The idea of repatriation of Belizeans is a scary thought as it means that the country runs the risk of imported cases of COVID-19. As scary as it may be though, the time has come for Belize to get its citizens back home. Last night the Covid-19 Repatriation form was made available online to Belizeans who are abroad that want to anxiously return home. The form was uploaded to the COVID-19.bz website as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ website. Applicants will have to answer as many as thirty-two questions including whether or not they have been diagnosed with COVID-19. According to the CEO in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Annie Lou Burns, once the applications have been received, they will initiate contact with them for further arrangements.
Annie Burns, CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “What we would do with that information is we then review it, immediately upon receipt we begin sending out confirmation of receipt so that you as the applicant who are anxious to come home you know that somebody has gotten your email and your requests but we need also for everyone abroad to work with us and understand and please exercise some patience that this is just the beginning of a process. It means that we have gathered your information we’re going to go away and review it, we take every case very very seriously, that information is shared very carefully and confidentially but we do require the input from the Ministry of Health as the key decision making unit in this exercise to help us come to the decisions about how many people would be allowed to enter in the first instance, how many can enter thereafter, what intervals we see and all of this information may change because it depends on what happens with each group coming in. We are getting help from experts in PAHO and experts in risk management to try to ensure that we get the message right but it’s not a small process and it’s not a very simple process although it would appear to be that way because we are not in the days anymore where you can jump on a plane, a bus, or in a private vehicle and just zip from one border to the other and come home. We are in a completely different space in time at this moment.”
CEO Burns noted that there will be protocols for the repatriation exercise. She explained that everyone will be mandated to fourteen days of quarantine in specified locations.
Annie Burns, CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “On the planes they will be expected to keep on their masks, when they come off of the aircraft they will be expected to maintain those masks on. Remember we have an SI in place that requires that and part of the use of that mask is to protect others around you. There will be stations where they can sanitize hands, they will have a Ministry of Health official doing screenings. After that they go through immigration, we are working on ensuring that the necessary social distancing guidelines are respected and adhered to which means that and after immigration it’s the normal process you would collect your baggage. This means in all of this process too after collecting your baggage, you go into customs, you pay if you have anything to pay for that you have declared and then a vehicle would be available to move all the persons coming in and this is in the case of the airport but remember we will also have entries by the northern and western borders and possibly at the ports if some of the people who were working on cruise ships are returned in that manner and in those cases similar rules will apply. So the social distancing, the sanitizing and all of the processing that has to go on the screening then immigration and then customs will continue in place and a vehicle will take people by that time we will have discussed with the individual the options for where they would be quarantined, they would be expected to go to the quarantine hotel, there will be information about checking in and there will be people there to ensure that people are respecting social distancing throughout the entire process.”
According to CEO Burns, a small group of Belizeans with chronic illnesses may be allowed in the country.
Annie Burns, CEO, Ministry of Foreign Affairs: “Already some people particularly those with chronic illness or other very serious factors are being allowed in. A small group the number of which I can’t share with you because I simply don’t have at this time may be allowed to enter on Friday and perhaps and we’re waiting perhaps over the weekend. We would then have a pause we would look at that fourteen day period of quarantine and assess how that is going and then we would move forward from there. Ensure that because as well wherever people are housed we have to go through the processes, ensure that their staff are comfortable with the sanitizing processes, everybody knows every step along the way what you’re supposed to do and so when the next group is able to come in and we arrange that and coordinate that then every time it’s a little bit easier and we really do need to control the risk to others.”
All persons entering Belize must agree to be tested for COVID-19 and must comply with the Quarantine Rules under the State of Emergency SI 72 of 2020. Each person is responsible for paying for their stay in the quarantine area which will be designated by the Ministry of Health.