Some of you may be comforted by shallow words and promises that are a comfort to a fool. I, on the other hand, know that swift and decisive action is what will make a difference in our fight against COVID-19. Therefore, while I hold on to this opinion strongly, I want to make it clear that if you are lax in your way of dealing with the situation, no need to comment, because you are okay with whatever happens to you and Belize hereafter.
We are being totally reckless by relying on people to self-quarantine. This San Pedro woman clearly did not do her part, if we believe reports that she was even at a party with some 60 to 70 attendants. [By decree, only groups of 25 are allowed, so they all violated the law!]
It should have long been instituted by law that once you opt to come back home from anywhere abroad, you would be housed at some police-guarded place under a 14-day quarantine. Travel is the only way this virus could come to Belize, yet we left the door open for it to come in when we failed to close our borders and airport in a timely manner.
But AGAIN, PM Barrow left the door open when he said that San Pedro would not be placed under quarantine. Mein, I don’t know who is advising him! I beg him to please understand that as the decision-maker, the only decision he needs to make right now is to create isolation of all possible cases and by extension, to cut down on probabilities of exposure. He needs to call for a partial lockdown of the entire country — I say partial because essential services must continue so that we can still access basic necessities.
The chairlady of Caye Caulker had it right when she said she wants to stop movement on her island. These are desperate times and we need to try and not allow room for clusters of COVID to develop. Come on, PM, sorry, but I don’t think you’re getting this right! When it suits you, at any hour, day or time, you pass laws and make draconian decisions; you even pass laws to legalize your illegal acts for your self-interest, but for once, please put the interest of our people first! This is new, and many will not act promptly and safely. They need the leader to take the lead, and you are not taking this bull by the horn!
I know, based on our life experiences, that we all sense danger differently, and that egoistic and narcissistic people are unable to sense such danger as “normal” people would, so, in that context, I am surmising that the PM is Machiavellian and just out of touch and cannot detect the danger signs, but darn, those around him can’t be the same… or are they? Or are they just too afraid to give the right advice?
My advice to the PM, even if after the fact:
1. You should have locked down San Pedro this morning before you even made your announcement at your press brief.
2. Now there is mass hysteria on that island, and reports indicate that people are rushing to the boats in droves.
3. Because of your non-isolation approach to San Pedro, and because you failed to lock down that island, there’s a possibility that amongst all those persons rushing to get off the island, there might be only one “carrier,” and they will infect the others.
4. In San Pedro, you could have easily instituted measures to escort off the island those taking flight out of the country.
5. How idiotic it was to tell people not to go onto or off the island unless they really need to — giving them a choice…. instead of being decisive and stern in the interest of the rest of us!
6. Shut down San Pedro now and send support personnel to set up a testing site and place information hotline. Your mayor must/could help on the ground!
People, you got to pressure our GOB and the final decision-maker, PM Barrow, to lock down San Pedro. Your mayor should have already had a response plan. China will tell you that Wuhan had to be isolated just to control the spread.
San Pedro is our Wuhan!
Italy, Spain and now the USA will let you know that the one thing they wish they had done differently was to shut down early and stop the spread of the virus by isolating it! It is getting too late for us, so PLEASE, Mr. PM, do it now! Our economy will collapse when we all get sick… it’s collapsing now and you’re missing the signs! Best we live one more day to fight!
Of course, we the people must be obedient and know this is for the good of all… stop being so selfish! The Constitution of Belize makes provisions for emergencies like these when certain civil liberties are curtailed. Come on, PM, we need you to do better. Your measures are not enough to help us have a fighting chance!
Please, I beg of you, go quickly do some research and read what China did to be able to now curtail the spread, and they will tell you that taking drastic and draconian steps is the only way now to save the lives of our people. I know many will be stubborn, but it is for their own good at this time!
If I was the decision maker …..
As I woke up this morning with COVID-19 on my mind, I thought, what would I do if I was placed in the seat of the decision-maker? I asked myself where would I start, knowing that this fluid situation changes? I too must make changes for the betterment of my people. So here were my thoughts of 23rd March, 2020, just hours before I would learn via a press brief that Belize finally has its first confirmed case of COVID-19.
1. Today I would announce a partial lockdown by locking down all businesses except those providing essential services. These include bakeries, pharmacies, supermarkets, LPG suppliers, restaurants, that are willing to do only delivery.
2. Institutions such as banks would be asked to have staff work from home, and the only persons in the office would be those needed to ensure people have access to cash, but they would be provided with private transportation so that they don’t use public transportation.
3. Workers who must maintain and operate places such as ports, utility stations, and gas stations, and those who are sanitation workers, or are officers in the Police Department, the BDF, the Coast Guard, or the Immigration and Customs departments would be identified and equipped with basic protective gears and educated on measures they need to take to protect themselves and what to do when they go home so as not to carry the virus into their homes.
4. I would start to do an inventory of all supplies of food and sources of food in this country, and this includes potable water. Each business would have to account for goods in stock and classify these.
5. I would be doing an inventory of all public hospitals in terms of space, equipment, medicines, staff, etc., and especially to know which staff workers are high-risk. The families of these persons would need to help them while they put their life on the line for us. In addition I would be in touch and meet with every private clinic or hospital owner so I know what assets they can assist with, which would enable me to know how and where to get additional support.
6. I would meet with the area representatives and their opponents in each constituency and task them with going into their area and collecting data of:
1) vulnerable patients
2) elderly who live alone
3) sanitary conditions of homes
4) food security of each home.
I would ask them to formulate an action plan for their area, including provision of basic food to these homes (I hope they are smart enough, because I am assuming they are competent) and I would ask them for an accompanying budget. In the same way that they campaign door to door, they can now use that system to formulate a plan of action for their constituents, so that GOB can know the most vulnerable and needy families and thus make financial allocations to help them. We have to be there for them!
7. I would also check with the hotels to start considering if they can be used as isolation units or back-up hospitals, since the rooms always have their own bathrooms and thus allow for isolation. Of course, while maybe we cannot afford to pay the hotels full cost, I am sure GOB can pay them at least enough to keep them viable after this pandemic.
8. I would also start looking for volunteers in various areas and with skill sets that would be needed to implement any partial or full lockdown.
9. I would task every mayor with providing a plan that will address key areas such as sanitation, since garbage still needs to be collected and streets, drains, parks cleaned.
I would be identifying money to give weekly stipends to heads of household who are not getting paid or not working so that they can still provide for their families.
Immediate relief suggestion GOB must take!
Equally important, I would be announcing the following:
1. No payment of utility bills of water, electricity, and subsequent payments are to be staggered over the next two years so that the company still eventually gets back the revenue.
2. BTL: People will still pay their regular phone bills, but all phones are to get free-of-cost Wifi and internet data, as this is a critical means by which GOB will be getting out information for the next three months.
3. All banks and credit unions are to place a moratorium on all payments of loans, both for businesses and individuals, and there are to be no new foreclosures on any mortgage for up to 4 months, but these payments are to be staggered into subsequent payments over the next two years so that consumers do not feel the full effect of that payment. No interest is to be charged.
4. No business is to fire/terminate full employees unless they declare redundancy under Section 45 of the Labour Act and then make the necessary payments; otherwise they shall be dealt with to the full extent of the law.
5. All insurance companies must cover for COVID and not seek to find loopholes to jilt customers, otherwise their license will be revoked and such companies are to be placed under financial management by the Supervisor of Insurance.
6. The cost of fuel should be lowered, in keeping with market prices, which have dropped drastically.
These are my thoughts and suggestions, which I am willing to amend and change as the situation changes. I demand our ultimate decision-maker act swiftly and decisively now!