Research has shown that SARS-Covid-2 which is one of seven strains of the coronavirus has mutated, making it stronger and easier to infect humans. This development may possibly be the reason why Belize has been seeing a rise in infections in recent weeks. The recent publication of the research notes, quote, “The genomic sequences of SARS-CoV-2 in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala present similar mutations related to a virulent strain of greater infectivity, which could mean a greater capacity for inclusion in the host genome and be related to an increased spread of the virus in these countries, further, its diagnosis would be affected.” End of quote. It is concerning for Belize and neighbouring countries as was explained by the Director of Health Services, Dr Marvin Manzanero, in a press conference held today.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “One study that caught our attention that was just published earlier in the week is a study done by the public university in Oaxaca Universidad Benito Juarez where they’re studying genomic sequences which is looking at viral particles and doing further genetic studies on it and one of their conclusions is that the mutations that they’re seeing are very different from what the Wuhan virus was, the virus strain that was there, and this particular mutation is seemingly leading to a greater infectivity and they have plauded that this is the same strain that may be affecting Guatemala and they’re not specifying where geographically but we’re assuming it’s going to be northern Belize which is where you know we think the link is with Orange Walk. So if that is in point of fact true then that can explain part of what’s happening in the north that you’re having ongoing greater infections that at times becomes not really detectable and then you see surges come at given points in time. I think I read part of the article on Wednesday and immediately shared it with the team on Wednesday so that they’re going to go back and review where these samples were particularly taken for but they are making mention of Guatemala, Belize and Southern Mexico as having a viral mutation that is having a greater infectivity. So that would explain why perhaps your RT and RO numbers would be higher. If you recall maybe four months ago Chetumal had a RT of 7 that means one person was infecting seven others and that was a flag for Mexican authorities because that was way above the average. Globally you have an RT which is usually 1-3 but having 1-7 – in Belize we had done 1-5 maybe about two months ago so this could start to explain where that is coming from. We have to go back and review the data to see where they gathered this but this was published by a team from Oaxaca.”
As for the increased number of cases, Dr Marvin Manzanero gave a breakdown of the positive cases, specifically as they relate to frontline workers including those from the medical sector and national security.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “We have up to date thirteen health care workers in private sector that have tested positive since the beginning of our epidemic. 46 healthcare workers within the public sector and we have closed two facilities – there’s a facility closed in Belize City as of yesterday because we had two or three of their staff positive and one section of a hospital in Belize City has been closed as well because we’re following a potential outbreak in that facility. These are all private sector facilities. We also know that two staff members from Karl Heusner tested positive yesterday. It doesn’t seem that in both cases they were infected at work or at least not at Karl Huesner, situation that we’re following that just came through yesterday. We also make note that to date we have had seven coast guards that have tested positive, sixty two police officers and sixty seven soldiers. Out of these soldiers you would know that we had an outbreak about two weeks ago in Orange Walk. We now have detected cases at Fairweather Camp in PG and we have a team going to Central Farm or should be there by now because we identified seventeen cases at Belisario Camp so we’re doing a complete sweep today. Out of these seventeen thirteen are being quarantined at the training academy in Belmopan and four went home for home isolation. So the sweep today will entail people getting a rapid test and PCR test randomly done depending if you are positive or negative on the PCR test. The update from Karl Heusner with the eight patients confirmed, two are ventilated, six are non ventilated, one of them may be going home/discharged later on today. The index case if you will sometimes it’s not easy to pinpoint but what you’re finding is when you’re able to identify an index case just like the situation at the coast guard it’s usually with contact with somebody from outside and then of course you come together to a common environment where you’re doing training or you’re having social activities, when you sit down and eat at the same time then there’s a tendency to not wear a mask all the time because you’re in a bigger group so that’s what is trigger the outbreaks, that’s what triggered the spread in Orange Walk. We assume that this was happening in Belisario Camp as I said the team went there to do initial scouting exercises yesterday and they’re going in now to do testing of all the other persons. Similar situation happened at the coast guard so the outbreak is usually brought from somebody outside and then in a common environment it’s easier to spread.”
And while the mutation of the virus may be one factor in the increased number of cases, Prime Minister Dean Barrow noted that the irresponsibility of residents across the country is another contributor to the rise in infections. In making this statement, the Prime Minister was comparing the likelihood of infections coming in via the airport to the local spread.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “We were worried before the reopening of the PGIA and when we were doing far better that we are now that the fear that tourists coming in could infect the local population was something we had to account for. Well before that October 1st reopening it’s become clear that we are infecting ourselves. No matter of fervently we preach the gospel and we will try to be even more ardent going forward the border jumping, the contrabanding, continues apace and that principally in my view is the reason for the explosion in cases. So we’ve done it to ourselves there’s no question now of worrying about the tourists infecting the local population the local population is infecting itself. You know the BTIA had written to us some time ago and some people were upset, chagrined at the fact that the BITA asked the question given what has been happening with the local explosion, given what has been happening with the laxity on the part of very many people in our society is it that we need to worry about protecting the locals from the tourists that are coming in or is it that we need to worry about protecting the tourists from the locals that are here? The point is that remember these tourists come and are negative when they get here according to the PCR tests that they bring or according to the rapid tests that we administer at the airport. So there is except if something falls through the cracks there is not any serious likelihood of any tourist being able to infect anybody because the tourists are negative. Why then should they be confined to the property at which they are booked to stay ? No. They should be allowed to interact rather more freely with the local population in terms of visiting gift shops, in terms of visiting other restaurants- when you tell them wherever you stay if you are staying for ten days you must only have meals from that particular establishment it doesn’t make sense and as I said it is proving to a huge deterrent in terms of trying to attract the visitors.”
One of the moves made by the Government to mitigate the further spread of the virus they have secured a batch of vaccines once they become available. According to the Director of Health Services a down payment of more than half million dollars has been made.
Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “What we have signed on to it’s the COVAX facility which is a program that intends to make vaccines available to all countries at the same time so that there’s not countries that have a bigger economy or higher economies to have easier access to it. Belize has already made the down payment it’s $382,080 USD and there’s pending payment of $2.1 million US dollars that would be payable whenever the vaccines are available; this is to cover 30% of the population in Belize. Now just so you can do the math 30% of the population in Belize is approximately 120,000 vaccines. We routinely procure 40,000 vaccines in terms of flu vaccines so that this would be three times the amount that we routinely procure in terms of the routine flu vaccine which is available for free within the public health facilities.”