The discovery of four COVID-19 cases since the state of emergency was called on April 1, and the subsequent death of one of those infected persons, is a major setback. The authorities were hopeful that the measures they had put in place had stopped the disease in its tracks, but they were not surprised when these new cases were discovered.
Fighting a virus is no easy thing. It takes only one person to be missed when health personnel are doing the mapping of contacts of an individual who is infected with the disease, or one infected person entering the country and not following the disease prevention measures, for the disease to spread. The authorities say they don’t know the source of two of the cases in the Cayo District, so the entire district has been placed under quarantine for at least 14 days.
Belize’s authorities have directed the path we should follow to protect precious life from the ravages of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. They have set out new practices we must adopt – keeping our hands clean and disinfected, social distancing, self-isolation, and so forth —to protect ourselves, protect others, protect the nation. The Amandala unreservedly endorses the inclusion of the use of respirators (covering the nose and the mouth when in public) in these safety measures. These practices will, if we ALL adopt them, defeat the disease.
We must defeat the disease as quickly as possible, so that our people can start rebuilding their lives. The longer we take to defeat the disease, the longer we will have to live under these harsh restrictions, and the harder it will be to pick up the pieces.
A chain being only as strong as its weakest link, the effort has to be made by ALL of us, and to ensure that ALL of us stay on the same page the authorities must make a special effort to see that every family and individual in this country has the basic necessities, so that no one has to break ranks in order to get a meal, or get medicine for a sick member of their family.
It is terrible what has befallen us, but no amount of wishing can change what is. We’re in this boat together, and if we will make it across to safety it will be because we all paddled in the same direction. We must follow all the recommendations of our authorities, and fall on our knees in prayer. Our best efforts might not take us to a quick victory over COVID-19, but we have to try.
We’re in this battle together
We are just one week into the state of emergency, and already the strain is heavy on the majority of our people. The authorities must do more to ensure that those who have the most need are taken care of. The path Belize chose to contain the virus calls for a near complete shutdown, and while the economic pain to all is major, our small entrepreneurs and the irregularly employed who made their living by means of odd jobs are suffering the most.
The battle for our economic future
Dawn will break, it always has, and while we try to protect ourselves today, we must also prepare for tomorrow. None of us is happy about these days and too many of us weren’t happy about what was the state of affairs in the days before COVID-19. We must prepare now to build a better tomorrow in our precious country, a tomorrow that will see us create more wealth and ensure a better distribution of it so that every Belizean has a better standard of life.
Our political leaders shouldn’t be the sole problem solvers or architects of our path forward. The leaders of business organizations, our brilliant but unelectable leaders of the third parties (because of our First Past the Post System), our brilliant unaffiliated minds like David Gibson, Bill Lindo, and Brian Plummer, must join efforts to put forward a plan for a brighter future, and we must insist that their ideas be respected.
Our economy had been slipping for many months, but it really started tanking at a fast rate over a month ago when the world realized that there was something really wrong, that if something miraculous didn’t happen the virus called COVID-19 could cripple the world’s economy. The first industry to be hit was travel and tourism, and Belize took it on the chin, because almost 50% of our economy is dependent on tourists coming to our country.
Belize is a spectacular country, so visitors will return after COVID-19 is conquered. One big question for Belizeans who made their living in the tourism industry is how they will survive until the industry gets back on its feet, and another big question is what kind of tourism product our country will promote.
Early on, Belize promoted environmentally friendly tourism, and that was when we were Mother Nature’s Best Kept Secret. Everyone knows about Belize now. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, about a million tourists came each year, on cruise ships for a quick visit, and on airplanes to stay at hotels across the country. The government made good money off taxes, but Belizeans lost ownership of the industry. Belizeans are not anti-foreigners, but they are demanding a more respectable share.
Sugar, citrus, bananas and marine products dominate Belize’s domestic exports, the last three of them being commodities in high demand. Our biggest export earner is sugar, but that took a big hit when preferential markets were lost. Will we continue clearing land to plant more sugarcane, or will we seek to maximize production on land that is already under cultivation? Will we continue producing only raw sugar for export, or will we seek to value-add to make the industry more viable? Will we invest more in other crops, for example coco yam, papaya, plantain, soursop, and custard apple?
Will we process more of our farm produce so that we become less dependent on foreign goods? What is the best strategy to ensure that BTL pays off its massive debt? These, and other questions, must be addressed now.
Reduced opening hours means more congestion
The decision to reduce the opening hours of some important establishments is well-intentioned, but it might not get the desired result, which is to reduce the exposure of Belizeans to each other —a measure called social distancing. The problem with reducing the opening hours at the markets, shops, banks, and pharmacies is that it will lead to the same amount of people visiting the establishments in a shorter period of time.
It might be better to have expanded opening hours, and have the establishments take on additional employees to speed up transactions with customers, maybe at the cost (or with the assistance) of government. These employees/attendants could work shifts, morning and afternoon, so that they are not overworked or overexposed.
We aren’t sure what the best solution is, but a good start might be to rotate visits to establishments by groups. For example, persons whose last names fall between A and F should go to the market between 6:00 and 9:00 in the morning, those between G and L between 9:00 in the morning and noon, those between M and R between noon and 3:00 in the afternoon, and those between the letters S and Z between 3:00 in the afternoon and 6:00 in the evening.
The rotation should allow for a person to visit all four – the market, the shop, the pharmacy, and the bank —on a single day.