BELIZE CITY, Thurs. May 27, 2021– Last week the Cabinet and the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) both informed the public that the government of Belize had given the green light for the reopening of land borders as early as Monday, May 31, 2021. Their public announcements made mention of a phased approach to allowing tourists to re-enter the country at the Santa Elena Northern Border, the Benque Viejo Del Carmen Western Border, and the San Pedro and Punta Gorda borders.
Following the announcements, the CEO of the Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations (MOTDR), Nicole Solano, spoke with the media to reassure the public that the Tourism Ministry has been working along with BAHA, the Border Management Authority, and various other partners to ensure that the reopening is tightly controlled and poses minimal threat to the lives of Belizeans. The response from some members of the country’s medical community, however, contradicts Solano’s assurances.
The first to speak out against the GOB’s decision was Dr. Mark Musa, a gastroenterologist at the Belize Medical Associates (BMA) hospital, who took to social media last Thursday to state his disagreement. Dr. Musa posted on his Facebook page that the country simply is not ready, given the low percentage of adults in the country who have been vaccinated thus far.
He stated, “Belize should not open the land borders for ‘Tourists’. We are not ready as a country. We are poorly vaccinated with only approximately 25% of over 18-year-olds receiving the first dose of the vaccine. Our neighbors in Guatemala and Mexico are also battling surges in Covid cases and they are also poorly vaccinated.The potential economic benefit of allowing ‘Tourists’ thru these land borders does not outweigh the serious risk with another wave of cases in Belize that could end up with another Full Lockdown to regain control again. There is the high likelihood of introducing a more transmissible and deadly Covid variant. Every country that has underestimated this virus is going thru deadly surges. Maybe we can’t relate to devastating images from India, but the islands of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago are facing rising cases and death rates. In February, Jamaica had less than 200 deaths today the death toll is over 900. Trinidad in the month of May has recorded over 150 deaths and both are islands whose borders are much easier to police or monitor. Belize should set a 3-month implementation plan to set up the Protocols and allow more of our Belizeans to become vaccinated.”
Another well-known doctor from the BMA, Dr. Fernando Cuellar, also spoke to the media to echo his colleague’s concern over the borders reopening. Dr. Cuellar has spoken with multiple media outlets to express the view of a number of persons in the health care sector that the reopening is not being done in the proper manner. He feels that not only should the reopening be postponed to a later date, but that the proceedings need to be done in collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, which he asserts is also opposed to the decision to reopen land borders at this time. Cuellar said that the health sector is aware of the economic need to reinvigorate the tourism industry, but that this does not outweigh the potential damage of exposing Belize’s population to risk.
Additionally, the Belize Medical and Dental Association (BMDA) issued their own press release, dated May 30, 2021, in which they also expressed their stance that the country is not prepared for the opening of our land borders. They highlighted seven reasons for their stance. These include the fact that municipalities in neighboring Mexico (specifically Melchor de Mencos, Peten and Quintana Roo) are still experiencing an upsurge of COVID-19 and are considered red zones. They also noted that Belize has only vaccinated about 25% of its targeted population, and that other countries with better health systems are enduring “disastrous waves of COVID-19 at the moment. Another reason they cited is that Belize still has not undergone recent capacity-building of our healthcare staff on the frontline after a year and a half of dealing with the pandemic. They noted that we still only have the Central Medical Laboratory doing PCR testing in the country, and that some doctors’ contracts have yet to be renewed and overtime has been restricted, while there is ongoing industrial action by some healthcare workers. And a final reason cited by the BMDA is that the public has “let its guard down,” which is evident in the public gatherings that are still occurring.