In less than 30 hours Belize will officially be under a State of Emergency of sorts. We say of sorts because the list of businesses that will be allowed to remain open is very wide. The announcement of the State of Emergency came yesterday via a pre-recorded message by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. The decision came on the heels of the third confirmed case of COVID-19 in the country. As promised, the Prime Minister held a press conference this morning where several Government officials spoke on the various aspects of the impending State of Emergency. According to the Prime Minister, there cannot be any special treatment or considerations given in this situation as it relates to businesses shutdown.
Rt.Hon Dean Barrow, Prime Minister of Belize: “Under the state of emergency the list of businesses that must be closed will be expanded, greatly expanded and so there’s that first category of businesses that must close, a category I repeat that will have to be expanded in terms of the number of businesses required to be closed it has to be expanded from what it currently is- that’s number one. Number two then will be the category of businesses that are allowed to open and to conduct their activities during prescribed daylight hours. There will be some differentiation for example government offices will close at four the AG will tell you the hours of closing for other businesses that are allowed to remain open and finally there is going to be the category of essential services; the distinction between essential services and the generalized category of business allowed to remain open is that essential services are going to be able to operate during curfew hours when the other regular businesses that are open will not be able to operate. One last thing, since the announcement that the state of emergency would be declared I, and I imagine so too has the Leader of the Opposition, I have been bombarded with requests from people to have their business activities declared either essential services or to ensure that their business activities not close. If we paid attention to that list we would not move anywhere beyond where we are now with the businesses that have already been shut down. I say this to make the point that either we are serious or we’re not. Indeed if your business is one that is going to be closed it is going to mean tremendous economic hardship for you and your employees but health comes first and we all agree that the only way to stop the spread of the virus is by doing this nationwide shutdown. In a quick conferral I had a while ago with the Leader of the Opposition he’s entirely on page that businesses have to close and that it’s no use for everybody to appeal to us to keep their particular business open, that can’t work.”
The State of Emergency is being complemented with a national curfew from 8 pm to 5 am every day. According to the Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte, who also wears the hat for the Minister of National Security, explained that the curfew will be fully enforced by the Belize Police Department.
Michael Peyrefitte, Ministry of National Security: “We plan to invoke and advise the Governor General to declare a state of national emergency for the entire country beginning Wednesday night. In other words then when we wake up Thursday morning we’re in a state of National Emergency just to be clear because some people get confused with the time. Another thing I want to mention is that the new proclamation that should come out some time today or latest tomorrow morning along with the regulations will be the only ones that will exist for the entire country. These new regulations and the new proclamations will also apply to San Pedro which as everybody knows has its own state of emergency but since we are doing one for the entire country now there’s no need to do one just for San Pedro. The rules and regulations that we’ll be putting down will apply to everywhere including San Pedro. A curfew will be imposed for the entire country during the period of public emergency – which could as the Leader of the Opposition said it could last for the full thirty days or if we believe we have a handle on the situation it could be reduced, it could be less than thirty days. During the hours of 8pm and 5am or 4:59am – so from 8pm to 5am the next day everything will be closed with a few exceptions. People will not be allowed to wander on the streets or be on the streets except a few designated people. During the day hours certain businesses will be open, certain businesses will not be open and I’ll get into some of those details right now but the critical thing to remember is that the curfew will last from 8pm to 5am. Now a person during those hours shall not loiter, wander, assemble or otherwise move in any public place and on any public road during those hours of 6am to 8pm. The purpose of the regulations is this, if you’re going to be moving during the state of emergency you have to be moving with a purpose, you can’t just be taking a stroll or walking down the street or going to see a friend – you must have a specific purpose for which you’re moving and the police will be able to stop you and question you as to what is your specific purpose and if your specific purpose doesn’t match what is in the regulations the police may arrest you without warrant under the regulations and you could be fined and confined. So if you’re not moving with any of the purposes that I will list then you cannot be on the street during the curfew hours nor the daylight hours. You can only move during the day -this is from 5am to 8pm- to purchase essential needs, to get medical attention, medical emergencies or you’re an essential worker going to or from work. Included in these are security guards patrolling, agricultural or factory workers or other similar operations requiring the movement of personnel for the effective conduct of business or operations. You can do these during the non curfew hours but you must be moving for those purposes. If you’re not moving for those purposes you will be committing an offence under the act.”
