The Government of Belize has confirmed that contrary to local media reports the Orange Walk District will not be placed on lockdown.
ORANGE WALK MAYOR WRITES: CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER Office of the Mayor Clear and Present Danger
I would like to impress on residents of Orange Walk Town, and by extension the entire Orange Walk District, the real and present danger our communities face as COVID-19 continues to ravage our neighbors. Of late, the nation has seen a sudden surge in confirmed cases, and every one of them can be traced to persons entering the country. Seven of those cases have been identified in the Orange Walk District, resulting in a state of emergency being declared for San Felipe and Blue Creek.
We have all felt and are still feeling the economic impacts of COVID-19. We have seen large and small nations around the world ravaged by the pandemic, health systems in wealthy countries overwhelmed, mass graves. Belize cannot deal with a community outbreak of any significant size.
We must protect ourselves and our families. Besides following the established practices of social distancing and proper hygiene, we must remain vigilant at our informal border entry points. I am aware of the traditional cross-border traffic which continues to this day, but these are not normal times. I am asking all residents of the town and rural communities to remain vigilant. Please report any person who is suspected of having crossed the border so that the Ministry of Health can take the necessary precautions to protect all of us.
We must do anything and everything necessary to protect our communities. We have come this far together, and we will weather this storm.
Re: State of Emergency in Blue Creek and San Felipe Villages
#543508 07/15/2004:35 AM07/15/2004:35 AM
Compromising And Improvising On The Border With COVID
And that's where Cherisse Halsall went today - as close as she could to the villages of Blue Creek and San Felipe. Those remain under a state of emergency and a complete lockdown.
It's a strict and tough precaution meant to contain the corona virus - after the last 7 cases appeared out of those northwestern communities which adjoin Mexico.
But what does it mean for the residents of that village stuck and unable to access the outside world?
Wellâ€¦a lot of compromising and a lot of improvising. Cherisse Halsall reports:
STANDUP - Cherisse Halsall "We're here at the border between August Pine Ridge and San Felipe village, the end of the line for COVID-free Belizean territory. On Friday 3 minors whose families had jumped the Blue Creek/La Union border tested positive for the Coronavirus. Since then police have blocked off all access to this road and if you were to drive in there today you'd have to be prepared to stay for a month."
But that wasn't the case on Friday when ten-year-old Adamir Ayala went to San Felipe to visit his aunts and uncle. Now, he's stuck, and this morning we met his father Arcenio who was desperate to bring the boy home.
He'd traveled to one side of the border to retrieve Adamir who had been brought to the other side by his uncle. It was a sad and desperate standoff with Ayala stuck wondering whether or not he'd be able to get to his son.
Arcenio Ayala, Concerned Father "I'm trying to get my son. He is staying here and I live in August Pine Ridge. So I want to pass it again back, no, he's a small boy ten years old."
Cherisse Halsall: "So what have the police told you?"
Arcenio Ayala, Concerned Father "Well, I talked to the boss and he told me that he's coming right now I will try to arrange something no if we could pass him or not."
This man came to the village border to bring his sister-in-law the money that her husband sends monthly via western union. He wanted to deliver it to her personally but they were unable to coordinate arrival times. He ended up leaving the funds with the police and took off telling us that he won't be back until the lockdown is over.
Commercial entities don't have that luxury. And there are certain necessities that have to move despite the lockdown. The solution for that?: border handoffs-ensuring that while cargo continues to move the lockdown is maintained, meaning that no one goes in and no one comes out.
Edmure Escalante, Truck Driver "The mission today is to receive a truck that's loaded with feed from Blue Creek and take it back into the town to deliver but in the process, we have to swap trucks. This truck is going back to Blue Creek and then we'll get the loaded one to take out."
Cherisse Halsall: "What kind of feed?"
Edmure Escalante, Truck Driver "Animal feed and other stuff that they need to deliver."
Cherisse Halsall: "And how necessary is this animal feed for the people in Orange Walk?"
Edmure Escalante, Truck Driver "I would believe it is very necessary because other people have farms and stuff that they need to get their feed to and if the feed stays back there I think it just, you know, goes to waste as well. I mean the process doesn't stop, the job doesn't stop so we have to continue this."
Cherisse Halsall: "Are you nervous at all about making this transfer?"
Edmure Escalante, Truck Driver "Slight, you know but everything is precautions everything is about keeping safe, I mean I even drove from the states in March so you just have to keep safe that's all."
And what about Adamir Ayala? Well his weekend with his 'tios' has been extended.
Arcenio Ayala, Concerned Father "Well we'll have to wait until a month and that's too much for a small boy, no, he can't stay without his father and mother."
The boy may have gotten within a few feet of his father but he wasn't even allowed to exit the car and wave. Instead, both cars had to turn around and go back the way they came - just one snapshot of the shrinking world of life under lockdown.
