BELIZE CITY, Thurs. June 25, 2020– The Belizean economy (and government’s finances in particular) has been hemorrhaging due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consequent halt of global tourism for the last few months. COVID-19 has infected almost 10 million persons worldwide and spikes are being reported in over twenty North American states and in Central and South America, and it is against that background that the Government of Belize has been contemplating and planning the reopening of the country’s tourism industry.
This morning, Prime Minister Dean O. Barrow, flanked by officials which included Director of the Belize Tourism Board, Karen Bevans; Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero; CEO in the Ministry of Human Development and Social Transformation, Judith Alpuche; Chief Technology Officer in the Office of the Prime Minister, Michael Singh; and the CEO in the Ministry of Health, Dr. George Gough, announced the scheduled re-opening of the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA), which is set to take place on August 15, 2020.
Barrow said that the decision to reopen the PGIA has not been an easy one, because in our region, cases of the novel coronavirus continue to surge, and in the US, our greatest source market for tourism, the number of states experiencing substantial jumps in the number of coronavirus infections is alarming, particularly in the state of Florida, which seems likely to become the new American epicenter of COVID-19 cases.
Barrow said that Florida and Texas, which are two of the states from which there are direct flights to Belize, have been seeing a pronounced resurgence in coronavirus cases, and according to the experts, there is no end to the sea of coronavirus troubles.
“So we are fixed on our August 15 date; any further delay will likely gain us nothing from a safety standpoint”, Barrow said.
Barrow said that the centerpiece of the reopening of the PGIA would be the testing of all persons coming through the airport.
“Presently, there is no date in sight for the reopening of our land borders”, the Prime Minister added.
In her presentation, Alpuche said that we have gone through a phased closing down of the country and now we are going through a phased reopening.
“The guiding principle has been protection. How can we keep people safe?” Alpuche said. “There is no 100 percent guarantee. The science is just not there,” she remarked.
Alpuche also noted that there is no vaccine yet against the coronavirus. She admitted that there will be cases, but that the objective is to keep people safe.
Karen Bevans said that the plan to reopen the tourism industry has consisted of a phased approach which began with the opening of the local tourism industry on May 15, and was closely followed by the repatriation of Belizean cruise ship employees.
Phase two started in June with the arrangement of chartered flights for the repatriation of Belizeans. Phase three begins on August 15 with the opening of the PGIA and the start of leisure travel with some limitations, she said.
Bevans went on to explain at length the pre-travel arrangements for all passengers traveling to Belize, saying that all luggage will be sanitized after being removed from the plane. She also explained that, to minimize contact between customs officers and passengers, passengers will remove their luggage from the carousels and place them in the new luggage scanners.
In addition to the health and safety measures now being implemented for arriving passengers, high standards of cleanliness will be maintained throughout the airport. There will also be the installing of sanitization stations throughout the airport to promote proper hygiene and cleanliness, Bevans stated.
Bevans said that the wearing of masks will be mandatory through the entire airport.
Dr. Manzanero’s presentation was based on the scientific areas of testing, which, he said, is still an evolving process. He said that they have been in daily contact with Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, which are sharing their opening experiences with Belize.
Manzanero said that they are just in the process of testing a PCR test kit that was donated by Taiwan. “For people who do not arrive with a PCR test, we will do rapid tests. Two positive tests are considered a positive test,” he said.
Mike Singh said that technology has been a part of our response from the beginning of the pandemic.
Singh explained that the electronic processing of the applications for COVID-19 unemployment relief was a part of the response.
The electronic tracking of visitors should begin from the time they are planning their trip to Belize, Singh explained, adding that we will start interacting with the visitors from the time they download the Health app, and we will be able to upload their test results before they arrive in Belize.
Singh said that once the PGIA is opened, there will be positive cases, but the overall safety of the population will depend on how we manage those cases, and that will keep our numbers low.
So far, three airlines have committed to servicing the Belize destination — American, Delta and United.
(A complete report of the PM’s virtual press conference will be in the Tuesday edition of the newspaper.)