala and even the United States of America have placed stringent restrictions on travellers from Europe, business in Belize continues as usual. Although the cruise industry has felt the dent caused by the pandemic, Belize continues to allow ships to its ports, when other countries in the region are not. According to Principal Public Health Inspector, John Bodden there is a 24-hour screening process that occurs before the ship arrives to Belize. They also look at whether the ship has any risk to Belize and if any crew member or passenger is ill. However, this commodity has not helped the tourism industry, as the Tourism Village section in Belize City where cruise passengers head to shop has been almost empty. Stakeholders are reporting that cruise passengers do not leave the ship, and those that do so have made reservations ahead of time with tour operators.

covid world map

On the hotel side, President of the Belize Hotel Association, Ted Tejada has reported that the cancellation rate has gone up to around 18%. “Definitely we are already seeing the impact…North Americans are concerned about traveling to Belize,” said Tejada. He explained that although there have been cancellations, the majority of the cases has to do with travellers postponing their trips. Tejada said that people should not panic, and instead exercise preventative measures. Every hotel should look for and design a plan. “Cleanliness is the most important thing,” he said.

On Ambergris Caye, a couple hotels are reporting a normal influx of visitors, while other claim that the season is still on a slow pace. They hope that the Coronavirus never makes its way to Belize, as they fear the virus’ impact the tourism business product drastically on the island. On the other hand, tour operators and even taxi associations are concerned about the serious negative impact this pandemic can have not only on Ambergris Caye, but the entire country.

Containment room in KHMH

In the case someone tests positive for COVID-19 in Belize, the government has outfitted a quarantine room at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital (KHMH) in Belize City. However, the room is only limited to a capacity of eight adults and two children. The KHMHs’ management is doing their utmost to prepare if and when the first confirmed case is registered in the country.

During the Question and Answer segment after the conference, PM Barrow mentioned that while GOB would have to find the funds, NEMO and MOH are looking at alternative auxiliary isolation units aside from the facilities at KHMH, Western Regional Hospital and other regional healthcare facilities around the country. These alternative units would be used should those original units planned become full and COVID cases increase in the country faster than expected.

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