Those areas will remain under a state of emergency for 30 days. The deals of the protocols are still being fine tuned, we are told.
And while we can only hope that we're not entering an era of COVID-19 witch-hunts with neighbors calling out neighbors for the slightest sniffle, truth is, It was only through community reporting that the Ministry of Health was able to zone in on those Blue Creek cases.
This Morning Commissioner Williams told us a bit about what life is like for those villagers under lockdown.
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police "Yes the state of emergency in the Blue Creek/San Felipe area is still ongoing. You would know that it came about as a result of a cluster of confirmed cases of Covid-19 that the ministry of health detected in that area and so there have been severe restriction to the movements of persons as well as goods and services to and from the affected area, but we must understand that human beings still live in the area and the necessities for living must be allowed to get in and come out of the affected area, and so what we did we met and we put together a protocol that is going to facilitate the movement of goods and service to the area. And so what we do if it is that the vehicle carrying the goods is a tow head, you have to have two heads. One head will drive the trailer to the check point. At the check point, the head coming out of the declared area is going to be unhitched from the trailer. The head coming out of the undeclared area is going to hitch the trailer and take it out of Blue Creek and vice-versa. If it is a vehicle that is not a trailer, like the chicken truck which doesn't have a trailer just a refrigerated truck - in those circumstances what we order is that when the truck gets to the check point if it is coming out of the declared area it will be sanitized properly with approved disinfectant. Once sanitized properly, the driver coming from undeclared area will take control of the truck and drive it out and vice-versa. It is also mandatory that the driver and sideman with the driver must wear a mask and a gloves so that in the event if the vehicle wasn't properly disinfected the mask and the gloves will be able to assist to prevent the new driver who may not be infected from contracting whatever may have been left in the vehicle. As it relates to persons who may require urgent medical attention a protocol has also been put in place by the ministry of health where they need to inform the ministry of health and then arrangement will be made to get the person out of the declared area to seek medical attention that they need. So we try as best as we can to be able to work with the villagers with a view to ensure that whatever services they require is still met, despite the fact that they are under a state of emergency."
Reporter "What about persons that are stuck inside the villages or outside trying to get in?"
Chester Williams, Commissioner of Police "If they are stuck inside the villages then that's just it, they just have to wait until when the ministry of health would declare that it is now safe to remove the state of emergency. We have to understand that yes while it may pose some strain to some people, some inconvenience that it is better to have the inconvenience than to have a country that is infested with Covid-19 patients, so they are not going to die. They are still living, they are alive and well - they just need to wait out and see what happens in the next few weeks."
The Blue Creek and the San Felipe State of Emergency is expected to last for a month.
Blue Creek Community Members Express Concerns over Lockdown
The villages of Blue Creek and San Felipe up north remain on lockdown, cut off from the rest of the country. The two villages were placed under a State of Emergency when health officials discovered a cluster of COVID-19 cases in Blue Creek Village last Friday. San Felipe is part of the S.O.E. due to its proximity to Blue Creek and the fact that most of its residents travel to Blue Creek for work. The two villages have been completely sealed off from the rest of the country so that no one goes in and no one comes out. But tonight, there are concerns from residents. Blue Creek is an agro-productive community that generates a large portion of our grains, meats, and poultry. Authorities have put in place protocols to deal with the transfer of products from the two villages to the rest of the country. But that process is not only inconvenient, but also very costly. Blue Creek Credit Union Manager Brendan Teigrob says that farmers and producers have to bear the extra cross in getting their produce across the village borderline.
Brendan Teigrob, Manager, Blue Creek Credit Union
“The cargo that is coming in the community having to unhook at the check and then the enterprise, whoever is bringing the cargo has to have their own towhead in the inside to go and hook on to that cargo and bring it here, do what we need to do with it and then do the reversal to have it exit. That is a lot of extra work and it is rather inconvenient.”
“Is it more costly?”
“Yes, absolutely. Think about this so the store owner he has to drive his van which he used to haul his merchandise. He has to put a driver in his van and he has to drive it from Blue Creek to the check point. The owner has to follow with his own pickup and the driver from the van gets into the pickup and they come back to Blue Creek and then somebody else has to drive a different driver to that side to the checkpoint with another driver and he gets in the van. So you are making two or three trips to the check point and coming back from the checkpoint. So it is definitely more costly.”
Fuel Issue in Blue Creek Addressed
According to Teigrob, community members were also concerned over the depleting amount of fuel in the village. Teigrob says that after appearing on Open Your Eyes this morning, the matter was addressed.
