*PRIME MINISTER'S PRESS CONFERENCE HIGHLIGHTS*
1) Preprimary and Primary schools will commence on September 7 with paper-based distance learning. Assignments are to be picked up from designated spots to be determined by individual schools.
2) Digital devices will be sourced by the Ministry of Education to facilitate as much of the students as they can for online learning; arrangements will have to be made through the schools and will have a minimal cost to have the text books uploaded onto the device. It is yet to be determined whether the devices will be on loan or for keeps
3) In September secondary teachers will be trained on delivering online classes in their specific subjects, using Office 365 software package which included about twenty five applications that could be used in online learning
4) Teachers will be required to go into school to engage in training and preparatory work to deliver the school year's academic curriculum; schools must still practice social distancing during the preparatory sessions
5) Parents are to contact their child's school administration to resolve any issues their child may have in this form of learning. If the school does not address their concerns parents can then contact the Ministry of Education hotline at 614-7402.
6) For primary schools, GoB will contribute $5.00 per students for schools to be able to prepare printed assignment materials for the distance paper-based learning. The fund for this particular initiative comes from the monies earmarked for refreshments for children that ordinarily would have been used during the September celebrations.
7) For tertiary students - they have already been approved to commence online studies. GoB and Digi have arranged for 6000 students to be helped with data to do their online studies. Data packages will be given at a value of $70.00 per package and includes 25GB of data with an extended expiration date. Education Minister says they are working on getting them ready for distribution in September.
8) Prime Minister Dean Barrow says additional measures will be taking place in the coming days. He will generalize and leave the details to the Attorney General, Michael Peyrefitte who will be on a special edition of Ask the Expert to be aired on Saturday, August 22.
9) PM cited the WHO's comments saying that a total lockdown is not necessary which he says is exactly what he is avoiding for Belize.
10) PM says today's results of 41 positives out of 272 tests compared to previous days is indicating a downward trend. He added that, "while caution is the watch word, while all that has happened clearly is for us a learning experiencing; while clearly we could have no better motivation for reforming our patterns of behaviour, which to a large extent those patterns are responsible principally for what is now taking place, in that kind of overall context, as we go forward, the new measures we are talking about which are old measures being brought back in a new format to tailor make the response to what is happening now, I want to express the hope which is not just a pious or idle hope that we can ultimately contain this new surge or these new surges; it is with that long but necessary preamble that he announces the way forward."
11) No flexibility will be given on weekends for curfew. Curfew will now be uniformed every day starting at 9pm to 5am. It has been extended from 8pm to 9pm in consideration of commuters.
12) Essential and emergency workers will be allowed to move about during curfew. A listing of essential activities will be developed. PM says a compilation is difficult as some entities are unintentionally excluded. These include some NGOs like Helpage who look after the elderly. Once the SI is published and an organization is excluded they will need to make a submission to the Ministry of National Security.
13) Reference restrictions on activities, the PM has announced that spas, beauty salons, barber shops operate by appointment only; one customer being attended to and one customer awaiting attention. In cases where there are more that one attendant and multiple service stations spread apart then multiple customers can be attended to providing there is social distancing protocols in place.
14) Private parties are completely prohibited this includes house parties and any gatherings that would include any person from outside the immediate household.
15) Recreational sports and the use of public parks and playgrounds is off the table. For weddings only the wedding parties will be allowed, the bride, the groom, the priest and witnesses; no guests. Banquets, balls, receptions are also prohibited. Social events are also prohibited that would entail socializing is a no-go. Public worships are now prohibited. With respect to funerals, only ten members of the family and the officiating priest/pastor and the mortuary attendant will be allowed.
16) Meetings of fraternal societies are banned including lodges, organizations, social clubs or civic associations.
17) GoB will provide for a list of businesses to operate 24/7 on a shift system including food mills, sugar, citrus, and other approved food production factories; oil production; oil drilling; port operations and services involving cargo loading and unloading.
18) For transport operators, water taxis and businesses who do not enforce the Covid-19 protocols, the Prime Minister says that penalties will be streamlined as they are expected to take all reasonable measures. PM says they are carefully reviewing the drafting on this section but it is necessary to send the signal that this is serious business and the protocols have to be obeyed.
