Just over sixty days ago Prime Minister Dean Barrow announced that the Government was seeking to establish a quarantine facility out west. This move would lower the country’s expenses and would also prevent those under quarantine from escaping. For context, here is the Prime Minister’s explanation on July 29.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “We are trying to centralize a sort of quarantine facility. We’re using premises not too far from the capital city of Belmopan, some kind landowner is donating the space to us for as long as the program lasts we have to put some new temporary buildings there and we have to refurbish the buildings but it would mean that instead of the security forces that have to guard the facilities being spread out all over the country that centralization will lead to some reduction in the cost to government. We’ll have to upfront monies but at the end of the day when we look at it over a let’s say six month period and this thing is surely going to be with us for even longer than that we end up spending less. If we do the centralization we also make the guarding of those in quarantine easier so that’s another arrow in our quiver, another string to our bow.”
Fast forward today and the Douglas D’Silva camp out at the Mountain Pine Ridge is the new central quarantine facility. Love News got an exclusive tour of the area. Here is Reporter Courtney Menzies with that story.
I’m currently here at the Douglas D’Silva quarantine center in the Cayo district which is now the centralized quarantine center in Belize. This means that all other facilities across the country will be closed and the persons staying there will be moved here for their two weeks in quarantine. This makes it easier on the BDF soldiers whose resources were previously spread thin. Today Love News got an exclusive tour of the facilities and we’ll bring you the conditions of the thirty eight detainees currently staying here.
Captain Carlos Blanco, Belize Defence Force: “When a detainee arrives to the facility the first thing we do is we process him. We gather as much information we have about him, medical condition, his status especially and then whatever contact number we could get from him, address and things like that.”
As Captain Carlos Blanco explained the detainees are given basic supplies such as a pair of slippers, soap, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, masks and their food tray that they will use for the duration of their stay. The men and women are also separated based on COVID-19 status and gender.
Captain Carlos Blanco, Belize Defence Force: “We have put emphasis on the segregation so when we process them we know their status and when the results are pending then we have a separate location for them. When the result is positive then we have separate accommodations for them. The females and males are completely separate as you have seen on the tour and also within the female facilities we have a separation between positive and negative.”
Having a centralized quarantine facility takes the weight off the Belize Defence Force soldiers who are responsible for guarding the detainees as explained by Lt.Col. Anthony Velasquez.
Lt.Col. Anthony Velasquez, Belize Defence Force: “We conserve on manpower which is very limited. We still have our regular duties to patrol the border and to assist the police from time to time and so it conserves manpower for us so we centralize our manpower here. We also bring in these detainees from all over the country and also it’s more efficient financially and administratively to have all these detainees here. Feeding is centralized, administration is centralized, medical attention is centralized. Eventually we’ll have testing centralized in San Ignacio and also court centralized in San Ignacio.
Captain Carlos Blanco, Belize Defence Force: “Just like how the facility has been centralized the resources have been pooled to ensure that everything is looked after. You know when it comes to manpower the soldiers are centralized here we don’t have a lot of vehicle movements, logistical issues that would affect the force.”
Another benefit of this facility is that the possibility of having escapees is significantly lowered.
Lt.Col. Anthony Velasquez, Belize Defence Force: “The location itself here at Douglas D’Silva is very isolated so the chance of anyone wanting to escape is very slim because we are several miles away from the nearest populated urban area. If you take a look around you might see soldiers acting as security. First of all we have live rounds, also we have shotguns with anti riot rounds so as not to injure anyone if the need arises. We have bunkers as well situated around the camp where soldiers are stationed on a twenty four hour basis.”
The facility can currently hold 100 detainees but according to Lt.Col Vasquez it can be expanded if need be. Since all other detainees will be held there the BDF has also acquired specialized vans.
Lt.Col. Anthony Velasquez, Belize Defence Force: “This camp here as you see it right now was renovated in less than two weeks. A fair amount of money and effort was spent to get this place up to the standard that it is right now. As it is presently we still have extra buildings to turn into quarantine areas so we’re not at our capacity none at all here at this spot. If we get more detainees we have the capacity to fill more than hundred if need be and should it get really worse and out of hand I’m sure that we have the slabs here where quick buildings can be erected in a short matter of time. At present we are closing down the centers throughout the country so in Dangriga and PG that has been closed, the one in Corozal was closed a long time ago and the one in Orange Walk will be closed today actually today we’re transporting two people from the one in Orange Walk to here. The Victor Galvez stadium in San Ignacio will still remain open and it will be used as a staging area where those captured as border jumpers or contrabandistas will be taken to the Victor Galvez Stadium and processed there, they will be tested for COVID there and after their first or second test then they will be taken here to be quarantined for the remainder of their time. We have two minivans, two minivans with capacity to seat approximately twelve passengers and the minivans are compartmentalized so the driver and the passenger up front are completely separated from the detainees at the back.”
Despite the provisions that the detainees have they are still unhappy with the accommodations. As our news team walked through the compound the persons demanded to speak to the media and are also demanding to speak with the Ministry of Health. According to Captain Blanco some detainees are more difficult to handle than others, especially some of the twenty seven deportees that arrived into the country last Friday.
Captain Carlos Blanco, Belize Defence Force: “Obviously because they have been expecting something different. The facility provides everything for them so the assurance that they would like to have is that after the fourteen days then they would be processed at a different location but overall I have seen they are very calm, they get their three meals, they get time to do extracurricular activities, they do board games they have electricity at night the temperature is good so personally they have been good here.”
There are about forty to forty five BDF personnel stationed at the camp including security officers, cooks, medics and more. Supplies are brought into the camp every week and persons can deliver items to their loved ones at the entrance of the camp.
Currently there are thirty eight persons under quarantine at the Douglas D’Silva Camp.