Brendan Teigrob, Manager, Blue Creek Credit Union
“Nobody in Blue Creek has the necessary requirements or licenses to transport or unload fuel. So that is a, that didn’t work but since this morning I actually saw a fuel truck going into Blue Creek now .so they may have been able to make arrangements with the fuel truck but the other cargo may have been experiencing in these setback. I am not sure who stepped in to get the fuel. Like I said, me and the mayor were on the Open Your Eyes morning show and I would say around ninety-thirty to ten I saw the fuel truck drive by and I checked by the store owner and he said yes the fuel truck is here. I don’t k now what arrangement he made or what happened or transpired since then but the fuel truck has been able to make its delivery now.”
We asked the Director of Health Services and the Minister of Health about the status of the State of Emergency which was implemented in the northern communities of Blue Creek and San Felipe. The residents are clamoring for the lockdown to be lifted because they say that they are running out of available food and water resources.
When we asked the DHS about the COVID status of these two communities, he told us that there are no active cases occurring there. Here's that conversation from this evening:
Reporter "Is anyone in San Felipe sick? The suggestion is that the lockdown was not justified."
Dr. Marvin Manzanero - Director of Health Services "Nobody is ill, but when that was lockdown is because we had an active contact tracing happening. We did manage to screen all the persons in the area and I understand there is going to be a decision made in terms of the state of emergency for those 2 villages."
Reporter "Is there a decision to lift it? Has there been any discussion at the cabinet level to lift the SOE given that for San Felipe and the Orange Walk community, given that it doesn't seem to be any active case there yet."
Hon. Pablo Marin, Minister of Health "I think definitely it will come in a while. Discussions has been put in place, but we just need to hold, I think this is the right time for people to be aware that if you are border jumping we will have to lock your community and then that's the only way for us to be able to safeguard the rest of the Belizean people."
Reporter "Is this a cabinet discuss, lifting the SOE for San Felipe?"
Hon. Pablo Marin, Minister of Health "I can't discuss whatever we talk in cabinet. Whatever decisions to be done, it will be done by the prime minister he will say it in time."
Reporter "The villagers were saying that many factors were not considered when that SOE was implemented in San Felipe, because they can't come out, they can't withdraw monies from their banks, the stores are running out of food items, water is depleting as well."
Hon. Pablo Marin, Minister of Health "Yes, I heard about that and I think we have to take that in consideration, but also as Belizeans on a whole, we need to protect them. So whenever we see cases going up in one community we need to be aware of that."
What Happens to Schools Under SOE?
But what does the quarantine mean for the schools in the villages? Will they be made to meet August 10th re-openings or will the lockdown keep them closed? That's what we asked Chief Education Officer, Carol Babb, this morning.
Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer "I've spoken to the general manager of Catholic School Mrs. Thompson and she said that the school is physically ready, meaning that they are ready with sanitization supplies. They can physically distance and they have hand wash basins in place and if they don't that's why we have the ministry of education and we are here to support. I am going to be given another cheque tomorrow of about fifty thousand dollars from B.E.L. I just had a conversation with the PR person from B.E.L. and she wants to give me the check as early as tomorrow. If there are schools out there who need hand washing basins, we are here to support them."
Reporter "But Dr. Babb, could you talk a little bit more about the educational issues in San Felipe and Blue Creek Village, for example, the school may be ready but the parents are not. They need to go to town to access their ATM cards to be able to do things like purchase books, purchase materials for uniforms and then there is also the issue of CXC students who are poised to take their exams but can't leave the village?"
Dr. Carol Babb, Chief Education Officer "We have already dialogued with CXC in Barbados and they are aware that those students are in a state of emergency and they can't leave their village. So if that school is not ready, we are going to talk with them and work with them and ensure everybody is safe. So if they are not ready for August tenth then we'll delay the opening for them. Nothing is carved in stone. I believe we don't have to make problems where problems exist. We have an open door policy at the ministry of education. If there are problems lets work together and find a solution."
Highschoolers who attend Orange Walk technical and Muffles College will not be able to physically attend classes until the lockdown comes to an end.
Manzanero: No community Spread In Cayo
We also asked Dr. Manzanero, about patient #39, a resident of Santa Elena Cayo, who deals in scrap metal, while his wife works at the market.
He was detected last week with the coronavirus after after he showed up 2 weekends ago at the San Ignacio Community Hospital. He was suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms and a loss of sense of taste.
Today, the DHS told us that this is not an instance of a community spread. He said that this time, it is believed this patient made contact with a Mexican community in the course of conducting his business:
Border jumping is certainly what forced government to declare a state of emergency with curfew and lockdown in the Orange Walk villages of San Felipe and Blue Creek on July 10th. It was supposed to last for a month - but, today, two weeks later the Prime Minister today announced that the State of Emergency is being lifted, and life can return to normal in those villages, effective immediately.
It's a huge relief for those communities which had been stranded without many essential services, and it comes after contact tracing exercises related to 7 cases coming out of that area. An exhaustive contact tracing exercise which ended this week confirmed that there were no cases related to those 7.