BELIZE CITY, Tues. Apr. 7, 2020– Following the very unsettling news of Belize’s first recorded death due to COVID-19 on Sunday, April 5, and two more confirmed cases in the Cayo District, Prime Minister Dean Barrow issued an urgent message to the public live on Monday evening.
He began by addressing the allegations of negligence aimed at the Department of Health Services by the spouse of Hubert Pipersburgh, the fourth COVID-19 victim who passed away due to respiratory complications.
PM Barrow stated that the matter needs to be handled with sensitivity, and therefore, the National Oversight Committee would not incite a “quarrel” with the bereaved family by responding to the said allegations. He did, however, clarify that this does not mean that they accept the accusations, but that the matter will be addressed by the Director of Health Services (DHS) at an official press conference “in due course”.
Following the fourth confirmed case, two more cases (the sixth and seventh cases respectively) have emerged in the Cayo District, and one of those two infected persons had been in direct contact with Pipersburgh. This proves that there is now a spread of the virus through community transmission in the country and a greater amount of precaution needs to be employed.
As a result, the National Oversight Committee convened for several hours on Monday morning, in a meeting that stretched into the afternoon, and during that meeting various changes to the measures of the state of emergency were discussed. The first decision made was to place the entire Cayo District under quarantine. The committee has also opted to ramp up random testing in the district during this time, and residents of the district will only be allowed to leave home for the procurement of food, medication or financial services.
Grocery stores, fuel stations, banks and other lending institutions will only be allowed to operate from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, and bus operations to and from Cayo will cease immediately. As a result, GOB will now be providing transportation to and from work for essential workers (i.e. medical personnel, frontline public officers, etc.).
As for the rest of the country, there will also be changes affecting all essential services and approved businesses which will be included as an amendment to Statutory Instrument No. 46 of 2020. These changes include the following: (I) Construction and construction sites, both private and commercial, must cease operations immediately for the next fourteen days; (II) Bakeries and tortilla factories will now only operate from 8:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.; (III) Financial Institutions (including commercial banks, credit unions, money lending institutions, money transfer institutions, pawn shops) will now operate from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon; (IV) Markets that retail agricultural produce, fish and meat will now operate from 6:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; (V) Mechanic shops, garages and auto parts stores will now operate from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.; (VI) Hardware stores will now operate from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. for delivery services, without prejudice to reconsideration from the National Oversight Committee.
Prime Minister Barrow also addressed the concerns of the Nurse’s Association of Belize, which were stated in a press release that went public on Monday. The release touched on six areas that the association feels need immediate attention after a countrywide tour by the association of Belize’s health facilities on March 26.
These areas include the provision of full biohazard PPE’s, the establishment of proper areas of quarantine for exposed medical staff, allowances to medical staff, the replacement of outside tents for flu clinics with more secure buildings, the fitting of these tents with adequate ventilation/cooling systems, and provision of transportation for the nurses to and from medical sites.
The PM assured the association that he hears their concerns and has promised to address all those areas of concern.
Feature photo: Prime Minister Dean Barrow