Like most countries around the world, Belize has reported the presence of COVID-19. Unlike most countries, Belize has the lowest confirmed cases – seven, and only one death. The victim patient #4 that passed on April 5 was Hubert Pipersburgh economic advisor to Belize City Mayor Bernie Wagner. Pipesburgh had asthma as an underlying condition.
Five of Belize’s COVID-19 these cases were imported from the United States of America starting in February. Two are believed to be community transmission from patient #4. Belize has now formally shut down all borders to all visitors, including Belizeans trying to flee the pandemic in North America and elsewhere.
The infection rate is so low that hundreds of people from countries where the pandemic has wrought havoc, have been trying to flee to Belize as a place of refuge. But the authorities have shut down air, land and sea borders.
Belize’s subtropical climate and very sparse population is believed by local medical authorities to be a natural repellent to COVID-19. Belize is the most sparsely populated nation in the Western Hemisphere. Its land mass is larger than El Salvador. But it has a very small population of only 390,000. More than half of the people live in rural areas. About one-fourth live in Belize City, the principal port, commercial centre, and former capital. About 80% of the population are Christian. The country has in recent years earned a reputation among the expat community as a haven for survivalists and preppers.
The country’s quick quarantine and lock down, reaction emulating that of China and Taiwan is believed to have made it difficult for the virus to gain any traction in this tropical paradise.
The authorities were quick to place Ambergris Caye, home of Patient Zero (a woman who had arrived in Belize from California), under quarantine on 25 March 2020. All entry and exits points were sealed.
Thereafter, a second case was detected on Ambergris Caye, this was the mother of Patient Zero.
On 30 March 2020, a third case of COVID-19 was detected in Belize. This in Belize City, the largest mainland population center. This case courtesy of a man that imported the virus via the Big Apple – New York City.
Government’s COVID-19 Oversight Committee thereafter declared a national state of emergency on 3 April 2020 and put in place a curfew from 8 pm to 5 am. A Belize COVID-19 website has been established to provide daily updates and guidance for residents and visitors.
Belize’s 10th COVID-19 case was confirmed on 9 April 2020. The patient passed away on 10 April 2020.
As of 25 April 2020, Belize appears to have overcome the COVID-19 scare. The State Of Emergency, closure of all borders, nation-wide curfew and lock-down has paid dividends. Only 18 cases have been identified and only two deaths reported. Of the 18 cases identified, 5 have recovered. This figure has remained firm from since mid April. The government has today issued notice that it will gradually start to ease quarantine restrictions. Certain government offices and business establishments will be allowed to re-open as of Sunday 26 April. Essential workers will be allowed to move on mass transport but only with face masks and strict sanitation protocols for buses, water taxis and internal air travel. School closure and curfew between 8pm and 5am remain in effect. The Ministry of Health is acquiring more test kits to increase random testing and surveillance of the population for COVID-19. Borders and international air travel remain closed. No relaxation of these rules is expected anytime soon, especially travel from COVID-19 hot spots such as North America, Latin America, Asia, Europe and Africa.
As of 1 May 220, there are no new confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Belize, making it 19 days since a positive sample was taken.
And the national state of emergency responding to COVID enters a new phase. In a two hour press conference Thursday morning, the Prime Minister characterised it as “substantial easing” of the measures which we have all been living with for much of the past month.
Click the following link for a copy of the new Statutory Instrument No. 65 of 2020, the Belize Constitution (Emergency Powers) Regulations, 2020 now in force. Businesses now allowed to operate include laundromats (pick up and delivery only) and insurance companies.
On 8 May 2020 Prime Minister Barrow held a press conference to update the nation on COVID-19 and other national issues.
The PM’s most important announcement was the Belize government is looking to re-open the country to international tourism in July 2020. While the decision will rest with the national COVID-19 Oversight Committee and the Cabinet, he stated that unlike some of Belize’s allies, such as Taiwan, his personal view is not to await the development of a vaccine. He suggested that the availability of an effective rapid COVID-19 test will determine how early Belize can reopen its borders:
“It is not a fail-safe, but we clearly, as always, have to juggle saving lives with safeguarding the economy. A rapid test would permit us to let in all tourists that test negative upon arrival. The fact that one or two could nevertheless thereafter still contract the virus is, in my view, an acceptable risk. So it is that reliable rapid test that would be the best trigger for the much longed for tourism reopening.”
