By Jem Smith
It was announced in May that land borders would be opened to tourists entering the country starting Monday, May 31. Health and tourism officials made sure to advise that only tourists who are able to provide a negative COVID-19 test would be allowed entry to the country. While for some, this announcement was good news as it shed some light on the road to the imminent economic recovery, which the country is in dire need of, it was of much concern to many others.
These includes doctors Mark Musa, brother of two sitting ministers, and Dr. Fernando Cuellar, internist. Dr. Musa took to his personal Facebook page where he expressed his opinion on the matter, stating simply that “we are not ready as a country.” While the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) has undertaken a vaccination campaign, far too little of the over-18 population has actually gone to be vaccinated. That is just one reason that Dr. Musa says “we are not ready”, and continued to write in his social media post that our neighboring countries of Mexico and Guatemala are currently battling surges of the disease. Succinctly, he expresses that the economic benefits which will be brought on by these international tourists simply do not outweigh the health risks of successive waves of the disease. Dr. Cuellar spoke in the same vein, and made warnings of a very real threat of variants of the COVID-19 disease making its way into the country by way of these tourists.
Their concerns sparked discussion among members of the Belize Medical and Dental Association (BDMA) and they have since released a statement dated 30 May 2021. In it, they list as many as seven (7) reasons they think that the reopening of land borders should be postponed. They, like the two doctors, explain reasons of health concerns, specifically, that our neighboring countries of Mexico and Guatemala are currently experiencing heightened numbers of the disease and that only some 25% of Belize’s population has been vaccinated. They continue to say that other countries “with better health systems” are currently going through waves of the disease, which could become a very real possibility for our country if we should lose hold of the situation. Furthermore, the statement brings to light the fact that there are very limited human and other resources within Belize’s health sector. As a result, the wait-time for results is still of grave concern. Finally, the statement expresses that the wider Belizean population have let down their guards far too often. As per the statement, “We are aware of the economic challenge that Belize currently faces but we reiterate that things can and will get worse with an opening of land borders at this time”. While these medical professionals urge against the reopening of the borders for now, they are aware of our current economic situation and understand that the country is in need. As such, they propose that the reopening be pushed back to accommodate for persons to be vaccinated.
By Jem Smith