Since COVID-19 invaded our lives, most Belizeans are as interested in the daily report on the number of new cases of infected persons and the area where they live as gamblers are about what number “played” in the Boledo. In respect to the COVID-19 report, we desperately want to see the numbers (including the percentage of tested samples that are found to be cases of COVID-19) going down. They are not.
Our research of the information in the six weeks since the Director of Health Services (DHS) and the Ministry of Health started producing the daily infographic on the number of tests done shows the number of positive cases has increased by 1,420 — from 388 on August 14 to 1,808 on September 25. From an average of 1,528 tests per week we are discovering an average of 236 infected persons per week.
Of 1,268 tests done in the eight-day period between August 14 and August 21, we had 260 cases; from 1,494 tests done between August 22 and August 28, we had 222 cases; from 1,451 tests done between August 29 and September 4, we had 282 cases; from 1,741 tests done between September 5 and September 11, we had 283 cases; from 1,615 tests done between September 12 and September 18, we had 155 cases; and from 1,601 tests done between September 19 and September 25, we had 218 cases.
There was some optimism across the nation when the number of cases between September 12 and September 18 dropped to 155, from the weekly average of 236, but it turned out that was just because more testing was being done in areas that were less affected by the disease.
According to Our World in Data, a May publication from the World Health Organization said that “a positive rate of less than 5% is one indicator that the epidemic is under control in a country.” The Center for Disease Control in the US reported on August 27 that 79,611,982 tests had been done in that country, and that 9% —6,873,739 —were positive. Our research shows that over the six-week period from August 14 to September 25, a little over 15% of tests done in Belize yielded COVID-19-positive results.
Our testing program is a little different from the one in the US, so it’s an imprecise comparison, but the numbers do tell a story: they show that we don’t have the disease under control. For our physical and financial health, we need to do so quickly, because most experts say that the conditions are more favorable for the disease later in the year; if we can’t do better now we can only expect that later on there will be a whole lot more sick Belizeans.
The disease is crippling our economy. Many families have difficulty paying their rent or mortgages, have difficulty paying their utility bills, and have difficulty putting three meals on the table every day. They are among the lucky. Many Belizeans are now flat broke.
Much of our financial health depends on tourism; in the best times it makes up about 50% of our economy. On October 1 our country reopened to tourists coming in by air, and our expectations are diminished, because we haven’t done what we were supposed to do: control COVID-19.
Tourists don’t want to go to a country that doesn’t have the disease under control. Americans, who are the visitors most likely to come to Belize, have it bad in their country, but it is just as bad or worse here. It’s bad in our country right now, and we had better face that truth and try our best to do something about it.
Our authorities don’t seem to know what to do. Their daily infomercials advising us to follow the safety measures are helping in the fight, but not enough. Our plan to reopen schools was put on hold, and certain activities such as gathering in churches and partying and public celebrations have been severely curtailed. These efforts have also proved insufficient.
We are on the ropes, Belize, barely holding on. The monthly reports from the Statistical Institute of Belize paint a dismal picture on the financial front. The government is mum about the state of our foreign reserves, but we are told that we have identified funds to carry some of us through until December. And the disease, it is unrelenting.
A desperate S.I. appeared dead, but the authorities double down
A little over a week ago, the authorities, in desperation, introduced Statutory Instrument 134 of 2020, one section of which called for the DHS to release to the Minister of National Security the “name and address of every person that has tested positive for COVID-19; (b) the name and address of every person placed in self-isolation; and (c) the name and place of quarantine of every person placed in mandatory quarantine.”
The Minister of National Security said that S.I. 134 was a product of the National Oversight Committee and the Cabinet and it was introduced because too many people who tested positive for the disease were out in the public infecting others. The move fell flat when the DHS reportedly threatened to resign if he was obliged to divulge the information on individual positive cases to the minister.
While most recognize how desperately we need to get control of COVID-19, and many appreciate the difference between communicable and non-communicable diseases, there were no expressions of support for the S.I. that we are aware of, not from the general public, not from the doctors.
The likely reason there was no apparent public support for the S.I. is because the people have little trust in a government that has coddled corruption and has not been transparent in its activities. Belizeans don’t trust their government. Belizeans believe that if the Ministry of National Security got such information, they would use it to harass and embarrass those of us who don’t belong to the ruling party. It is a terrible thing when a people don’t trust their leaders.
In the face of what could at best be described as a lukewarm reception of the S.I., the authorities have doubled down. On Wednesday the Minister of National Security told Channel Five that he had “not been instructed by the [National] Oversight Committee to revise the S.I., so the S.I. remains in place.”
It is to be seen how the DHS will respond to this increased pressure to reveal the names of persons who are infected with COVID-19 to the minister, but what is more important is how the people will react to the new law. If the people don’t support the law, it will not get the desired results.