As we inch closer to the reopening of the Philip Goldson International Airport on August 15th, we reflect on how far we have come as a nation in keeping the COVID-19 pandemic at bay. As a people, we must continue to take every possible precaution to ensure that a community spread does not arise in order to secure a healthy future for ourselves and our families.
While citizens and impending visitors alike have a multitude of questions as it relates to the gradual reopening of the country, we take a look at some key points that will help to educate us a bit more on how the Government, its supporting departments, and teams plan to make this reopening as seamless as possible.
ARE WE REALLY PREPARED?
To date there is a total of 57 confirmed cases of COVID-19 infections throughout the country of Belize – with 25 being active cases, 30 cases having been fully recovered, and 2 deaths – since our first reported case in-country on March 24, 2020 (133 Days ago).
The spike in cases came over the weekend of August 1-2, 2020 where the country saw a total of nine (9) confirmed COVID-19 cases. According to a release issued by the Ministry of Health, two (2) of these positive cases arrived on a repatriation flight from the United States and one (1) from a repatriation flight out of Honduras; two (2) more persons, who are asymptomatic, arrived in-country as a part of a repatriation exercise from Mexico. One (1) more asymptomatic case of an illegal entry via the Northern border and one (1) other person, possibly linked to the sale of goods from Mexico, exhibits symptoms and is also hospitalized.
Two (2) cases of concern, one in Orange Walk and one in San Pedro, are currently hospitalized after exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19. These cases are of great importance as none of the two patients have any recent travel history and have not been in contact with any known positive COVID-19 patients.
Three of the nine total new cases require further investigations since there is no link to contacts outside the country.
Call the Ministry of Health hotline at 0-800-MOH-CARE for all your health inquiries.
HOW DO WE MEASURE UP?
Minister of Health, Pablo Marin, stated, at the last meeting of the House of Representatives, that if the pictures circulating on social media of Belizeans partying and traveling countrywide are any indication that locals have not reached the level of consciousness expected from the experiences of our neighbors, then our country is in dire straits.
Most locals really do not feel that the rules must be adhered to in such a stringent manner since the borders and international airport remain closed. So, the vast majority continue to traverse the country seeking out that last nirvana before the faithful August 15th arrives and the Philip Goldson International Airport reopens to international travel.
While many would say that Belize doesn’t seem to be in dire straits just yet when it comes to a spike in positive cases of COVID-19, the latter would prefer not to let their guard down right when kids are expected to be physically heading back to school on August 10th.
Whatever your opinion on the matter is, at the end of the day it’s always good to look at the statistics on how we stack up next to neighboring countries as we try to assess just how long it may take our neck of the woods to begin to recover some sense of normalcy from this pandemic.
WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT THE REOPENING OF SCHOOLS?
While most schools are taking the physical attendance route, there are a few currently offering rotational classes, mixed media sessions, or a fully online option. Every school in Belize is now working toward what will become new norms for physically attending classes in an effort to apply adequate social distancing and sanitizing methods to protect our children.
The local Ministry of Education explained that an early start to the school year will allow teachers and students to begin to close learning gaps caused by the extended school closure in the 2019-2020 school year and will also provide an important head start in the event of forced school closures later in the year. As stipulated by the Ministry, all kindergarten, primary, and secondary schools are scheduled to reopen on August 10, 2020. With this announcement came a new set of guidelines for the “safe” reopening of schools during the COVID-19 era. The complete guidelines for the reopening of schools can be found here.
WILL BELIZE STILL REOPEN TO VISITORS SOON?
As we await the reopening of schools, the business community is also making its preparations for the much-anticipated reopening of the Philip Goldson International Airport – particularly to citizens of the United States, to whom most other countries across the globe have closed their borders.
This grand reopening though, does not come without its own set of pomp and circumstance. From Gold Standard Hotels, to adjusted arrival guidelines at the Philip Goldson International Airport with optional quarantine upon arrival in Belize and monitored travel throughout the country many changes will accompany Belize’s decision to reopen the international airport to visitors.