The PM detailed some of the economic challenges Belize’s economy is facing due to the pandemic, and how his government is handling issues such as demands from the public service union and unemployment.
Belize Prime Ministers Barrow Gives July As Tentative Date For Re-opening Belize International Airport For Tourism Season
“We are contemplating special and differential treatment for the PGIA, with the hope that general entry into Belize by air can begin even before entry by land and sea. Thus a July 1 re-start for international flights, is the fervent hope of us all. Indeed, it has been the trigger for contingency tourism planning that is now well advanced. Unfortunately, however, we must concede the distinct possibility of a push back. Unless, for instance, either a rapid test is available for us to screen visitors or they can produce a satisfactory passport immunity certificate, it is difficult to see how we could proceed.”
Meanwhile Belize’s largest international investor Lord Michael Ashcroft who has apparently relocated to Belize until the next General Elections expected in November 2020 or latest February 2021, on 14 May 2020 in a local television interview, gave his insights into Belize’s current crashed economy and the way forward:
“The difficulty is what we do from this point out. For example tourism in this country is about forty percent of our GDP. Yesterday Standard & Poors issued a report of which of one hundred and twenty-two nations were in the most trouble where tourism was concerned. Belize was number three. And number 1 was Aruba. And yesterday Aruba announced that they were going to open up in the second half of next month subject to certain limitations. The world health organisation said the virus may never go away so we now have the balance between medical health and the medical health of the nation. When you say stop a second wave in Belize, if you listen to strict medical advice and you listen to everything. You won’t open your borders until another year or so. But the consequence of that will be a nation that becomes virtually bankrupt. Devaluation will start to rise as the necessary issue. The foreign currency of the country dries up. So the more that you try to protect the health side. There is a residual risk and as you try to act to even stop a residual risk then your economy is crashing and at that point the politicians have to make a decision and take that risk where the economic health of the country is the major factor and have to accept that there may well be a residual risk that the country has to take in order to get its economy back.”
RELAXATION OF STATE OF EMERGENCY MEASURES ANNOUNCED 29 May 2020
The following changes to the State of Emergency Regulations are to become effective by way of a new Statutory Instrument which is to come effective midnight on Sunday:
- Curfew will change only on Friday and Saturdays to 9pm to 5am all other days will remain 8pm to 5am as is currently in place.
- The children curfew will remain in place however children will be on the streets between 6pm to 9pm on weekend while being in the company of a parent or an adult.
- The limitations on the amount people in a specific location will be now be increased to 40 people ( PROVIDED THAT THERE IS ENOUGH SPACE FOR THE 6FT SOCIAL DISTANCE REQUIREMENTS)
- Street-side vendors will be allowed operate.
- Casinos (except for those at the borders) will be allowed to reopen, however no alcoholic beverages or cigarettes will be consumed on the premises.
- Gyms and non-contact sports will now be able to be conducted thus playgrounds will be opened to the public.
- A plan is to be worked out for the management or conduct of graduation ceremonies.
- Boledo and Lottery will now be sold.
Click the following to view or download a copy of Statutory Instrument No. 78 of 2020, the Belize Constitution (Emergency Powers) Regulations, 2020, that came into force on 1 June 2020.
Click the following to view or download a Summary of Statutory Instrument 78 of 2020 Belize Constitution.
Belize Further Eases COVID-19 Quarantine Restrictions
GOVERNMENT OF BELIZE ANNOUNCES FURTHER EASE COVID-19 QUARANTINE RESTRICTIONS
Cabinet has supported recommendations resulting from a National Oversight Committee meeting held on Monday, 8 June, which will now see a further relaxation of the lock-down restrictions put in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Though there has been no sign of community transmission of COVID-19 for over 50 days, the Government continues to take a phased and balanced approach to reopening. The new relaxation measures will allow more people to return to work and more businesses to open.
