Our authorities’ handling of the Covid-19 pandemic hasn’t exactly been clear sailing, neither on the health or the economic fronts. The missteps on the economic front could have, should have been avoided.
The blueprint we have followed to control Covid-19 has largely been dictated by the World Health Organization (WHO), but they haven’t come up with much to help a person who has become seriously ill because of the virus. That is understandable, because Covid-19 is a new disease.
More and more people are relying on age-old herbal remedies to survive this debilitating disease. The world’s top scientists are fully engaged in finding treatments and a cure, but so far the only chemical contribution from them is an old analgesic drug for headaches and fever called acetaminophen.
Two months after rushing to place ventilator tubes down people’s throats, doctors are realizing that age-old fundamental treatments for congested lungs, like chest percussion and placing patients on their stomachs, are effective therapy. Ventilators are now being used less eagerly in some hospitals.
Everyone is in full agreement about social distancing, and thorough disinfecting of ourselves and all surfaces that the virus could linger on. The evidence from some countries is that wearing face masks gives effective control of Covid-19 and other viruses that attack the respiratory system.
The authorities in Belize have not fully endorsed the use of face masks. This might have to do with the fact that face masks certified to block most viruses, for example surgical masks and N95 respirators, are hard to come by. There is a strong argument, however, that if we all wear some kind of face mask when we’re in public, though they are not of the best quality our exposure to the virus will be considerably reduced.
The country that has excelled in containing Covid-19 is Taiwan. Social distancing, self-quarantine, disinfecting surfaces that people come in contact with regularly, wearing face masks, and putting away social habits such as shaking hands and hugging are all part of their strategy to combat the virus.
Our authorities have dropped the ball a few times in this short period we have been fighting the disease. Surprisingly, we turned down valuable testing kits from South Korea because they reportedly weren’t compatible with our equipment and we lacked trained technicians. The programs to sustain persons and families that had lost their income in the formal or informal economy because of the world downturn brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic were woefully inadequate.
Our authorities apparently had no knowledge of the economic reality in this country when they designed their relief programs. When the state of emergency was declared at the beginning of April, forcing most businesses to shut down, the situation on the ground was already dire. For the first two weeks of April thousands of Belizeans did not have food security.
How come the authorities were so unaware of the reality on the ground? Did they not divorce our people from food production and turn them into waiters and tour guides? Did they feel that the thousands of Belizeans who barely earn the minimum wage were making enough to put aside substantial funds for a rainy day? The failure to deliver on the most essential need of human beings, food, is difficult to fathom.
We have to eat what we produce
Many Belizeans have been forwarding good ideas to keep up our country going at this time, and it is a wonder that the authorities haven’t adopted some of them to ease the pain the nation is going through because of the severe restrictions that have been put in place to contain Covid-19. Maybe the good ideas are so many the authorities have trouble sifting through them.
If Belize is to survive Covid-19 and thrive afterward, we will be eating more locally produced beef, pork, poultry, fish, eggs, vegetables, beans, rice, corn, cheese, jam, fruits, and bananas, and less imported food. Incidentally, there are implications here for the merchant class which has been ruling Belize politically since the late nineteenth century/early twentieth century.
In the agriculture sector, the present low price of fuel gives us a great opportunity to invest in drainage and irrigation canals, and farm roads, the first two to increase the productivity of land that we already have under cultivation, and the last to decrease the wear and tear on farm vehicles and damage to farm produce.
The government must pass on these low fuel prices to the productive sector, not only to develop land but also to mine sand & gravel and harvest lumber for the construction industry.
The cost of doing some kinds of businesses will be higher
Sometime in May, if all goes well, as we hope, the government will start removing the severe restrictions on movement in the country and Belizeans will once again set about the business of earning their living and building our country. Those who worked in the tourism sector will be seeking new avenues to earn their living because that industry will be down for some months to come, and those who earned their living in the blue collar businesses, and as food vendors, will be picking up where they left off when the country was placed under a state of emergency.
Many Belizeans will be going back to the same old jobs but they will be operating in a new normal, a new environment that will make doing business more costly. For some time, maybe for a long time, some of our practices during the state of emergency we will need to continue observing. Improved hygiene, social distancing – physical distancing as KREM WuB co-host David Almandarez calls it, wearing protective gear such as face masks and gloves, traveling on more spacious buses, will increase the cost of doing business.
Efforts will have to be made to make us feel confident about engaging/employing our servicemen and service providers. The authorities could start using the media to run infomercials to instill in electricians and plumbers and carpenters the practices they will need to observe to inspire trust when they go to work in people’s homes.
The experts believe that it is unlikely to get Covid-19 from food or food packaging, but fear will still be a damper on street-side sales of tacos, tamales, fry chicken, meat pie, confectioneries, fresh juice and sliced fruit. We need to have the confidence that our food vendors are operating at the highest standards. Infomercials developed by the health department that are directed to our food vendors will go a long way toward giving us the confidence to patronize their products.
Bishop Dorick Wright passes
One of the best known and liked church leaders in Belize, the Most Reverend Dorick McGowan Wright, the 8th Bishop of the Catholic Diocese in Belize, went on to his eternal reward earlier this week. He was 74. Born in 1945, he had one of the most heart wrenching experiences anyone could have, when he lost a brother, two sisters, and saw his mother drown, in Hurricane Hattie in 1961. The young Dorick Wright survived the raging storm by holding on to the branches of a coconut tree for endless hours.
Bishop Wright was a Holy Redeemer product, where he was an active altar boy in the church. He was ordained to the priesthood at Holy Redeemer Cathedral in 1975; in 2002 he became the Auxiliary to Bishop O.P. Martin; and in 2007 he became the Bishop of the Diocese. He retired from active duty because of ill-health in 2017, and was succeeded by Father Lawrence Nicasio, the present Bishop of the Diocese.
For decades this faithful soldier of Christ guided the youth, his gentle spirit soothed the hearts of the sick, his wise words counseled the nation, and on Sundays his fine baritone led his congregation. Rise in Glory, Bishop Dorick Wright. You will be remembered as a blessing to our nation. (some notes for this short tribute drawn from the book, Years of Grace)