The entire country of Belize was placed under a state of emergency on Wednesday, April 1, a measure the authorities believe is necessary at this time to help us defeat the disease called COVID-19, which is battering the health of people and the economies of countries across the globe. The state of emergency was set for 30 days, but it was mentioned that the duration could be reduced if our health authorities believe we have things (the disease) under control. God forbid, the state of emergency could last longer if more cases emerge, which could happen if all of us don’t follow the regimen prescribed by our health authorities, or if the measure wasn’t taken soon enough.
The entire country of Belize hasn’t been under a state of emergency since 1981, when Governor James Hennessy ordered one in April of that year in response to strikes and rioting after the Heads of Agreement was introduced to the country.
A few countries have tried to carry on as usual, but all countries have been affected by the disease, registering either illnesses/deaths or sagging economies. Some of our neighbors moved quickly. From before the middle of March, El Salvador went under quarantine, and it locked out all foreigners. Only citizens who were returning home from abroad were allowed in, and they had to go into quarantine for 30 days, even if they had no symptoms of the disease. A few days later Guatemala announced that it was refusing entry to Europeans and citizens from certain countries in Asia.
Mexico successfully navigated through the 2009 swine flu (H1N1) pandemic, and maybe it is the knowledge they gained from that experience that has given them the confidence to take a different path from that taken by other countries in our region. At the beginning of the outbreak Mexico began testing people with symptoms of the disease who had recently been in countries that had known cases, but the country stayed open for business long after her neighbors had locked down.
Belize’s response to COVID-19 has been measured. The Ministry of Health initiated an education program aimed at getting us to improve our hygiene, practice social distancing, and reduce our public activities as much as possible. On March 20 schools across the country were closed, two weeks before the regular Easter break.
Belizeans returning home were advised when they arrived in the country that they should isolate themselves (have no physical contact with other Belizeans) for at least fourteen days. A few days ago the authorities tightened the controls on incoming Belizeans. They are still free to come home, but instead of receiving a recommendation that they self-isolate they are now, at their cost, placed under mandatory quarantine at a place determined by the authorities.
Gradually our civil liberties were curtailed, until we arrived at this present situation where if we are not involved in delivering what are termed as essential services, we are severely limited in what we can do during the daylight hours, and must be at home at night.
Together we will overcome
Prime Minister Barrow has announced that we have the resources to weather the COVID-19 storm for a while, and there is a task force set up by the government that will be identifying and providing limited financial help to our brothers and sisters who at this time need the most help of that kind.
Belizeans who are paid from the public purse are being asked to find ways to cut costs. Thousands of Belizeans who lost their jobs will be assisted with a stipend of $75 per week. Belizeans who had no steady jobs have been surviving on the bare minimum, and now our country is asking them, for the good of all, to make do with even less. We were informed that the Boost program will kick into a higher gear so that its assistance will reach more people.
The state of emergency will just about shut down the small business folk who retail their wares in small shops and on the sides of the streets. Business was already slowing down for them after the tourism industry collapsed, and now their source of revenue is about all gone. They will have to latch on to one of the programs the government is setting up so that they can keep afloat until they can once again let loose their tremendous entrepreneurial energy in a Belize that is no longer besieged by the COVID-19 monster.
We are all praying for the disease to be brought under control, in Belize and all over the world, and hopefully the fog begins to lift soon. While we pray for that, we have to be ready in case it lifts later rather than sooner.
Belize’s economy wasn’t doing enough for more than fifty percent of its citizens, and this crisis could see us end up in a mighty fall if we don’t organize at every level to ensure that resources reach those who have the most need.
There are the politicians, and we can expect that they will be putting in their pound to help as many persons and families as they can, but they have been partisan and narrow for so long that we shouldn’t be surprised if they once again don’t come up to par. Who they were before the crisis might for the most part be who they are during this time.
Our sports, student, and community leaders, and the leaders of civic and church organizations must step up, not to replace the political leaders, but to complement what they are doing, and to ensure that their native ambition to capitalize for personal gain doesn’t cause our country to fracture.
In the cities and towns our leaders could organize by street. These leaders should do a survey to find out the needs of all the persons and families on their street, and the persons and families who can and are willing to contribute a little to help out those in need. The street leaders will have to ensure that all support from the government ends up with families and persons that have the most need.
Every village council across this country should have met already, like two weeks ago, to discuss how they will ensure that all villagers are aware of the measures in place, and to find out who will need assistance. If we work together we will overcome.