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Every Belizean must commit to stop COVID-19 spread

EconomyEvery Belizean must commit to stop COVID-19 spread

Just a couple months ago, we were being hailed as a country that was doing all the right things to contain COVID-19, and we were patting ourselves on the back for our accomplishment too, but that is no more. In less than a week we have gone from poster country to one that is on the verge of being a member of the group that must be shunned if you don’t want to be exposed to the disease.

On March 23, 2020, we recorded our first case, and before the disease could establish itself in communities across the country we were placed under a State of Emergency (SoE), near total lockdown, for the entire month of April. This was an overwhelmingly successful measure that saw us limiting the spread of the disease to 18 persons, two of whom unfortunately died. The measure was costly, extremely so, but wonderfully effective.

Some restrictions were removed at the end of April, and at the end of June, with no reported cases in the country, the SoE was lifted. We were warned, however, by the Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, and his health team, about the inevitability of a second wave that could be considerably rougher than the first wave if we were careless. We were advised to keep our guard up at all times, meaning that when we were out in the public we should maintain physical distancing and wear masks covering our mouth and nose, and that we should wash/sanitize our hands frequently.

We went without a recorded case of COVID-19 for 53 days, before the 19th case was identified, and since then we have been recording isolated cases — consisting exclusively of Belizeans returning home, mainly from the United States and Mexico, and border jumpers.

There was major concern over Belizeans crossing the border into Mexico and Guatemala, for social reasons or to buy contraband goods, because the number of COVID-19 cases was on the rise in those countries. There was also major concern over reports that we were ignoring the safety measures mandated for traveling on buses and water taxis, and patronizing bars.

Many young and relatively young Belizeans, similar to people in the same demographic in other countries, dropped their guard because studies show that most of them are not at great risk of becoming gravely ill or dying if they contract the disease. Some Belizeans felt it was unwise to lock down the country back in April because no matter how well we protect ourselves from the disease, someday we will all be exposed to or infected by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, because of the way the disease is spread. Many of them did not respect the safety measures either.

No one can deny the exceptional benefit of the lockdown in April; the medical experts are learning more about the disease each day, and it is a fact that those who get infected now have a chance at a better outcome than persons who were infected three months ago.

At this time, the medical experts cannot say with great accuracy exactly what is the mortality rate of this very dangerous disease, because no one knows how many persons have actually been infected, but it is known that one out of every five persons who develops symptoms needs hospital care, and one out of every twenty persons who needs hospital care will spend time in an intensive care unit. Studies show that it takes from two to eight weeks for a person who gets sick from COVID-19 to fully recover, and for a person who becomes critically ill, it could take over a year.

We have seen how quickly the health services of countries far wealthier than ours have been overwhelmed, so it is urgent that we stop the spread. No ifs, ands or buts; there is no way our country can handle a major outbreak of the disease.

In the first week of July we recorded our 29th and 30th cases, with nine active cases all under quarantine. At the end of the first week in August the number of recorded cases ballooned to 146, and the number of active cases increased to 112. There are more cases out there, and our great worry is that there might be many.

Anyone who looks at the numbers carefully will arrive at the conclusion that if we don’t contain this disease, it will cause our health system to collapse, and it will shut down our economy. Young and old, we must all do our part to keep the disease under control.

Too many of our leaders failed at their duty

It is possible that all our leaders did not have the good sense to realize that we were in no position to be careless with COVID-19. They cannot be excused. It really doesn’t matter which field you are in – politics, religion, or the media – a leader of worth has the sense to know that they are not qualified to buck or ignore the counsel of the foremost authorities in our part of the world, the World Health Organization and the Center of Disease Control in the US.

Too many Belizeans in leadership positions did not take COVID-19 seriously enough. Too many of them did not follow the recommendations about physical distancing and wearing masks over the mouth and nose when in public.

We have to ask why the authorities did not enforce the safety measures for persons traveling on buses and water taxis, and persons congregating in bars and churches, areas that are known to be conducive to the spread of diseases like COVID-19. We have to ask why all the persons leaving San Pedro before the imminent lockdown didn’t get a rapid test. The test isn’t as good as the PCR, but it has much value.

We knew that the situation with border villages was critical. Why didn’t we ensure that border villages had an excess of food and drink so that the people there would have better understood how very important it was to stay at home at this time?

There are unverified reports of an authorized private flight to Belize, where the authorities failed to ensure that everyone involved followed the established protocols. We pray that isn’t so.

With just one slip, anyone of us can fall ill to a contagious disease like COVID-19. We were slipping all over the place. Intelligent, conscientious leaders set good examples. Only a few of ours did their duty, and many fell down flat.

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