The biggest announcement today was the opening date for the Phillip Goldson International Airport. First, it was scheduled for August 15, but a spike in COVID cases cancelled that; and then it was tentatively set for September third, but, again, COVID made that impossible.

So, now, the date is October first and that PM swears that this date is firm:

Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"I'm pleased to say that we have a firm date now of October 1st, 2020. This date is what we have fixed upon for two reasons, we are positive that all the protocols, the physical refurbishment or the physical alteration of spaces at the PGIA, the training of taxi drivers, the training of others, the continuing or continuous reaching out to immigration personnel and the customs personnel and the public health inspectors, that sort of thing put us in a position where we can say with complete confidence that by October first, we will have the kind of flow that is to take place through the P.G.I.A. down pat. So apart from knowing that by October first we will absolutely be ready, the second rationale for that date is the fact that it would have made no sense even if we could have managed it to do an earlier reopening because nobody was coming. We have now though confirmation from American Airlines that they will start to fly again to Belize on October 1st, 2020. They will come initially five days a week, every day except, I believe, Tuesday and Wednesday. And then United is also indicating that they will start coming back to Belize on a regular basis, they bring the repatriation flights every Friday as you know. But they will start coming back on October first and they are proposing to come every day. So October first it is."

Rapid Testing Paves The Way To The Future

And a part of that clear headed-ness about October first is what seems to be an excessive amount of confidence the Prime Minister is putting in a new type of testing module called the Antigen Rapid Test from Abbott labs. It promises cheap and fast testing and the US company has been approved by the FDA for for productions of tens of millions of tests.

For the PM, the advent of this creates all kinds of opportunities, both for Belizeans and tourists - and it was the centrepiece of his presentation today. Today, he explained how the use of the rapid test in Belize will make for faster turnaround times for those whose samples are taken using the biosensor antigen rapid test:

Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"What this means is that I am able to announce today that starting perhaps as soon as the samples come back from the sweep that being done in the north this weekend by the health workers, perhaps as soon as that when we see that there are positives, we will begin to use one of the biosensor antigen rapid test as part of our testing regime. The particular biosensor antigen rapid test that we will use produces results in 15-30 minutes. It needs no operating equipment. There are some of them that come with a little machine that does the processing. This one that we are using is all together self-contained. Using the antigen rapid test in the way I have describe will provide substantial relief both to those doing the testing and to those being tested. It is I think, an absolute step forward. It is a clear positive for us to be able now to say we will use the antigen rapid test which once there is any sense of a return to the overcrowding will provide us with the relief we need. We can therefore this afternoon reassure the public that the days of waiting unduly long to be tested, the days on waiting an unduly long to get the results once you are tested - those days are pretty much behind us."

Testing Tourists In A Different Way

And while that is the biosensor test, the PM believes that the advent of the Abbott test should make it easier for testing when overnight tourists start arriving in October, and even when cruise visitors start arriving:

Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"So American tourists and Belizeans coming back from the States should have no trouble bringing an Abbott test with them. This thing is so portable. I don't want for them to test in the States and then bring us the results of their 15 minute Abbott test. I want them to bring the test and have the test administered right there at the airport so we can see. There won't be any logistical problem because this is 15 minutes and you are good to go, but what it means whether they use the Abbott test in the States before they get here or whether they use it as I would prefer, once they reach Belize and disembarked this should cut at least by half any worry` we previously had about being able to find sufficient tests to be administered by us at the PGIA. That Abbott breakthrough should also mean a 2020 restart to cruise ship calls, since it will be so easy for the cruise lines to test passengers before they board. You know that the majority of the cruise lines, certainly all of them that come to Belize have said that they will not start cruising again until 2021, but that was before this Abbott test breakthrough. They are headquartered in America, so they will have access to the Abbott rapid test and that should mean they are able to test every passenger. I terms of the numbers that Abbott is saying the way in which they will mass produce this test, it should be no problem for the cruise lines to be able to test everybody before they board a cruise ship and so it strikes me that this will have to mean a reversion to 2020 restart for the cruise industry. It would then mean if I am right that the Abbott test breakthrough should also have an influence, also incentivize and earlier start for the return to cruise, that basically we are beginning to see a comprehensive, at least the possibility of a comprehensive reset for the entirety of our tourism product."

We note that there has not been an announcement by the Cruise Industry as regards this type of testing.

Quarantine Requirement Eased For Belizeans

And while those visions of an overnight and cruise tourist comeback are perhaps slightly fanciful, there's legit good news from Belizeans repatriates coming back from the United States.