The Voice Of Caye Caulker
The country is going back to the closure of dine-in restaurants with only the option of take-outs. Also affected by these new measures are the streetside vendors. The Attorney General Michael Peyrefitte will be on a special edition of Ask The Expert on Saturday night to flesh out the details of these new measures. The measures are to take effect at midnight on Saturday. The curfew which has been adjusted to 9pm each night.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow also announced that among the new measures there will be a ban on fraternal meetings including lodges and social clubs. The business of beauty salons and the like, as well as private gatherings within the homes will also be affected by the new measures being taken.
For those parents who choose to go with home-schooling, the ministry has approved a start date of September 7. The Ministry of Education is currently working on an initiative that will assist students with electronic devices to carry out their online assignments. According to Minister Faber the ministry is working closely with Digi.
More money to assist Belize with Covid relief is underway; that is according to the Prime Minister. While the Prime Minister did not have the exact figure he assured residents that they will continue to expand on the programs by sourcing money from lending agents. Additionally, these finances will continue to assist students and those in the agricultural sector.
No Lockdown, But Added Social Controls To Slow Infections
The Prime Minister held a press conference today to discuss the rising number of COVID infections. Tonight, Belize stands at 648 confirmed cases, which marks a 1,350% increase in the last three weeks.
For some, the numbers and the daily rate of infection scare lockdown, but - citing advice from the World Health Organization - the Prime Minister today announced that he is not ready to go there - not yet, at least:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"Total lockdowns are not recommended by the WHO because of the economic and social devastation that such lockdowns caused. So, I am fortified in my own thinking that we pretty much at all cost want to avoid anything like a total lockdown. I want to express the hope which is not just a pius or idle hope, based on all that I've just said that we can ultimately contain this new surge or these new surges."
And right now, the daily increasing numbers are not reflecting that hope, and that's why to contain the spread, the Prime Minister today announced a new set of measures that will limit social movement and gathering, but do not amount to a lockdown. He discussed the new curfew, and the new limitations on restaurants, tacos stands and other social interactions:
Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister
"First of all curfew is not going to be any flexibility on weekends. You remember the current regime is curfew from 8pm to 5am and on weekends from 10pm to 5am. Now, curfew will be uniform throughout the week each and every day the same and the curfew hours will be from 9p.m. until 5a.m. We've gone from 8pm to 9pm because there are people who work, for example, in Belize City and live in Corozal and who commute every day. That is the only reason for going from 8-9pm so that we can better accommodate those people who do that kind of daily cross-country commute.
"Last time I said we wanted to give a pass to things like volleyball and perhaps basketball - there is just no way as Dr. Manza points out of sanitizing the ball after every play and so it can't work, given the circumstances those things are going to have to stop. The public parks and playgrounds that have basketball courts, we are going to prohibit use of those public parks and playgrounds. All that will come under the rubric of the prohibition of all recreational or competitive sporting events."
"Wedding - no wedding can host 10 or more than 10 persons other than the bride, the bride groom, the official witnesses and the marriage officer. We are going to for this period and we are talking about 2 weeks as the duration of the new measures. But banquets, balls reception - no go. Those are to be prohibited. Social events, getting together for some kind of interaction attended by libations all that must stop."
"All ceremonies of public worship in any facility or public place which involves the participation of any member of the general public or a congregation, we're putting a stop to that. Restaurants - we are very careful, because we don't want too much to interfere with the economy, but again certainly the close restaurants where as Dr. Manza says there is the circulation of air without a sort of escape valve, if you will, can be very dangerous. The air-conditioned restaurants for in-house dining as it were. We thought about limiting it to open air, but again, ultimately, we came down on the side only allowing restaurants to operate on take out, delivery and drive-thru basis. Brings me to the tacos vendors and the barbecue sellers, again, if you can deliver, if you can have people pick up from your premises that's best. We do not want to take the livelihood away from the tacos vendors, so what we are going to be saying is you find a parking lot or you find some lot perhaps close to the street, but not on the street side. We can't pretend to be serious about what we are trying to do and allow the crowding of the tacos vendors by people on the street side."