There are people in authority who have known difficult times, and there are people in authority who have never known a day in their lives when they didn’t know wherefrom their next meal was coming. It would be an interesting study to find out how quickly the person who has experienced being hungry/deprived forgets his or her past when things are looking good (their belly is full and they have money in the bank) and what is needed for a person who has never known hunger to empathize with persons who don’t have food to eat.
The failure of our authorities to immediately provide relief to those of us who were knocked off our feet by the pandemic (and the lockdown it caused) is a letdown of mammoth proportions. We have heard some of our authorities say that our slowness to deliver relief is not unusual, that the great USA is equally slow to give relief to its citizens who are in need. What a very disappointing comparison! We are a small country of about 375,000, while the USA is a large country of 300,000,000.
In Belize we know everyone by their first name! We have 31 electoral divisions; if equally divided there would be a little over 12,000 persons in each. If the people in charge don’t know how many households are in each division, and how many of them were knocked off their feet by COVID-19, then they are not competent. This was not that difficult a job. Sadly, more than one month after we went into lockdown, there were households in Belize that still hadn’t gotten any relief.
The news from the Economic Oversight Team (EOT) that the Unemployment Relief Program has closed its “online portal” is most unwelcome. A release from the EOT on April 24 said that they had received 81,007 applications for financial relief, and that so far 28,574 persons had gotten a share of $3,460,300 that had been paid out. Mercifully, the EOT said that more applicants had been approved and in the days to come they would be receiving their share of relief funds. They also informed that the online portal could be re-opened, but didn’t say whether applications could still be made in person.
There is a colorful word we Belizeans use to describe this disappointing kind of performance, but we will just say, woeful! These are hard days for Belize, and while our political leaders traditionally manage our economy with an eye only on the next election, definitely not with an eye on being prepared for disasters – hurricanes, droughts, COVID-19 — our treasury isn’t completely bare, and those countries and institutions that usually lend us money have not been blind to our cries for help. There is no excuse for this failure to deliver relief to our people.
We have every reason to have a healthy fear of COVID-19
Probably no group in Belize understands more about what the world is up against with COVID-19 than the Citrus Growers of Belize. For the last ten years, the best plant scientists in the world have been trying to find a cure for a disease called Citrus Greening, without success. Every year the citrus growers produce less fruit, and they don’t know when things will turn around.
Devastating diseases that affect animals, and plants, are creations of a disturbed ecosystem. Herding plants together, and herding animals, makes a hot bed for disease. When some of these diseases take hold, there is no easy solution to overcome them.
When COVID-19 first appeared, many medical experts compared it with the flu. They said it was a disease that we should accept would be with us, like the flus, and that the best way to get the upper hand with the disease was through herd immunity. Studies have not yet determined if there will ever be any such thing as herd immunity to protect people from COVID-19.
When the disease was raging in China and Italy, a story started gaining traction that persons with melanin might have some immunity, but in the USA the disease hasn’t spared Blacks, Hispanics, and Native Americans, people that look like us, so that was debunked.
The world has never been as prepared to combat a disease as it is now, yet COVID-19 is inexorably taking its toll. How can we not fear it when the world’s most senior virologists say they have never seen a disease like it before?
COVID-19 is a coronavirus, like SARS and MERS; SARS appeared around 2003, and burned out, and MERS appeared around 2012, and also burned out. Those two diseases burned out because they were too effective at killing people. COVID-19 isn’t expected to burn out because it doesn’t kill as many of the people it infects as those two diseases did.
We have seen the disease overwhelm the health systems of a number of countries. Our country was put under lockdown as a measure to give our medical authorities a chance to get control of it. Now that we appear to have COVID-19 under control we can go back to trying to earn our daily bread, but while going about that sacred task we need to maintain a healthy fear of the disease, so that we don’t compound a brutal economy with a disastrous health situation.
Belize holds its breath as restrictions being eased
The authorities have decided to ease some restrictions so that some of us can try to earn our daily bread. We would have loved to see our food vendors get a chance to start earning their way again. There is nothing like the dignity of earning a living, and those of us who have little reserves and thus have to depend on handouts are suffering.
The authorities have decided that buses can start running again, and they can do so at full capacity. This, the authorities say, is a calculated risk. There are new rules such as wearing a face mask, increased sanitization, and a ticketing system they have introduced. We suggest that buses travel with windows half-opened. We must pray that it doesn’t rain when buses are full.
We would suggest to all persons traveling on buses that they wear a face shield over their face mask. We have mentioned before that we believe face shields might be a good alternative to face masks, but we haven’t been able to find any documentation to support that position, until recently.
Hilary Brueck, on the website businessinsider.com, says “one cough simulation study in 2014 suggested that a (face) shield could reduce a person’s viral exposure to a cough expelled less than 18 inches away by 96%.”
Naturally, the longer the shield hangs below the chin, the more effective it will be. Wear the face mask so that we don’t expel germs on others, and wear the face shield so that the germs from others don’t reach our nose.