By Jem Smith
With the increasing numbers of positive cases of COVID-19 being reported across the country, there seems to be more worry for the Ministry of Health and Wellness (MOHW) and the greater public. That is because the Ministry has confirmed that a new variant of the disease has been detected in the country. This was detected after a spike in infections caused concern for the Ministry. As a result, health officials went into various communities to conduct tests. Minister Michel Chebat explained that in two sets of tests which were conducted, more than 20 tests in each group tested positive for the new variant. Unfortunately for Belize’s health system, we do not have the capability to determine the exact strain. As such, samples were sent to Baylor University for gene sequencing to research the specific type. Experts believe that it is the Delta variant but, again, nothing has been exactly ascertained.
Until then, the Ministry continues to push forward its vaccination campaign. They are now highlighting the campaign with the slogan “Before you Relax, Get Vax!” It was also announced that all persons 18 years and older can now get vaccinated. Participation in these initiatives can be rewarding for the vaccinated people since they can win a variety of prizes from many places.
Still, the Ministry along with the Ministry of Home Affairs also needs to take on a stern approach to fight the virus. Ministers Chebat and Musa both agree that people have been taking advantage of what freedoms and leisure they have been afforded. Likewise, unapproved businesses like bars have been operating under the guise of approved businesses such as restaurants. As a result, weekend curfew has been reduced by an hour and some businesses have been given more restrictions. At a press conference on Wednesday, June 30, Minister Musa explained the changes.
Effective Sunday, July 4, curfew will be extended. From Sunday to Wednesday, curfew hours will remain the same but from Thursday to Saturday it will start at 11pm instead of midnight. Previously, churches were allowed to operate for a maximum of 2 hours. Now, church services can only be one hour long with 50% capacity inside and churches will need to have every other pew cordoned off to ensure the capacity is kept. As for restaurants, they can continue to operate with 75% capacity for outside dining and 50% for inside but restaurants must have a free flow of air (no AC). Furthermore, restaurant owners and operates will be required to hire the services of a Justice of the Peace (JP) to ensure that regulations are adhered to. Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) operations will have a capacity limit of 50% inside.
Lastly as announced by the Minister, frontline personnel are now being especially encouraged to get vaccinated in July. Then starting August 1st, they will need to present a negative PCR test every two weeks. Frontline personnel have been expanded to include: doctors, nurses, police officers, military officers, educational frontliners (teachers), economic frontliners (tour guides/operators), restaurant owners and employees, casino workers, and pastors and priests.
By Jem Smith