Yesterday, the Ministry of Health, along with immigration officers and representatives from PAHO, held their first press conference on the novel Coronavirus or “COVID-19.” The virus has affected various industries around the world particularly tourism. In Belize, a travel ban has been put in place for persons who had been in China 14 days prior to their arrival in Belize. This ban is also being applied to Belizeans coming home. According to the surveillance officer at the Ministry of Health, Lorna Perez, those persons are closely monitored; this includes 15 persons who are currently under surveillance.
Lorna Perez, Surveillance Officer, Ministry of Health: “They are Belizeans coming back home. We have public officers coming home from duty leave, we have people who were on vacation, you have different people traveling back and definitely if there is a person who resides in Belize we get that information and the follow up we do is basically just to monitor their health status. So for example yesterday we did have a Belizean family coming in, we are following up just to ensure that they are okay because you know how these negative communications affect them as a family and as a person, they work, they go to school and so as a Ministry of Health we really have to try to be as supportive as possible with persons who are undergoing this level of scrutiny I would say. No matter how hard you try to have that privacy I mean the word always gets out and so we have to try to do our best to have people be reassured that we’re just trying to ensure that they and their families are safe. So presently we have been following with this family, now it will be like fifteen persons. So right now it will be twelve because today would be the last day for the twelve persons ahead who have completed their fourteen day surveillance, they are doing well so we won’t keep monitoring them. We always because of the unknown we still maintain communication, they have our numbers that they can communicate with us in the event that they start with anything or they have any questions so that is maintained. If it’s a tourist coming in we follow them until they leave and once they leave that’s it but because of the measures that are being put in other countries then most of the persons that are reaching probably already passed the fourteen days of interest that we are looking at.”
At the press conference, the situation at the PGIA last past weekend where 12 Chinese Nationals were quarantined was discussed. They were eventually turned back, which had Belizeans believing that it was because they were infected with COVID-19. According to the representative from the Border Management and Immigration Services, this was due to immigration issues. Director of Health Services, Dr Marvin Manzanero also stated that long-term quarantine areas will have to be looked at further.
Horace Guzman, Assistant, Border Managment and Immigration Services: “They were returned back because they provided false information, untrue information to the immigration officers upon being questioned. That is an offense and it’s grounds for refusal so we refused them based on those grounds that they provided wrong information to us through their interpreter. We insisted that those persons had to return back to Miami from where they came and that instruction was complied with. They stayed at the airport, blankets and other amenities were provided to them for them to stay, they actually stayed at the old VIP lounge at the airport.”
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “In the case for example of the airport we had swabbed, once a result comes back negative that’s the all clear, if it comes back positive then I guess the question is what happens. Well I mean I know at Karl Huesner we are trying to identify an isolation unit I think that has been identified for four beds. Each facility at the regional level would have to have their own isolation unit because again if you have just the regular flu symptoms all you’re going to try to do is prevent further infection. Of course if the person gets progressively ill that patient will follow the same pattern as any other influenza virus which means if they get progressively ill, require ventilation then they have to come to Karl Heusner as you would with any other person having the flu. We are looking now trying to think long term of having that facility at the BDF camp where you will have access to healthcare staff as an initial isolation. Of course if they require further medical care that has to go on to Karl Heusner. There is an isolation area that they would use, I think the question is what happens if you continue to have more and more cases ? That becomes a trick part because then your flow of patients will have to change. The isolation unit that is currently being set up is one that has easier access to the outside where you don’t have to be walking patients throughout the hospital setting. So the flow of patients is what will have to change in that regard.”
As it relates to cruise ships, Dr Manzanero stated that they have their own screening and quarantine process. If a person is discovered to have any illness onboard, they are held in isolation and are not allowed off of the ship.