Letters — 25 February 2014 — by Mark Langan

Dear Editor,

While the debate over a major cruise ship terminal in the otherwise pristine southern Belizean waters continues, another serious concern has to be addressed.

I refer to another recent outbreak of suspected norovirus aboard a Carnival cruise ship that incapacitated some 700 passengers and crew, and a recent CNN article, “Are cruise ships floating petri dishes?” (http://edition.cnn.com/2014/01/29/travel/cruises-sanitation/)

The article raises some serious concerns and made me think; can a small country like Belize take a chance on what could be a floating viral time bomb? At the risk of sounding alarmist or as resorting to hyperbole, I feel that this is a very real concern that needs to be addressed.

The CNN article raises several points, and states, “Cruise ships are ripe for spreading illness… In 2013, the CDC’s Vessel Sanitation Program logged nine gastroenteritis outbreaks aboard ships, seven of which had a confirmed cause of norovirus. About 1,200 cruise passengers were affected by those norovirus cases.”

This is one specific virus. What else can a confined space with thousands of people aboard carry? And more to the point, can Belize as a nation risk a highly contagious outbreak on our shores?

Right now a growing number of people come to Belize for our pristine environment, fresh air and healthy living. Do we really want to compromise this reputation for a multinational corporation’s bottom line? And, more to the point, in Norwegian Cruise Line’s EIA, has this scenario been addressed at all? Has any modelling been undertaken to access the impact of such a large number of people entering Belize at one time?

Never before in history has such mass movement of people to Belize occurred, and never before in history has the risk of contagion been higher than it is now, whether from “natural” causes or bioterrorism.

The CNN article also quotes Dr. Lin Chen, director of the Travel Medicine Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who said, “There are attempts to control these types of outbreaks, but it’s hard to guarantee that it’s not going to happen for any particular cruise.”

Again, I don’t wish to be overly alarmist, but do feel that all Belizeans have the right to know what, if any, measure is in place to address this threat, and if any thought was given to what such an outbreak in Belize’s waters would do to the country’s reputation as a green, safe place to visit?

Belize’s tourism industry is just too valuable and inherently fragile to risk, especially to profit a foreign based corporation at the expense of our own home grown industry that now supports so many Belizean families.

Yours faithfully,
Mark Langan

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