The number of persons allowed for social gatherings will increase from 40 to 100. Private parties, weddings, funerals, receptions, meetings of fraternal societies, social clubs or civic associations or organizations can be held following social distancing protocols.
Curfew hours have been shortened to 10:00 p.m. to 4:59 a.m. Sundays to Thursdays and midnight to 4:59 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Prohibitions on the use of parks and playgrounds will be lifted and recreational contact sports such as volleyball, basketball, and football will be allowed. Gymnasiums and spas will be allowed to open.
The new statutory instrument reflecting these new measures are expected to come into force effective Friday, June 12, 2020. Click Here To View Or Download SI 85 of 2020 Belize Constitution Emergency Powers Regulations.
The state of emergency will expire on June 30, 2020 and is not expected to be extended.
Belize Confirms New COVID-19 Case – #21 – But Is Still Winning
COVID Case #21 Came From Houston With a Negative Rapid Test
Mon, June 15, 2020 – Belize now has 21 confirmed cases of COVID 19, after patient 21 appeared in tests done on Saturday night. He is a middle aged male who arrived on a flight from Houston on Friday – and is in quarantine at the Princess Casino Hotel in Belize City.
He is not showing any symptoms – but, interestingly, arrived with a negative result from a rapid tests he had done in Houston. The PCR test done in Belize, proved that to be a false negative.
Director of Health Services, Dr Marvin Manzanero told us more about patient 21, and the recovered patient 19 via zoom video conference:
Dr. Marvin Manzanero – Director of Health Services – “It’s not really anything out of the book. The fact that you are picking them up on arrival I think a plus. This patient #21 I must say had a rapid test when he came in. He and 2 other persons arrived on that flight came in with rapid test done in the Houston area, but that’s also something we are looking at. The rapid test when they came in were negative. Patient #19 already has one negative sample processed on Friday, so he is going to be swabbed today. If he is negative in the samples that will be run tomorrow, then he would have recovered. These are not going to be your second wave when you look at it at the standpoint. Of course they rack up numbers and that’s good. It allows you to look at your process, not only in terms of numbers, but it also validates your surveillance mechanism, it validates your repatriation process from the health standpoint whether you are doing things right and fixing as you go along. We are getting a lot of feedback in people saying how can you be so contented that you are picking up cases, but that’s the value of having an active surveillance system, a mechanism that works.”
Belize’s robust protocols have gained this country positive attention as one of the countries that is beating COVID-19. The COVID-19 tracking website Endcoronavirus.org has Belize as one of the 46 countries that is smashing COVID-19. Notably, only two countries on the American mainland, Belize and Uruguay made the list of winners. Notably, Latin America currently accounts for 46% of all COVID-19 deaths daily.
State of Emergency Lifted 1 July 2020
July first 2020 life returned close to normal as it has been since March. No state of emergency, no curfew, and all businesses, bars and nightclubs open. Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte explained on television’s Ask The Experts on 29 June 2020:
Michael Peyrefitte, Attorney General
“The government has decided that we have reached the point where we no longer have to institute a state of emergency. We no longer need a curfew, so come midnight June 30th we are not under a state of emergency anymore. We are under rules and regulations govern by the quarantine act signed by the minister of health. There will be no more curfew, so we are free to roam as we want to roam in terms of time, but remember I want to make this very clear there will be no more curfew, but under the law even before Covid-19 and even up to now you must be moving with a purpose. So you cannot be wondering about the place aimlessly at 1am in the morning simply because there is no curfew.
“There are still on the books public morale laws which state that if you are wandering without a purpose at one in the morning you can be arrested and charged for that. We will not be come July 1st a lawless country. That will not happen. Some people believe its wild west come July 1st, but will not be the case. There are certain laws we didn’t use to enforce before, but we will enforce them now, because then we are still not out of the woods.”
This article will be frequently updated to include new cases and developments.