Friday, July 12, 2024

Slow tourist activity at the now-open land borders; no cases of COVID-19 detected

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Against the advice of several health officials (doctors), the Government of Belize (GOB) reopened its land borders with Mexico and Guatemala on Monday, May 31st. The reopening of these borders only allows tourists to enter Belize. The current flow at both borders has seen an average of ten travelers per day, and no one has reportedly tested positive for COVID-19.

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The protocols for travelers to enter the country vial land border as per the Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations (MTDR) and the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) require tourists to present proof of a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken within 72 hours before arrival in Belize or a rapid antigen test approved by MOHW and taken within 24 hours before arrival. MTDR explained that tourists must be pre-booked for a minimum of three nights at a Gold Standard hotel and mode of transportation. Foreign travelers testing positive for Covid-19 will be denied entry. Although only foreign visitors are being allowed to enter the country, Belizeans or other travelers with special permission approved by GOB can leave the country.

At the MTDR, Nicole Solano, Chief Executive Officer, said the slow flow of visitors through the land borders was expected. “It will take time to build the traffic over the weeks ahead, similar to the airport, all of the passengers do not return on the first day or first week,” said Solano. “It will take time for the traffic to return.” The safety protocols set by MOHW are considered a success, and its personnel continues monitoring the ground activity at the northern border with Mexico and western entry point with Guatemala.

Concerns expressed by doctors

Doctors in Belize City expressed concerns with the announcement of the reopening of land borders due to the increase in COVID-19 cases in Guatemala and Mexico. Dr. Mark Musa of Belize Medical Associates shared that the country is not ready to reopen due to the low vaccination rate and the serious risk of Belize experiencing another wave of the virus. Another colleague, Dr. Fernando Cuellar, said that many healthcare providers in Belize think reopening the borders is risky. Cuellar said the reopening could be a big mistake, and while he understands that the economy is in a dire situation, the country needs to open with care and proper procedures in place.

In an interview with the media, MOHW’s Minister, the Honourable Michel Chebat, stated that GOB is not blind to the concerns raised by the doctors. However, they feel that the country is ready to respond to any challenge at the borders in the bigger picture. Chebat assured the public that if at any point the numbers of COVID-19 begin to rise to an unmanageable level, the government will take drastic action.

While the land borders have reopened, the seaport of entries remained closed. These include the sea border in Punta Gorda Town in southern Belize and the port of entry in San Pedro Town, Ambergris Caye. These sea borders are expected to reopen at a date yet to be announced.

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