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Is it safe to open borders?

SourceDayne Guy

BELMOPAN, Sat. May 29, 2021– There has been heavy backlash from some quarters following the government’s decision to reopen land borders. Minister of Tourism and Diaspora Relations, Hon. Anthony Mahler, remarked, at the most recent sitting of the House of Representatives, that he too is concerned about the reopening of borders, but remains confident that the operating procedures that will be put in place, will allow for a safe reopening.

Minister Mahler then referred to similar concerns that were expressed prior to the reopening of the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA). He recalled, “Some were opposed to [the reopening of the airport] in October, and you look at the numbers coming through the airport, you will see the number of positive cases through the airport is minimal. The airport represents about seventy-five percent of the overnight arrivals coming into this country. The land borders and the seaports, altogether, the other twenty-five percent. So you’re dealing with smaller, much smaller numbers, than through the airport.”

He also stated that while the number of persons entering the country via land borders is small in comparison to the number of arrivals processed at the Philip Goldson International Airport, the protocols will be much more stringent to ensure safety of the Belizean people.

Firstly, the time period prior to entry within which rapid tests and PCR tests must have been taken will be reduced. Persons will be required to have taken a rapid test within 24 hours of arrival as opposed to the previously accepted 48-hour period. The window for PCR tests will also be reduced from 96 hours to 72 hours. Minister Mahler noted that anyone who tests positive for the coronavirus will be sent back to their place of origin.

Further, incoming tourists must stay at a Gold Standard hotel and must be accompanied by a Gold Standard tour operator. This is to ensure compliance with the strict COVID-19 protocols and to minimize interaction between travelers and locals.

Minister Mahler further noted in his statement at the Sitting of the House of Representatives, “We are not opening the borders for a free-for-all… It is not for Belizeans wanting to go to Chetumal to party or to hang out.” Rather, he stated, the selective reopening is an attempt to rejuvenate the business sector, the economy and the livelihoods of the working class.

Mahler further noted that despite some negative feedback to the Ministry’s attempt to provide jobs, previous efforts at reopening at the borders have resulted in fruitful results. He pointed to the reopening of the Corozal Free Zone, which was greatly opposed, and which made available 1,200 jobs for Belizeans. “Those people were never working at the time and tell me how many cases of COVID have been reported because of that interaction with people from Quintana Roo into the Free Zone. There have been at least 77 thousand people passing through since the reopening, and there has been no spike or no spread in the Corozal or the northern districts,” he said.

As previously mentioned, Minister Mahler also cited the reopening of the Philip Goldson International Airport, which took place at a time when there was a surge in coronavirus cases in the US, inclusive of variants that were believed to have been more contagious. Despite this, Mahler claims Belize has still managed to maintain a relatively low incidence of COVID-19.

Mahler concluded that decisions in the time of a crisis must not be governed by emotions, but by facts.

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