BELIZE CITY, Mon. Sept. 13, 2021– Last Thursday, the Minister of Health and Wellness, Hon. Michel Chebat, announced that, as of October 1, 2021, all persons seeking to enter any public building will be required to present proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 PCR or rapid test.
New Covid-19 legislation containing this proposed mandate is scheduled to be passed in the coming weeks and could potentially affect thousands of unvaccinated Belizean citizens and a large range of businesses.
Minister Chebat said that Cabinet decided to implement these measures as a result of the sharp rise in the number of Covid-19 cases during this third wave of the pandemic and its impact on our healthcare system.
“The rapid test is a 48-hour test, and the PCR test is a 96-hour test, and so for clarity, a public building would include both a privately owned and a publicly owned building and it means that it would refer to any building that the public has lawful entry into,” Minister Chebat explained.
All public buildings, including government buildings and the premises of private businesses and grocery stores, as well as water taxi facilities and the locations at which buses are boarded will be overseen by a COVID-19 enforcement unit.
The Ministry did not indicate if the unit would include police officers or other law enforcement personnel, but it did indicate that the persons assigned would be trained along with some Justice of the Peace officers to ensure that this new measure is implemented across the country.
According to the vaccination statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Wellness on Thursday, September 9, a total of 174,978 persons in Belize have received at least the first jab of one of the four Covid-19 vaccines available in the country.
This includes 80,879 fully vaccinated persons and 16,423 youth between the ages of 12 and 17 who have gotten at least one shot.
According to the Estimated Mid-Year Population numbers released by the Statistical Institute of Belize, the country’s population is approximately 430,191. There are 153,111 citizens in the 1-14 age category, but only those in that group who are 12-years-old and older have been eligible for vaccination. Those not able to get the jab will not be affected by the new measures
According to the data from SIB, around 277,080 persons are between the ages of 15-84 in Belize. Considering the recent vaccination numbers, it is estimated that 102,102 persons in Belize are unvaccinated. A portion of that population would have been recommended not to take the vaccine by their healthcare provider.
This means that, with this new restriction, almost 100,000 persons will be, in effect, coerced to get the jab or be subjected to constant costly nasal testing to engage in public interaction.
Minister Chebat said that the purpose of this measure is to safeguard the wider public.
“If we don’t take some major steps as a country, we are gonna be facing a major economic crisis, and so we are trying to avert a situation where we will have to go in a lockdown and there will be a loss for everybody in the country,” Minister Chebat said. He added that at this point, vaccinations are the only thing that can get Belize out of the situation we are in as a country. Notably, the government has since shifted from the goal of herd immunity and has opted to push forward a rigorous vaccination campaign.
Minister Chebat said that, notwithstanding the current regulation which allows tourists to enter the country unvaccinated, those tourists, along with elected officials and all other citizens, will be subject to the new regulation.
“The law applies equally to everyone. Again, the objective here is to try to get as many of our citizens vaccinated as possible.” Minister Chebat said.
The Ministry has also announced that they are planning to meet stakeholders within the coming months as a part of consultation before the rollout of this measure.
A press release issued by the Health Ministry on the evening after Minister Chebat’s announcement states, “The ministry will be hosting consultations with stakeholders and the public. The consultations will provide further explanations on the implementation of the new measures, which will require proof of vaccination to enter public buildings. Dates for the consultations will be announced in the coming weeks. “
On Thursday, President Joe Biden also announced enhanced measures in the United States of America, compelling employers with a workforce of over 100 persons to ensure full vaccination among their staff. These vaccine mandates are being met with opposition from a large number of the American people.
Of note, some citizens of Belize are planning to participate in a demonstration against what they perceive as vaccination mandates being implemented through these new measures. The rally, which is being organized by the Worldwide Demonstration, under the theme “Together, we are free,” is set to take place on September 18 at the Battlefield Park. A hashtag #WewillALLbethere is annexed to the announcement, suggestive of a mass gathering, which at this time is still prohibited by the Covid-19 regulations.