When the Prime Minister announced that he would be working alongside the Leader of the Opposition as co-chairs of the National Oversight Committee, many praised their bipartisan support in the fight against COVID-19. However, late Friday night, the Opposition Leader issued a video statement that was less than supportive of the government’s decisions in tackling this pandemic. John Briceno feared that politics was slowly creeping its way into these decisions, and outlined his party’s concerns.
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition, People’s United Party: “First we learnt that from March 12th SICA had offered to Belize no less than twenty five thousand testing kits but our Ministry of Health refused, now the government is scrambling to see if it can get those tests because what we have in stock now is very limited. Second, due to the lack of available tests, testing procedures and testing itself by Ministry of Health through its Central Medical Lab has been grossly insufficient and there is now community spread of the virus at least in Belize district and in Cayo district. Third, lack of developed protocols by the Ministry of Health in caring for patients with the coronavirus was clearly evident in the treatment failures with respect to patient four who died. Fourth, lack of developed protocols by Belize Healthcare Partners and Ministry of Health for frontline caregivers and facilities to deal with suspected COVID-19 patients is clearly evident with respect to patient ten who also died.”
Briceno also outlined measures that he believes the government should take in order to assist Belizeans during this time and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition, People’s United Party: “The opposition has been working tirelessly in good faith as part of health, agriculture and economic committees. We are dissatisfied with many decisions as we do not believe that our suggestions based on the advice of experts are being taken seriously at these levels of the process. We have heard the Prime Minister’s address to the nation a short while ago. We agree with the decision of the national lock down, however we feel it is just not enough. Because of the crisis we face certain additional decisions need to be taken ASAP. We therefore call on the government to urgently implement the following measures; One, immediate and mandatory closures of the Belize Healthcare Partners Limited facility for decontamination. Two, immediate and mandatory closure of the non COVID ICU unit of the KHMH for decontamination. Three, mandatory testing and quarantine at a designated site of all medical personnel and staff exposed to patients who tested positive for COVID-19 and those identified through contact tracing or others who were voluntarily identified. Four, mandatory testing and quarantine at a different designated site of all non medical persons exposed who tested positive for COVID-19 and those identified through contact tracing or others who were voluntarily identified. Five, mandatory testing and separation of all COVID-19 medical personnel and staff from non COVID medical staff including provision of accommodation separate from family and others at a designated site. Six, written protocols must be immediately established in the management of suspected and confirmed COVID-19 patients. These protocols must be publicly disseminated. Training of medical and support staff at major private and public healthcare facilities throughout the country including regional healthcare centers must be undertaken immediately. Seven, written protocols must be immediately established for transfer of suspect and confirmed COVID-19 patients between health facilities especially in the transfer of patients from other facilities to KHMH. Such protocols should include whether such patients should remain at the initial facility, taken elsewhere if they are presumed to be positive for the coronavirus and should also include the level of protection required for staff. Eight, Belizeans have lost complete confidence in the performance of the Minister of Health and the time has come for the Prime Minister to take appropriate action to restore confidence and assurance in our ability to manage this health crisis.”
The Opposition Leader also spoke on providing groceries for those in need without a political agenda in mind. He also spoke on the Opposition’s part in the unemployment relief fund.
Hon. John Briceno, Leader of the Opposition, People’s United Party: “At present the situation as it relates to food is also a critical one as seen by the number of applicants for unemployment assistance many Belizeans cannot afford basic food items at this time. Disturbingly food distribution is being politicized by and through political arms of the UDP using unnecessary middle men while completely ignoring the advice of the opposition and disregarding the farmer’s plight in the process. That is unacceptable. For some time now we have been advocating for a process to be put in place for distribution of food in a non political manner to those most in need. We believe the Belize Red Cross and the Belize Defense Force are capable of carrying out a food distribution program free from political interference. As we move into another phase of shutdown with even greater restrictions food distribution countrywide will become even more urgent. Our proposals and suggestions in the various committees are not being implemented, this is regrettable. On the unemployment relief program our opposition representative has already approved over 10,000 applicants, many of which are the poorest of the poor, the long term unemployed, the government’s representative has approved less than 1,500. This is a callous disregard for the humanitarian need of our suffering people. The public must have trust in the systems established to manage this crisis.”
Briceno ended his statement by saying that he looks forward to a change in the name of transparency from the government, and based on that, the Opposition will decide whether they will remain on the taskforce.