The list of businesses that will fall under either of the three categories mentioned previously by the Prime Minister, is yet to be released from the Attorney General’s office. Peyrefitte ran through a draft list of those establishments which he says is still under review.
Michael Peyrefitte, Ministry of National Security: “An essential service is listed in the first schedule, these are the people who will be allowed to be out and about even during the curfew hours which is as we said 8pm to 5am the next day ; government offices, medical and auxiliary services, private security services, public utility workers, social workers authorized to respond to emergencies, sanitation workers, productive sectors which involves people who have to produce agricultural products and potable water. Essential services are also the government offices, departments, statutory bodies and state owned companies – if they have to be open for that particular time during the curfew hours they will be allowed to do so. Now, between the hours of 5am and 7pm fuel stations and fuel depots, public transportation providers, bakeries and tortilla factories, mills and other factories, farms, port operations and services connected with the loading and unloading of ships and aircraft, delivery at and from ports. So if you’re going to work it will have to be if you’re going to work during the non curfew hours you must be going to one of these places to work. If you’re not going to one of these places to work or buy or a customer you will be committing an offence. As well we add to that restaurants and remember we’ll incorporate the old SI into this one to say that you can go to a restaurant for food for take out only. So if you’re on the street during the day not even during the non curfew hours if you’re not working at a fuel station and the ones I just listed then you should not be on the street unless you’re going to that to purchase fuel or the like, you must be a customer or an employee or an employer for one of those places. Between the hours of 8am and 7pm which is a later time these businesses can open at a later time, 5am you have the public transportation bakeries and the like. Between 8 and 7 pharmacies, convenient stores, food store, supermarkets, meat shops, butchers, distributors and factories that deal with carbonated and other beverages, financial institutions, wholesalers and retailers, hotels, markets, service of take out food, mechanic shops, waste disposal, hardware stores – if you’re one of those you can open up between 8 and 7 at night. Now if you remember when I said before between 5am and 7pm you have the bakeries, the mills and the farms the list that I just read that dealt with pharmacies all the way up to waste disposal and hardware stores to put a fine point on it if you’re not one of those businesses you will not be allowed to be open at all during the state of emergency. So I don’t want to belabor the point I want to say it form now this is what we plan to do- fuel stations, public transportation, bakeries, mills, farms, port, pharmacies, convenient stores, financial institutions, wholesalers and retailers, hotels, markets, service of take out or drive through facility for restaurants, delivery services related to meals, groceries and medical supplies, mechanic shops, waste disposal, hardware stores if you’re not any one of those you have to be closed. Period. You cannot be open during the day or night, you have to be closed if you’re not one of those. Like I said we’re currently looking at the list but that’s where we are at this point because as the Prime Minister said if we try to make an exception then in essence we’ll be having no state of emergency but those are the businesses that will be open – if you’re not one of those you have to be closed.”
Currently, all ports of entry are closed in Belize but Belizeans are still being allowed to enter the country. Peyrefitte noted that this remains as is under the State of Emergency.
Michael Peyrefitte, Ministry of National Security: “All ports of entry shall be and remain closed during the public state of emergency. If you are a Belizean trying to get into Belize you will not be denied entry but you will have to be put into immediate mandatory quarantine under the guidance and direction of the quarantine authority at your own expense at a place to be determined by the quarantine authority and for a period to be determined by the quarantine authority. Like I said those are the basics that we have agreed on so far. It may be expanded but if it’s expanded or lessened it shouldn’t be by too much of a difference so that’s where we’re looking at. Come midnight tomorrow night certain businesses will not be able to open again, certain businesses will be allowed to be opened during the day at particular times during the non curfew hours and during the curfew hours only essential workers will be allowed to en route to work and back. Anybody in violation of those provisions will be committing an offence under the statutory instrument.”