On August 21, 2020, I was one of the passengers on flight UA2422, which arrived at the Philip Goldson International Airport with approximately two hundred (200) passengers, who were a mixed group of Belizeans and non-Belizeans.
The process of temperature testing and distancing of arrivals was conducted effectively, including the review of documents that contain authorization to enter into the country from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Government of Belize.
However, there were surrounding circumstances that were a strain on women with babies, as well as the elderly passengers in our group who are suffering from diabetes, heart disease and anxiety from the COVID-19 crisis.
These people had to endure the heat, as they stood in the lines before getting the required temperature test. Elderly persons diagnosed as diabetics suffered anxiety within the entrance of the airport as we waited to be tested, since no seats were provided within the extended hallway of the airport where the temperature tests were required.
In addition, diabetics and elderly persons with heart disease and mothers with babies had no choice but to plead for chairs located near the hallway to soothe their anxiety and nervousness triggered by the length of time spent enduring the heat, as we all waited for our luggage to be assessed by customs personnel.
On the other hand, upon entering into the airport after our baggage was searched, we were seated in the airport, where we waited for our passports without the options of buying food or water for approximately two hours and forty-five minutes, after which we waited for the transportation to take arrivals to the different hotels.
The lack of provision of services for elderly persons and women with children was very unethical and was evidence of careless execution of the process that had been put in place to manage the international arrivals into the country. There was failure to ensure that mothers with children and the elderly were processed first so as to create a more comfortable situation for them during the temperature testing procedures.
The testing procedures, however, in the future, should include the temperature test, nasal swab test and the blood test for those directly entering the Belize International Airport, due to the fact that some medical reports do not consider temperature tests to be 100% accurate after exposure.
Therefore, it is suggested that those who arrive be subjected to the same testing procedure at the ending of the 6th to 7th day before the conclusion of the quarantine to avoid false negative results before their release from the 14-day quarantine.
As a result of the increased cases within Belize, repetitive testing must be considered, as the virus continues to multiply quickly, and new arrivals into the country, as well as the activity within the country’s transportation sectors, could amplify that.
However, false negative results may be caused by taking the sample incorrectly, or getting tested too soon after exposure. According to an article published by Harvard Medical School, the likelihood of receiving a false negative test result is 100% at the time of exposure.
Four days after exposure, the likelihood of getting a false negative result is 40% and after three days of symptoms, the likelihood of a false negative result is 20%. Healthcare professionals recommend getting tested about 7-8 days after exposure, or about 3-4 days after symptom onset, for the most accurate results (coronavirus blood test “antibody” vs swab and saliva test (PCR), Khang T. Vuong.MHA August 18th, 2020).
However, it has been studied and confirmed that Swab Tests (RT-PCR, or real time polymerase chain reaction) directly detect the presence of the virus genetic material (RNA). This, as well as diagnostic testing for COVID-19 by viral RNA or protein detection in respiratory specimens, supports decision making for clinical, infection control or public health management (European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control).
In addition to recommending temperature tests, nasal swab tests and blood testing at the entrance of the Belize International Airport due to the possibility of COVID-19 exposure during the process of transportation of individuals, I am also suggesting that repetitive testing be done by the Ministry of Health in Belize, due to insufficient spacing in the bus, in order to prevent another 700 plus COVID-19 cases from entering the country of Belize.
In regards to strengthening the processes through which permission is granted to certain persons to enter Belize, I recommend the implementation of the following procedures and policies: A passenger entering Belize must submit a “COVID-19 doctor paper” to officials at the entrance of the Belize International Airport, to reduce the possibility of infected persons entering Belize. Also copies of the passports and other travel documents of those arriving at the Belize International Airport should be printed/ archived (copied) during the COVID-19 pandemic period.
The information regarding all entries into the country during the COVID-19 pandemic should be documented and stored in a database system for the Ministry of Health to easily identify the total number of travelers during this crisis in order to assess the possibility of exposure to the virus.
An emphasis should also be placed on the space available for the formation of lines. Those arriving should receive instructions at the steps of the airplane about the regulations governing how lines are formed, so as to avoid disorganization from the very beginning to keep order. Pamphlets can be distributed while arrivals are being organized in lines for testing.
Educating those who arrive during the COVID-19 pandemic can create awareness, sending a more serious message that must be stressed. The wearing of masks should also be emphasized: There should be pictures at the entrance of the airport and within the pamphlets to make those who arrive more aware of the importance of the masks, and airport employees should walk around with masks and ensure masks are properly worn. Repeat the process of emphasizing the importance of wearing masks before those persons who arrive, enter the buses that will transport them to their respective hotels.
Also, the luggage of mothers with children and elderly persons, especially those diagnosed with diabetes, should be the first ones to be handled, searched and assessed to prevent circumstances that could cause those persons to suffer unconsciousness or dizziness whilst they are waiting for Customs personnel in the extended hallway. Additionally, the authorities should implement disinfection of luggage so as to prevent possible transfer of the virus during the process of packaging.
The capacity of the plane flight should also be considered, so as to plan an effective policy for organizing the total number of arrivals properly in the space.
The designation of particular buses for luggage and others for passengers is also not the best type of organization. It makes no sense for luggage alone to be placed in one bus while passengers are packed in crowded conditions in the other bus to be transported to different hotels.
The heat in the bus whilst waiting to be transported to our hotels was a burden for mothers with children and caused diagnosed diabetics increased anxiety.
The collection of $25.00 BZ should NOT be done within the bus, which contributes to uncomfortable spacing and heat and maximizes body contact within the bus.
Therefore, the bus fare should be collected at the entrance of the airport immediately after temperature tests have been conducted.
Belize is a developing country that requires innovative practices and policies to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 at the airport, in the airplanes, at bus stations and taxi stands and throughout the various transportation hubs in our country of Belize. Therefore, my purpose for writing this article about the risks of an inadequate strategy at the Belize International Airport is to present different suggestions that were mentioned during my communication with other persons who arrived and their family members, as we all waited for the buses to be properly organized.
The efforts for maximum professionalism within the country of Belize require funds/donations which at the moment, as the world faces this COVID-19 crisis, are very difficult to secure.
Nevertheless, we must not avoid excellent services and repetitive scientific testing that are necessary for the development of a data system with sufficient information to enforce adequate assessment and tracking of all those arriving within the country as part of Belize’s repatriation program.