The clash of Covid-19 and a tropical storm is what many if not all Belizeans have been praying against. Unfortunately, however, it is a situation that looms and will have to be addressed by the relevant authorities. Perhaps one of the most pointed concerns is the practice of social distancing within hurricane shelters should it come to that.
Sheldon Defore, NEMO Coordinator: “We have established COVID-19 shelter risk protocols where we cannot deviate from the Ministry of Health’s directives and policies pertaining to COVID-19 measures. So when this was developed it was vetted by the Ministry of Health, Dr.Manzanero and Mr.John Boden to ensure that we’re meeting the requirements based on what PAHO/WHO puts out. So the social distance measure must be taken into consideration. We usually shelter thirty persons per classroom on average that has been minimized down to the discretion of the shelter manager or no more than ten persons, in some cases it might be a classroom per family. So that is the measurement in terms of moving forward with putting people into shelter. That will be a stringent protocol that must be applied throughout the entire time people are in shelters. Hand washing is critical that is a part of the protocol before people get into the shelters you have to wash your hands, sanitize your hands because the hands is where this thing is moving through meaning touching objects, touching your face, touching each other so that is one of the key protocols for people being inside the shelter. Also if you’re showing signs of flu or COVID-19 symptoms you would not be allowed in the general shelter area there will be classrooms separated so that people could go into those classrooms and be contained until they’re checked by the Ministry of Health personnel then they’d be relocated to an isolation or to a quarantine center.”
The situation on Ambergris Caye is a primary concern as well should the country be faced with a hurricane. While Tropical Depression Fourteen, once it develops, is not anticipated to reach a high category. Major Sheldon Defore says they are facilities on the island that are strong shelters and other factors to consider that minimizes the need for evacuation.
Sheldon Defore, NEMO Coordinator: “I know there was a concern regarding San Pedro how are you going to evacuate people from San Pedro into shelters in Belize ? Well we have two concepts or course of action. One, fortunately we may not have to do so for this event. If we had to two things are playing in our favor so to speak one of them is not much people are on San Pedro that needs to be evacuated. Secondly, because of the impact on tourism most of the mega hotels which can be converted to shelters which are well built, have rooms where would be best used in the context of sheltering people who are COVID positive or sheltering people who might be high risk and so that would help us. We’re getting good support at least from the first wave and I think up to now from the owners of resources in San Pedro so that plays into our advantage as well. And if we had to move people for some reason then we would have to declare one or several of the shelters COVID-19 shelters. So if we have fifteen shelters in a locality then we would declare two, three, four of them as COVID-19 shelters. There are Belizeans that would have to evacuate considering their COVID status and if they didn’t have a COVID risk they would have to go into a shelter anyway so just declare several shelters COVID shelters and that should alleviate some of the pressures that the media, the public is crying out to get answered.”