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Foreign Affairs CEO speaks on repatriation process

As a follow up to our story on the repatriation exercise for Belizeans, we can tell you that quarantine centres are almost ready to receive those coming home.  Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Anne Lou Burns, spoke on the cost of the quarantine process that will have to be the responsibility of those coming home and not for the government to pay.

As a follow up to our story on the repatriation exercise for Belizeans, we can tell you that quarantine centres are almost ready to receive those coming home.  Chief Executive Officer in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Anne Lou Burns, spoke on the cost of the quarantine process that will have to be the responsibility of those coming home and not for the government to pay.

Anne Lou Burns, CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs:On the initial forms we placed an option one and option two and the reason that we did this is that we very much wanted to be able to provide a budget option and for those whose budgets perhaps weren’t so tight and wanted a bit more comfort another option. So that is where the options come in and we will provide those options to you. In terms of the range you are looking at the cost of three meals a day because your meals would be provided to your rooms and the room and board and the hotels have been trying to keep the rates down as low as possible. At the moment, and this is subject to change just as you would see we have some modifications on the application form when you go online also some of the information is subject to change so once we are in touch with you we will give you the ranges available and they generally begin at about $110 Belize a night. I think we have been consistent in indicating that that is generally the cost and that is at the lowest end because it covers food. I think we have to be aware that every time you go out and you buy groceries that you also ought to be sanitizing everything that you’re bringing home including the bags and the groceries themselves. How do we guarantee that that has been done ? I can appreciate that people would want to seek ways of perhaps reducing the cost of the stay and it’s,  I wouldn’t want to say straight away no because there may be considerations like some people may need particular medicines but we would have to work that out on a case by case basis and by and large I think everyone I think it’s fair to say that the government is really trying I mean it’s made a tremendous effort to ensure and the Ministry of Health to ensure that you can come back and to ensure that you can try to come back as soon as we can get you in, but that means there has to be some give and it means that you may not have that ability, you may not have that option. This is still the phase were we are collecting we are accepting the applications. So there are more to come and we encourage people to apply as soon as you hear as quickly as possible if you want to come home. I have to remind people here that this is for Belizeans who are normally resident in Belize this is your permanent residence so Belize is not your holiday home at this time it’s for people who are coming home because they have been outside away from Belize longer than anticipated and need to get back to their normal residence.” 

At least two hundred persons have filled out the forms to come back home but according to CEO Burns, the Government is strapped in trying to assist those in Belize and that is currently their priority as opposed to those being repatriated.

Anne Lou Burns, CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “In the first part of the day I think we were at 78 and it’s over 200 now and we expect that that will increase as well. We understand that we have to be flexible and we know that there are Belizeans not only in the USA but in Europe, in Guyana, in Barbados, in Cuba in just about every part of the world and so where possible we will coordinate. I must  be clear that government has really made a tremendous effort to try to see how we can help those Belizeans who initially were unemployed because of the closing of the tourism industry because of COVID. So there’s been a huge effort on the part of government to try to assist through that means or through food pantries and so the priorities in terms of paying for repatriation flights and I’m making reference to this because at Foreign Affairs it’s a question that has come up a lot. People want to be repatriated and they want a flight to be put on and they want to come home with the government paying for those flights. We have a duty of care to consider the most vulnerable here first so where we can coordinate and people are able to pay for their own way home we will absolutely do that. And be assured because I know there are some concerns that some of the flights are not moving in the way that they normally do so how do you actually get home if you’re in the US or in an area of the US so yes we will certainly work to coordinate. We’ve coordinated with flights of foreign nationals who wanted to leave Belize to get back to their countries and that’s been a good process for us as well to understand how these new situations work.”

As it relates to the quarantine centres, there is the possibility that quarantine could be done at home but that would be under special circumstances only.  CEO Burns referenced the challenges that the authorities had when it came to self quarantine during the infection period.

Anne Lou Burns, CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “There are very few options available but those are options and this is part of the reason we have you fill out the application form and indicate what your circumstances are. The reality is that we know that now is an extremely hard time for everyone. I don’t think there is a family that in some way shape or form has not been affected financially or medically by COVID and so we truly appreciate that it’s gonna be difficult for some people to meet those obligations but where possible as Belizeans looking out for one another and trying to ensure that our country keeps moving we’re asking for those who can afford, who can manage to cover their costs to step up and do so in the interest of everybody else around you. The one thing we’ve learned from this COVID experience is that we must work together and so we are trying to do our part, we’re trying our best to make available the alternatives we’re just not simply saying ‘No you can’t come.’ that would be the easiest thing to do because it would keep us safest and it would keep the rate of the incidence of COVID reduced but we don’t want to do that because we understand that people are anxious and increasingly worried and feeling desperate about coming home so we’re trying but we need to ask you to try also. The only consideration for having someone quarantined at this time at home and under strict surveillance and communication with the Ministry of Health is if someone really has been chronically ill, if being outside of that space actually puts them at greater risk because they have an affected immune system because of poor health and those cases are taken on a case by case basis and there must be medical evidence to substantiate the request and in those cases absolutely there is consideration for that and there are very clear guidelines that are shared by the Ministry of Health about what to do and what not to do.”

The price of quarantine could start at one hundred and ten dollars Belize per night.  This includes accommodations and meals.  The first arrival of Belizeans from abroad is expected to occur on Friday at the earliest.