BELIZE CITY, Wed. June 30, 2021– At an event marking the relaunch of Belize’s vaccination program, the Minister of Home Affairs, Hon. Kareem Musa, presented a set of new measures that are being put in place in response to the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in certain parts of the country (with clusters emerging in the Orange Walk, Stann Creek, Belize and Toledo Districts) and concerns that the country might experience a third COVID-19 wave. The measures have been incorporated in amendments to the current Statutory Instrument (SI) which outlines COVID-19 safety protocols and will become effective Sunday, July 4.
The first major amendment in the SI puts in place requirements for stringent surveillance of frontline workers, which, Musa said, is a category of workers that includes, not only healthcare personnel (doctors and nurses) and law enforcement officers (police officers, military personnel), but also teachers and school administrators, tour guides, tour operators and other tourism personnel, as well as owners/employees of restaurants, casino workers and those involved in religious services (i.e. pastors and priests).
Frontline personnel are encouraged to get vaccinated within the month of July. Starting August 1, the amendment will require persons within the aforementioned categories, who are not inoculated against the coronavirus, to present a negative COVID-19 test every two weeks.
Minister Musa also noted that the nightly curfew period from Thursday to Saturday will be extended by 1 hour. The curfew on these days will start at 11 p.m. and last until 4 a.m. the following morning. From Sunday through to Wednesday, the curfew will remain the same — starting at 10 p.m. and ending at 4:00 a.m. Minister Musa also pointed out that Belize is not the only country which is putting in place a curfew to restrict the spread of COVID-19. He noted that a fellow CARICOM country, Jamaica, has even stricter measures in place, and that it requires persons to be at home by 2:00 p.m. on Sundays.
The Minister of Home Affairs then referred to measures that will affect the activities and operations of churches, restaurants and Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) offices.
Starting Sunday, the maximum duration of church services will be 1 hour, and the number of persons within the church should not exceed 50% of its holding capacity. The Minister further requested that churches cordon off every other pew to ensure compliance with the new capacity requirements. The amendment will also limit restaurants to operating at 75% capacity in outdoor dining locations and 50% capacity when dining takes place indoors — provided that they have a free flow of air in the establishment and it is properly ventilated.
In light of the fact that a number of cases have been traced to business process outsourcing centers (BPO’s), these enterprises must now operate at 50% capacity. Minister Musa encouraged BPO managers to promote remote working as a means to reduce interaction and thus the risk of transmission of the virus.
To ensure that these establishments are in compliance with the new amendments, the Ministry of Home Affairs will be reinstating an arrangement through which Justices of the Peace will be overseeing the compliance of restaurants with the new regulations. This will ensure that there is no violation of social distancing protocols. The JPs will liaise with the Police Department to ensure that persons and establishments which violate the rules, are ticketed/fined accordingly.
Policing remains a key part of enforcing the COVID-19 protocols. Minister Musa explained that the Police Department will be taking a more stern approach in enforcement of the law. Minister Musa noted that over the past few weeks, over 108 tickets for violations were issued for failure to wear masks or social distancing. The Police Department further issued two summons to establishments in Orange Walk for encouraging the gathering of a large number of persons. He stated that it is a collective effort to prevent the spread of COVID-19.