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Thursday, June 4, 2020
Home Features COVID-19: Saving lives over money

COVID-19: Saving lives over money

It is no secret that I am an avid advocate for the calling of a state of emergency and a partial lockdown of Belize as a means of halting any exponential increase of COVID-19 infections in this country. I’m not in any way preoccupied by the justification of the naysayers, because I am firmly of the considered view, that prevention is better than cure. I take this stance based on undisputed facts and undisputed world events that are the lessons we must heed. For one, it is a fact that the virus cannot walk about and move about by itself, and therefore the only way it can move from Wuhan, China to Italy, and then eventually the USA, and now Belize, is because it was transported by someone here.

Imagine that Patient Zero in Belize reportedly travelled from Los Angeles to Belize and then to San Pedro and into her home and made contact with her mother, who is now the second infected person. This is the perfect example of the fact that a human has to be the carrier to our shores… it did not come here on its own. With that said, any human who had contact with Patient Zero and Patient One, even before they tested positive (and those have been many —from the airline workers, to the airport personnel to those persons on the local airline carrier to her home) are now part of the mapping to track those she was in contact with. This does not mean that automatically everybody she had contact with is infected… No! It simply means that the Ministry of Health (MOH) must track them down and determine whether they need testing based on symptoms, if any are displayed.

Of course, again based on the facts given by the experts, it is possible for a person to become infected but not display any severe symptoms (asymptomatic). Thus, it is even more critical that there is testing of the second and third generation of those who came in contact with the two initial patients. This takes time, and the MOH personnel can become overworked by just tracking those discovered in the mapping exercise. In Italy, what is called the
“Lombardy” cluster is a perfect example of how a 38-year-old man was asymptomatic for weeks, and during that period he reportedly led an active social life and potentially interacted with dozens of people before spreading the virus at Codogno Hospital. This is an indication that the incubation period can be longer than 14 days. 

Another compelling reason for a lockdown, is that it is a proven means to halt the virus where it is and with whom it is and not allow it to be carried or moved around anymore, thereby contaminating surfaces touched by others, who then become infected. Italy is a perfect case study of the failure of the government to call for a national shutdown in a timely manner.  Their first case was reported on 31st January, thus, the Italian government suspended all flights to and from China and declared a state of emergency, but did not order a shutdown of any kind. Instead, people were allowed to socialize freely, and all social events went on as usual, since the government, fearing the damage to the economy, did not want to order the shutdown, but, effective 22nd February, 2020 declared four red zones, which were quarantined areas, as the situation got worse and deaths were already in the thousands.

It took the Italians 22 days before they acted a little more decisively, and by 9th March, 2020, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced in a press conference that all measures previously applied only in “red zones” had been extended to the whole country, putting approximately 60 million people in lockdown. 

However, by 11th March 2020, PM Conte prohibited nearly all commercial activity except for supermarkets and pharmacies, creating an even more stringent lockdown. On 21st March, the Italian government closed all non-essential businesses and industries, and further restricted movement of people, halting the economy.

As of today, 26th March 2020, Italy is one of the world’s centers of active coronavirus cases, with 62,013 active cases, according to “Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins”, as retrieved  on 25th March, 2020. The total number of confirmed cases is 80,539, with 8,165 deaths, and 10,361 recoveries, according to Italy’s Ministry of Health website.

Belize 2nd COVID case

 The first case in Belize, as was expected, is imported, because the virus has not originated anywhere except in Wuhan, China, interestingly. It is a novel virus, and experts are learning about it as time goes by. Within two days of the announcement of the first patient, we now have the second patient, needlessly and carelessly, I might say. 

Patient-Zero arrived in Belize on 19th March, 2020, and was tested on Sunday, 22nd March, when at 10:40 p.m. her results were confirmed to be positive. It is not known when and how she got it, so far, but it is known and reported that she manifested symptoms from before she entered the country, and thus apparently told authorities that she self-isolated. This, we now know, is false, as PM Barrow yesterday clarified. 

“The second case was what was to be feared, where the first confirmed case did not self-isolate as she claimed she had done and mixed in freely with other members of her household”. PM Dean O. Barrow 25-03-20

She therefore mixed with her family, and thus her mother became infected. Patient-Zero lied and did not take the necessary precautions in the interest of the public. However, it’s interesting that the PM mentioned her outright lie as if it was just ‘a matter of fact’, or no big deal. This is what happens when the state leaves the individual to act on his/her own in a time of a pandemic. Had she been quarantined the minute she landed, by the authorities, as is done in Trinidad & Tobago, because she was coming form an infected area, today, there would have been no more cases emanating from her. That is not the case, unfortunately.

