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Travel Bans in the region buffer Belize from the CoronaVirus

When we left you on Friday there was a case in rural Corozal that the Ministry of Health had been investigating after a businessman was showing similar symptoms to the coronavirus.  Health officials paid a visit up north and conducted some tests. 

When we left you on Friday there was a case in rural Corozal that the Ministry of Health had been investigating after a businessman was showing similar symptoms to the coronavirus.  Health officials paid a visit up north and conducted some tests.  According to the Director of Health Services, Dr. Marvin Manzanero, the man, and his family remain asymptomatic, meaning they are showing no symptoms and international partners say further testing is not necessary.

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “He is asymptomatic still. When we did the investigation we concluded that on Thursday we still took a swab. That swab was ran here through our PCR machine that came out negative for all the two viruses that we have routinely screening for. Of Course it doesn’t screen for the novel coronavirus but it is negative and the patient remains asymptomatic, his relatives remain asymptomatic. So that sample as we have determined with PAHO and the other authorities with whom we have had discussions in terms of suspected cases would meet criteria for sending it further. It doesn’t seem to have met a criteria that warrants it to be studied further.”

As it relates to precautionary measures at the airport and other border points, the Ministry of Health has placed health inspectors and nurses at the airport.  Health officials are currently reviewing the passenger manifests.

Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “The more detailed screening is happening at the airport and that is simply because that’s where you have a more direct entry or a quicker entry of people whose flight may be originating from China. The cruise ships have their own manifest and public health process that is done routinely not just because of coronavirus so that remains and it’s a little bit ramped up now that the extra health security that’s being done within the ship. So those are the principal ports of entry that bring in the most amount of persons that would have direct flight originating out of China. In terms of what is being done at the border stations there’s no real specific surveillance that’s happening at those points of entry.”

Reporter: In terms of monitoring the passenger manifest what’s the system ? How does that work?

Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services:  “Well for the cruise ships those are usually sent before they actually arrive and usually the public health inspector would go and board the ship and give it clearance. Remember cruise ships also have their own isolation unit ,quarantine centers, they have their own medical staff on board so that they would be able to report any abnormality in terms of GE infections or upper respiratory tract infections so that has it’s proper screening process. In terms of the flights that are starting to come in what you’re looking for is principally people whose flights had originated out of China because we acknowledge that we can’t screen all the flights that are coming in on a given day for example.”

As several countries are implementing travel bans and border restrictions due to the spread of the Coronavirus, there are Belizean students who are in Asia and have expressed interest in coming home.  According to Dr. Manzanero, two of those students have already returned home and are currently in self-isolation.

Dr.Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services: “We are aware of requests that came in from Taiwan, I think a couple people from Japan who I think were on duty leave and I people from China. We had gotten a specific request in terms of students, Belizean students in China who were actually being sent back by their schools and the Chinese government. They are not in the affected area and they were not ill but they were being sent because they were sending I think all foreign students out of China. So that document came to us way before those students landed here so the due process is that they are also screened at the airport and they are monitored – well they have go into self isolation if you will because they came with those specific indications from their school that the reason why they were being sent was a very specific reason and what they needed to do once they got here. We have been following those two students that we are aware at their home and they are isolated; as is I think one of them is very much isolated from the rest of his family members until the fourteen day period has elapsed.”

According to Manzanero passenger arrivals from China are minimal with none reported yesterday and two arrivals reported on Saturday.  With the regional precautions and travel bans in El Salvador, the United States, and Panama, Belize has been provided a buffer of sorts but will remain on alert at the airport.  So far, more than 360 people have died in China and more than 17,000 have been infected across more than 25 countries.  In the US, government officials urged residents not to travel to China, issuing a level 4 travel advisory. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern on January 30.