Presently when they return, they have to go on a costly 14 day quarantine in a hotel. That measure was introduced when Belizeans had a few dozen COVID cases. But now we have 870 going on a thousand - so is it really fair to ask them to pay for quarantine when most of them will test negative for COVID, which is widespread right in this community?

Today, the PM conceded it is not and that the policY will change:

Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"The protocol for the returning Belizeans either is going to change or may well change in fact I think we went as far as to be definitive currently and we have heard their cries, currently, certainly since last week, the Belizeans who came back had to be quarantined basically for 14 days Dr. Manza had announced I think last week that what he will do to try and shorten that period is to test them at day 7, once you came back negative you would be free to go. He has now said we discussed it this morning, we hear the cries of the Belizeans who say you put me in quarantine, I have to bear the expenses, there is not really a need for me to spend 14 days in quarantine so Dr. Manza is going to test them immediately and if they are negative, they will be allowed to go, won't even have to wear that monitoring bracelet that you seem to be so concerned about last week, in fact, the way things are looking, we haven't made a final decision but we are likely to scrap the need for that. It's not going to appear to be fair if you say to those Belizeans no, no, no, when you self-isolate you are going to have to wear a bracelet even though all those at home Belizeans that have proven positive and are not being put in quarantine that have been told self-isolate at home won't have to wear a bracelet, there, there you are going to run into difficulties, you are going to face the charge that you are discriminating, so away with the bracelets. We also believe given that there are what? 12 deaths now, the patterns of behavior we believe on the part of Belizeans at home and those repats will change."

Better Masks for Frontline Workers

The CEO in the Ministry of Health also discussed the large number of infected amongst front-line workers and proposed new measures to protect them:

Dr. George Gough, CEO, Ministry of Health

"We basically are looking at the 28 healthcare workers now on the 26th and a total of 38, 36-38 and also with law enforcement we have 42 but I just want to empathize that it is not the doctors, it is not the nurse, it is the lab technician, it is the pharmacist, it is the receptionist, it is the administrator, it is the lab technician, the public health inspector, it is the x-ray, everybody is exposed so everyone possible within that health care team has come up, has somebody representing them on a positive note so we are very very concerned and obviously we are even looking at our protocols to say that maybe these people who are on the frontline might need to wear an N-95 mask some thing that we know is much more expensive but we are starting to learn and observe that these people are much closer to these clients that what we are presently and maybe by not having an ordinary surgical mask and an N-95 mask they probably would be more protected."

CEO Says COVID Supplies Enough For 9 Months Email Print Doctor Gough also discussed the availability of those masks and supplies in general: Dr. George Gough, CEO, Ministry of Health "When it comes to the PPE suits, the ones that you see in the full white, we presently enjoy an inventory of about 100,000 in country in our warehouses and we have about 15,000 still coming from an IDB subsidy, not to say that we are going to be issuing them recklessly or irresponsibly. When it comes to the gowns for example, I am also glad to say that we have more than 34,000 of blue ones which are the sterile ones and we have over 20,000 of the non-sterile ones and we have a total of about 75,000 still coming into the country. When it comes to the masks, like the one I am wearing, we presently enjoy close to a million in the warehouse and I have close to about 700,000 coming in the next few weeks. The N-95 which are very demanded upon due to the contact tracers and people doing swabs, the health care workers in the ICU, the health care workers in the operating rooms, presently we have a total of 11,000 and we are looking at close to about 100,000 coming in right now from the donors of IDB and the Taiwanese grant. Presently at the lab, the central lab our PCR, not the rapid, the solid PCR testing that we are doing, we enjoy presently a stock to be able to do at least 26,000 tests in the country, that is a very comfortable point and position at this time if we are to change our protocols a bit slightly, with rapid antigen tests we also had the foresight about a month ago to bring in 5,000 rapid antigen tests that we have quietly stored at our labs, we are presently procuring as we speak yesterday and Monday, another 10,000 that should be in country later this week, that money has already been secured by the ministry of finance."

Finally, Bonus For Frontline Workers

And, the Prime Minister announced that there is more relief for front-line workers, because a long delayed and much discussed bonus is on the way:

Rt. Hon. Dean Barrow - Prime Minister

"The bonus package for the frontline workers in the ministry of health, this was a bonus package that we had promised some time ago, we are finally looking to get it together, the position is being sorted out between the ministry of health and the ministry of finance."

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