Now the mapping of all persons whom her mother had contact with since Thursday, March 19, to the present time has to be done. This is a tedious and time-consuming exercise requiring much personnel, but it must be done!  If it were that these would be the only two cases and we could contain it there, that would be great. However, the reality is that there may already be other clusters developing, especially north of the country, as our contact with Chetumal, Mexico, is epic, as was seen when the government announced it was closing its borders with Mexico. Belizeans by the hundreds that same day flocked over to Chetumal, which this week also reported its first case and is now on lockdown to try and contain any further contamination. We have two cases and refuse to take such drastic measures.

I am keeping my eyes north, because it is possible that our constant contact between residents of northern Belize and those in Chetumal, Mexico, could have potentially resulted in a another transmission. This does not mean it will manifest immediately, and it could mean that none of those contacts resulted in any form of contamination. However, this too is very much indicative of the first rule of COVID-19 – that it needs humans to move it around from one location to another; it CANNOT get anywhere on its own!  

State of Emergency and lockdown

As I write, there is an additional 30 days of a state of emergency on the island of San Pedro, where the first COVID-19 case was found. This is in addition to the initial days announced on Monday, 23rd March, 2020. The belief is that the virus would be contained there. Of course, this does not take into consideration that, as PM Barrow said, Patient-Zero never self-isolated herself, and after she had contact with her own mother, now infected, the said mother also did not self-isolate — at least not until she became aware that she had contracted the virus. 

Additionally, from Thursday to Monday, a number of persons whom the two patients had contact with could have already left the island, since it appears that the state of emergency wasn’t completely enforced until late Monday evening after the mass exodus to flee the island began! We have not yet been told by the mapping personnel of the Ministry of Health how many of those persons who were included in the mapping process have left the island, and where those persons are. This to me is critical because, drawing on the Italy experience, they had a situation where persons in the now-quarantined area, managed to get out just before the quarantine was announced. It is those persons who “escaped” who went out and could potentially, in fact likely, spread the virus further, apart from the other clusters that later developed.

I am calling on the government to institute a national state of emergency, with a partial shutdown, even if the details of how this would operate in each district are tweaked to meet the circumstances of that district. You see, while the Belize Constitution guarantees freedom of association, movement and liberty, it makes exception in cases of public safety and public health, under which these circumstances fall. Section 5 of the Constitution states:

“5.- (1) A person shall not be deprived of his personal liberty save as may be authorised by law in any of the following cases, that is to say: …(g) for the purpose of preventing the spread of an infectious or contagious disease..”

Under the power of the Governor General to declare a state of emergency it states as follows at Section 18 of the Constitution:

“(2) The Governor-General may, by proclamation, which shall be published in the Gazette, declare that a state of public emergency exists for the purposes of this Part.

(3) A proclamation made by the Governor-General under subsection (2) of this section shall not be effective unless it contains a declaration that the Governor-General is satisfied- (a) … or that a public emergency has arisen as a result of the occurrence of any … outbreak of infectious disease, or other similar calamity…”

COVID-19 is an infectious disease, and the reason the Constitution allows curtailing of civil liberties, in these circumstances, is simply because of the catastrophic consequence the spread of such an infectious disease can have upon our population. We are seeing the effect in other countries already, and this is what we are trying to avoid.

Under a lockdown, it does not mean that life will be totally disrupted. It means that the state, through the regulations made during the state of emergency, will regulate the way we still access basic needs such as food, water, fuel, and any essential service such as electricity, fuel, LPG, etc. In my view, the limiting of movement is simply to limit the movement of the virus, which can only be moved around from location to location by us humans. If we stop/limit human movement, it stops moving; if we are isolated, it is isolated, and if we can identify it in isolation, we then can contain it. 

The Prime Minister says that we will not do an SOE and shutdown until there is mass infection… and I ask why wait until then? That makes no sense! Why try stop it at such a late stage when we can contain it at this early stage? Clearly, a division of opinion! Many think like the businessman because they are saying ‘what about jobs, and money and the economy?”

 I say, what about health and life, because without health and life, money and the economy mean nothing, and these would collapse anyway. Best have a healthy population that can rebuild an economy, instead of a dead and sick population, just like the economy.

 In my view, we first worry about saving lives, and second about saving lives and third about saving lives… the money and economy can be resurrected and revived. A COVID victim remains dead forever!

 For me it’s about saving lives over money!

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