Free zone to reopen amid raging Covid infections in Mexico


Since it was announced by the government that it is the plan to reopen the Corozal Free Zone by February 1, it has been a topic of contention and great concern. Jose Mai, Minister of Enterprise, has confirmed that the decision was approved by Cabinet and while it was one of his government’s manifesto promises, how beneficial will it be to the people of Belize? The Free Zone has been closed for almost an entire year when the borders were first closed for travel due to the global coronavirus pandemic. It was an understandable decision made under the Barrow administration in an effort to reduce the possibility of spread of COVID-19. At the time, the numbers in Mexico, and Quintana Roo, specifically, were drastically multiplying. Now, months ahead, our numbers have gone on to increase significantly with more than 11,000 confirmed cases in the country since March. This number, however, is still meager compared to Mexico’s more than one million confirmed cases and more than 16,000 in the state of Quintana Roo alone. Because of the alarming rates of spread of the virus in both Guatemala and Mexico, Belizeans have not since been able to travel to those places except for emergencies. Furthermore, there has been a lockdown imposed on both the Corozal and Orange Walk Districts, which saw spikes in the number of cases. These were, presumably, attributed to border jumping to these countries, Mexico specifically. So what good would it do for these districts to remain on inter- and intra-district lockdowns, and for the entire country to remain under curfew while our Free Zone is to reopen for business in just a matter of weeks?
It is comprehensible that the decision would be made to restart economic activity in the northern part of the country but where does health and safety fall in those list of priorities? Very heated debates have overtaken social media in which, Belizeans are sharing their opinions and, for the most part, their dissatisfaction with the decision to reopen the free zone. Others, who are more inclined to accept the decision, have made suggestions that in that same vein, the country be open for economic activity across the board.
Still, we cannot ignore the pandemic which we are still very much being affected by. Minister Mai says that a task force has been created to ensure best practices within the Free Zone. It still seems very risky, however, since in country we see hundreds upon hundreds of persons being arrested every week for breaching these very same best practices of wearing face and mouth coverings, for not socializing, and for not abiding by social distancing. These regulations are so widely ignored and disregarded and we have yet to see a flattening of the curve. This shows then that these best practices are not enough and now, the onus is on the government to more strictly enforce these regulations, especially with the reopening of the Free zone upon us.