Fellow Belizeans,

I write to you from Italy. You have probably seen Italy on the headlines fighting to contain the spread of the coronavirus. The hope is that health providers will not find themselves in a situation where people who need urgent hospitalisation will be refused because the facilities just cannot cope with the number of patients.

Since the first identified infected person on February 21, in just over three weeks, Italy now has about twenty-six thousand cases and there have been about two thousand five hundred deaths in the country due to the virus. The entire country is in total lockdown. The only places open to the public are pharmacies, newspaper stands and shops that sell food stuff.

The government insists and pleads to people to stay at home and to exit only to purchase food or go to work. Today, as I passed an important shopping area, the streets were deserted and my only companions were the numerous mannequins posing in the shop windows, beautifully dressed in the new spring fashion that no one will be buying this year. Outside was as lifeless as they were.

Strange, I thought, how much we depend on others to feel alive. There is so much that we still do not know. However, some things are clear. We know that most people will not develop complications from the virus, but instead, they will only develop mild flu-like symptoms, not requiring a hospital visit.

We know the elderly and people with a weakened immune system run the risk of developing respiratory complications that may require hospitalization, and probably access to a ventilator as breathing becomes difficult.

WAIT! Please do not go away. This is the problem with the virus; this is why it is lethal. Many think that it does not affect them… after all, it is just a simple flu, right?

Look deeper. One has to look at the bigger picture. This is the time that humans will realize that we all need and depend on each other. While you might not get more than mild flu-like symptoms, you can pass the virus to others who might end up dying.

As the number of infected people escalates, so does the number of demands for beds at the hospitals. Our health system will not be able to cope. Imagine your mother, father, grandma, grandpa, sister, brother, friend… someone you know, being left fighting for air because there are just too many sick people at one time to deal with. Our hospitals and the small number of medical personnel are not equipped to deal with such a crisis situation — we have limited resources.

Sadly, this is a reality all over the world, even in richer countries. But this is not the moment to steam over this. The outcome now and in the long run depends on you. Every citizen and resident in Belize at the moment should collaborate in managing the diffusion of this virus. Politicians have hard decisions to make, and health workers will have to work endless hours on the frontline with insufficient resources.

The virus forces humanity to remember what is most valuable to us: life. We can rebuild a business, but we cannot replace a lost life. There is no other choice. Each and every person has to be responsible and has to take measures so that they do not get infected. If you suspect that you are infected, you should isolate yourself so that you do not infect others. It requires a united approach.

We need to start caring for the next person and we need to care for our nation and people as a whole. This COVID-19 virus will hurt the already hurting health system and it will damage the economy. We will all lose in some way —some will lose loved ones, some will lose their livelihoods… these are not totally within our control. However, there are some things within our control that will determine how we recover from our losses.

We should not be afraid of the cloud that overshadows us. Instead, we must be strong and work together, in faith, knowing that united, we can face the challenges and rise up tomorrow. Together we can.

Delia Tillett for Amandala