In ten days, land and sea borders will officially open as part of the government phased approach to boost the tourism industry. The borders will be opened for foreign tourists, who wish to visit the country for recreation and vacation. So, if you were planning to hop over to Chetumal or Melchor, you can’t. Strict protocols will be implemented at the border points and supervised by the Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations, BTB and Border Management Agency. The reopening will be done in two phases. CEO in the Ministry of Tourism Nicole Solano says that first phase will be for only tourists, who are booked at Gold Standard hotels, and transferred by Gold Standard taxis or tour operators. Solano says that tourists will be required to present proof of a negative PCR Covid-19 test taken within seventy-two hours prior to arrival.
Nicole Solano, CEO, Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations: “Only tourists would be allowed to come in and of course anybody that’s currently getting special permission or under the current conditions that would continue. Tourists only to enter and under specific conditions. I can give you what those conditions are. So to enter the country tourists must present a negative COVID test and it’s a little bit more stringent than was required at the Philip Goldson International in October and still being used. The protocols being used at the airport right now require tourists to enter with a negative test which they also need to do at the border points but instead of ninety six hours it’s a shorter window. So seventy two hours for PCR and twenty four hours for rapid antigen. Vaccinated travelers coming in across the land borders may be required as well to test on arrival. Currently the same screening that is done by the Ministry of Health at the airport will apply at the land borders.”
The second phase will include foreign tourists and visitors of friends, family and relatives. If everything goes according to plan, Solano says that this will be followed by phase three- a full reopening of the land and sea borders.
Nicole Solano, CEO, Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations: “It’s not any easy task to open the land borders it’s actually quite a significant amount of work and coordination that has to occur. There are several agencies involved we’re talking about immigration, customs, health, BAHA, the border management has to coordinate all of these, we put standard operating procedures so it’s not something that can be taken lightly or can be done over night. We don’t expect a significant amount of tourists coming in. As you know right now at the airport it’s about twenty five percent of 2019 numbers and the amount of tourists coming in over land borders is a lot less so we need to set a date to open and it will be a slow opening so that we can test the protocols and make sure that everything works. If it doesn’t work we reserve the right to recommend that we close again, we don’t want to be there because the idea is to reopen and quite a bit of people in the tourism industry need the business from the tourists who would be coming in from the land borders. So we want to find a way to safely open. We know a lot of people are still very very afraid, obviously COVID is not something to be taken lightly.”
The increasing number of COVID-19 cases is being monitored by the Ministry of Health and Wellness. Solano says this was considered as GOB made the decision to re-open borders.
Nicole Solano, CEO, Ministry of Tourism and Diaspora Relations: “This of course has been something that has been under consideration for a very long time. We’ve been wanting to open the borders for a long time and we felt that it was not safe to do so. Now you see the rise in cases in the neighboring countries however we feel that with the protocols in place we can safely and responsibly open. It’s not going to be open for a free for all it’s going to be open for a very very limited capacity with very stringent measures so under those conditions we feel that we can start the process to reopen. As you know tourism recovery and economic recovery are one and the same for Belize and it’s something that’s a priority for our country right now and we have to find a way to live with COVID and to responsibly open up. Remaining closed is not going to be the answer for us moving forward so we have to find a way and we’re committed and I think that I feel confident in the agencies and in the personnel at the borders that we can do this. The reason that there were no further dates announced is that we’re going to start on March 31 with tourists only and then we will gauge how the situation works. As you know there’s no perfect situation. We have protocols in place but there’s always the possibility for human error, things never work exactly as you plan. We have to go in there and we have to see exactly how it works and that we believe is the most responsible way to do it. This is a situation that many people – we realized it’s not only a tourism matter, a lot of people want their borders open but from a tourism standpoint which is within our portfolio to represent our private sector we understand the need for that and we want to push for that for tourists at this time. If it can work and it can work safely and we see like the airport where there are many minimal incidences and it’s not a significant situation where you’re dealing with a lot of COVID cases right now the tourists coming into the country are not a problem we have very few cases coming in that are positive it’s probably within the sector within Belize that’s the safest because they’re the ones being tested before arrival.”
Solano says that the reopening of borders represent another important step toward tourism recovery and overall economic recovery.