PGIA ready for reopening

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The date for the reopening of the Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA) for international tourists, October 1, has arrived. Because we are still in the slow season, stakeholders understand that there won’t be the drove of persons entering the country until later this year. Nonetheless, it has been a long awaited reopening, with tourism and other stakeholders barely managing to stay afloat for the greater part of the year since COVID-19 made its presence known all over the world. Since February and March of this year, things had become dire, with international economies nearly coming to a halt. In Belize, local tourism had picked up some as several hoteliers offered discounted prices on their locations but still, it was not enough. As a result, tourism stakeholders have suffered and when a set date for the reopening of the PGIA was announced by Prime Minister Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, they were able to breathe a sigh of relief.
Nonetheless, the health of visitors and the public must come to the forefront and it is for that reason that the Belize Tourism Board (BTB) took to train stakeholders within the industry. The only hotels, resorts, and other locations that will be able to accept foreign visitors are those who have completed their Gold Standard certification. The BTB states that the Gold Standard certification is a nine-point list of best practices encompassed under COVID-19 procedures. It, according to the BTB, is in the process of being legislated and will be a licensing requirement for these hotels. Likewise, tourists can only enter the country with proof of reservation at a Gold Standard-certified location, one which has been approved for reopening within the tourism safe corridor.
Before a tourist is able to descend the plane into approved transportation to their Gold Standard certified location of choice, and before a Belizean can go to their home, they must go through seven checkpoints. It is through each of these points that media personnel were taken on a tour of by officials from the BTB, including Misty Michael, Director of Marketing and Industry Relations. The process begins the moment the passenger arrives on the tarmac out of the plane. There, they will be greeted by a health official from the Ministry of Health (MOH) who collects a general declaration which details all health issues, not just limited to COVID-19. From there, the passenger enters checkpoint two, Hospitality and Greet, a temporary space which has been cornered off from the Departure Lounge. There, persons who arrived are greeted by an official and are then divided into two categories. Category one is comprised of passengers with PCR tests, diplomats, military personnel, disabled persons, and pregnant women while the second category encompasses everyone else. Also, persons will be expected to show their Belize Health App and to complete their arrival and quarantine forms, where applicable; likewise, tourists will receive their Safe Corridor Band. From there, they will be go through the Health Corridor where their QR Code from the Belize Health App will be scanned and their temperature will be taken. These and other necessary data will be compiled by public health officers into a system which allows a person’s health to be tracked and managed upon their arrival into the country. Lastly, these persons will be responsible to direct the passenger to a green line or a red line, determined based on their temperature, whether they have a PCR test, and other signs and symptoms. That is when they arrive at the third checkpoint to meet the green or red lines. In the green line, for persons who have their PCR test results and do not display any signs of illness, passengers will be given an immigration form and processed through to checkpoint six for immigration, customs, and BAHA checks before receiving access to the arrival hall, checkpoint seven.
Persons who are directed to the red line will endure a detour to the Health Unit, checkpoint four, where they will be tested for COVID-19. Tourists will be allowed into the first and second booths while Belizeans can access booths three to eight. Doctors will stand behind an enclosed space before which the tests are conducted and then taken to the lab for the results. Tourists, at this point, will then be allowed to reenter the process to the arrival hall which includes, again, immigration, customs, and BAHA before leaving the airport. Belizeans, on the other hand, will await their results in an isolated waiting area, checkpoint six, and, within 25 to 30 minutes, will receive their results. Depending on their results, they will either be directed to an isolation area until they are picked up or can go through to the arrival process. They will be allowed to go home for a ten-day isolation period during which persons from the Ministry of Health will keep in contact. The airport exit will make up checkpoint seven where a team of persons from the BTB will be looking for tourists travelling within the safe corridor. Again, these tourists will be easily identifiable with their wristbands given in checkpoint two. Further directions will then be given to these tourists who are either travelling on ground or by air.
Throughout the airport, there are a number of modifications which have been made to ensure the safety and security of all. Booths have been fitted with barriers, hand sanitization stations have been placed throughout the airport, and stickers and other posters have been put around the airport to remind persons to practice social distancing. One other change which has taken place is the restriction of access to the airport compound for anyone outside of those arriving or departing. Outside of ticketed passengers, only members of the airport taxi association and drivers for Gold Standard certified hotels and resorts will be able to enter the compound. Belizeans who will be picked up will be picked up beyond the security booth of the compound. Enrique Hoare, Manager of Operations at the PGIA, explains that this allows an added level of safety for persons working at and traversing through the airport. He continues that everyone working on site has received necessary training as to how to deal with persons during COVID-19 and that some taxi operators have gone so far as to outfitting their vehicles with protective barriers and other health equipment.