Here’s a quick summary of some of the main points:
- Pre-travel process – All visitors to Belize must download the Belize Health app on their mobile phone. This will help authorities manage your movement in Belize and provide timely communication to you. [The app is still in development. Download links will be posted here.] You will be provided with a unique QR code ID which you will need on arrival in Belize.
- Testing – Visitors are highly encouraged to take a PCR test (not an antibody test) within 72 hours of arrival which will fast track your entry into the country. A certified negative result will put you on the fast track arrival lane at the airport. You will be able to upload your test results via the app.
Even if you upload a certified test before arrival, you will still be required to take a rapid test at your own expense when you arrive at the airport. The cost of the rapid test will be $50 USD. If you test positive on arrival, you will be required by law to enter a 14-day quarantine at an approved quarantine hotel at your own expense, irrespective of your existing hotel booking.
Those who arrive with a valid PCR test showing a negative result within the past 72 hours will likely have minimal restrictions on their movement in the country.
- Arrival – Upon arrival at the airport, enhanced health screening, temperature checks, and verification of your unique ID from the health app will be implemented.
- During your stay, you must adhere to all health and safety protocols in Belize including social distancing, and wearing of masks in public. You will be required to check in daily via the Belize Health App.
Click here for a link to all the changes visitors will have to undergo upon arrival in Belize.
WHAT ABOUT UNEMPLOYMENT RELIEF FOR LOCALS?
The COVID-19 Unemployment Relief Program
The Government of Belize has set up a COVID-19 unemployment relief program to provide financial assistance ($150 BZ every 2 weeks for a 12 week period) to workers who have lost their source of income due to the negative economic impact of COVID-19.
This relief program primarily offers financial aid to those who have been laid off and to self-employed persons who have lost their source of income because of the negative effects of COVID-19. But what about the long-term unemployed you may ask, well all those who were not able to receive assistance during the first phase of the relief program have been referred to the Ministry of Human Development for their consideration under their expanded programs. Learn more about the relief program here.
To request information on the Unemployment Relief Program, please send an email to [email protected] or text +501-613-0095.
Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Support Program
The local Government has also set up a Micro Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) Support Program to provide some sort of financial relief to Belize’s Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises in order to help safeguard and promote employee retention, as well as assist MSME’s as they transition and adapt to the economic challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Find out more about the MSME Support Program here.
For further information on the MSME Support Program, applicants can call 0-800-CALL-MSP or email [email protected] during normal working hours (Monday to Thursday 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M. and Friday 8:00 A.M. – 4:30 P.M.).
Both the MSME and the Unemployment Relief portals are available on the Government of Belize COVID-19 website.
HOW DO WE PROTECT OURSELVES FROM COVID-19?
The best way to prevent any illness is to avoid being exposed in the first place. Since the Coronavirus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person, most commonly through the following:
- Between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet).
- Through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks; these droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs.
- Recent studies have suggested that COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.
To prevent the spread of the virus, everyone should:
- Wash hands often, especially:
- Before eating or preparing food
- Before touching your face
- After using the restroom
- After leaving a public place
- After blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing
- After handling your mask
- After changing a diaper
- After caring for someone sick
- After touching animals or pets
- Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people (Put 6 feet of distance – about 2 arms’ length – between yourself and people who do not live in your household).
- Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when around others and keep in mind that masks are not a substitute for social distancing.
- Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow and do not spit.
- Throw used tissues in the trash.
- Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, counter tops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks. Use detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection.
- Be alert for symptoms. Watch for fever, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.
- Follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop.
Remember that some people without symptoms can still spread the virus!
WHERE ARE WE TODAY?
The Government along with the local Ministry of Health continue to monitor the results of contact tracing and testing for possible sources of infection within these clusters. In today’s Press Conference, the Director of Health Services stated that there is no concrete evidence of a community spread to date until further tracing has been done.
In the meantime, the Dr. Manzanero urged the public to assume that everyone you come in contact with is positive, avoid crowds, stay at home as much as possible, wash hands regularly, wear a face mask, and practice social distancing.