For some time now our authorities have been hopeful that on July 1, we would be able to reopen our doors to international flights bringing in US tourists, and we were told that the best chance for us realizing that hope was the development of a rapid test for the COVID-19 virus.
There being no satisfactory rapid test yet available, we, still hopeful about reopening on July 1, had informed the world that we would welcome visitors if they were certified free of COVID-19 by means of the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. At his press conference on Friday last, however, the Prime Minister informed the nation that the IATA (International Air Transport Association) rejected that testing requirement, thus the hoped for July 1st opening could not be confirmed.
This development is a blow to our tourism industry and country; however, each day the thousands of scientists working on an effective rapid test for COVID-19 are getting closer, so it is not improbable that come July 1, 2020, there will be international flights, with tourists, landing at the PGIA.
Some countries in the Caribbean are on course to reopen this month, namely the U.S. Virgin Islands, St. Lucia, Aruba and Grenada, and we were expected to follow; however, our authorities have decided that as things stand at this moment, the reward isn’t worth the risk.
We believe the authorities are well-advised to keep the present course. Things are rough in Belize, very rough, but we can’t “force ripe” tourism. Even if tourists are lined up in the hundreds of thousands at this time, all eager to get to Belize to enjoy our sun, sea, sand, and culture, we have to step prudently.
What happens if that effective rapid test that seems to be oh so close is developed a month after July 1, but we in our haste to open are forced into another state of emergency, and lockdown, to arrest an explosion of COVID-19 cases in the dreaded second wave? At this time the best thing for Belize is to remain COVID-19 free.
However, if things don’t break our way soon, if there is no satisfactory rapid test in the next few months, we might have to give in. Fortunately we do have some aces. We are blessed that two of our top three destinations are islands —San Pedro and Caye Caulker, and the third is a peninsula, Placencia. We are also blessed that many of our other destinations are far off the beaten path.
We are in a war for survival, and we can exploit those advantages. Those destinations that aren’t or can’t be isolated would have to, as they say, grin and bear it while the fortunate ones make a dollar for themselves and for the country.
While those in our tourism industry must have patience, and wait just a while longer, our government must make greater effort to take care of the basic needs of our people who have been made destitute by the pandemic. There are many people who need help, now.
Face masks are about reducing exposure
It is okay for us to tell the world that at this time there are zero cases of COVID-19 in our country, but we should stay away from telling anyone how brilliant our efforts were, when we, a country with about 400,000 inhabitants and a population density of 37 persons per square mile, had 18 cases and 2 deaths, while Vietnam, a country of 97 million persons and a population density of 672 per square mile, thus far has had 328 cases, and ZERO deaths. We should be grateful. They can boast.
Vietnam, and Japan, have both had excellent control of COVID-19, and one of the safety measures common to both is the use of face masks. Vietnam is not as financially wealthy as Japan, and this is probably why the masks the Vietnamese wear are cheap disposables or made of cloth. Cheap disposable and cloth masks are not as effective as surgical masks at keeping out viruses, but they significantly reduce the quantity of droplets we expel when we talk, shout, cough, or sneeze.
Some argue that since tests have shown us to be COVID-19-free for some weeks now, we could go back to interacting as we did before the State of Emergency. All the experts say that it would be a terrible mistake to let down our guard.
The Vietnamese believe they were successful in containing COVID-19 because of their efforts to trace both direct and indirect contacts of infected people. They found that up to 43% of the people who had the virus were asymptomatic. If they had not quarantined those people they would be telling a different story, a very painful one, today.
It’s hot in Belize, especially at this time of year, and that makes it a little uncomfortable to wear face masks. However, face masks are proven to help prevent the spread of communicable diseases, and it is the law in Belize to wear one. We should all wear face masks when we are in public places, but maybe in some cases the law should only call for covering the mouth.
If we didn’t know before, we know now that when we speak to our friends and neighbors we expel droplets. The larger droplets are easy to see and the smaller droplets can be seen when we magnify a picture taken of us when we’re talking or coughing. The more we live, the more we learn, and having learned that we’re all spewing droplets when we open our mouths, even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic we should want the person speaking to us to cover their mouths, if they are nearby.
On the matter of masks covering the mouth and nose, some complain that they have breathing difficulties when the mask covers their nose. It must be acknowledged that there are persons who complain because they believe they must resist authority, but, in consideration of those with legitimate health issues, it’s reasonable to conclude that far more droplets are expelled from the mouth of a person who is talking/shouting/coughing, than are expelled from the nostrils of a person that is breathing normally.
For those who say they are experiencing such great difficulty with breathing through a face mask, maybe the authorities might relax the law, so that it requires that the mask be worn only over the mouth if we aren’t having the sniffles or sneezing, or are not in a crowded place. Maybe.