Tomorrow marks the long awaited reopening of the P.G.I.A. But when tourists and returning Belizeans alike touch down they can expect to pass through a 7 checkpoint process before being cleared to enter the country. And while that may seem a bit daunting it's a process that's been designed to hopefully mitigate another spike in COVID cases.
But if you're returning home tomorrow or nervous for a returning loved one, we have your first glimpse of the post-COVID P.G.I.A. It was presented in a media walkthrough this afternoon and Cherisse Halsall has all the details:
When arrivals at the P.G.I.A. step onto the tarmac tomorrow they'll be at the start of quite a thorough process. First, there's the hospitality meet and greet standard for arrival to any tropical tourist destination.
But once they get to checkpoint two it will be clear that even paradise has to take measures against the pandemic. This is where airport officials will make sure that all arrivals have downloaded the Belize Health app, and completed either their arrival or quarantine forms. This is also the point for a temperature check.
Checkpoint three is a health check where arrivals will meet nurses in full PPE's. Next they're split in red and green lines depending on whether or not they brought that all important PCR test. This is called the safe corridor. At this point those without a PCR will be ushered into a newly built health facility for further processing.
But with a test in hand, it's off to the arrival hall for a stamp on their passport. Then they go through the usual immigration and baggage and they're out the door for ground or air transfer.
But as we've noted this isn't the boom that the tourists industry is thirsting for as tourists only make up 20% of the first weekends arrivals. Still, procedures have to be in place and with a few weeks to practice BTB director of Marketing Misty Micheals is hoping that things are soon to pick up.
Misty Michael, Director of Marketing and Industry Relations, BTB "I think the industry recognizes that this is still typically slow season, so it wasn't anticipated that with the airport re-opening that we would have had a mass influx of visitors, but we do anticipate that by the time we get closer to November and leading into the end of the year, that the numbers will be picking up."
For now, arrivals and family members charged with pickup will have to get used to yet another set of new norms.
Misty Michael "Access to the airport compound itself will be more restricted to what Belizeans were used to prior to COVID. Tomorrow when the airport opens, beyond the airport security barrier only gold standard approved transportation will be allowed inside and the airport security will no know that they are gold standard because there is a gold seal that the operators received from the BTB and those are placed on their vehicles. For Belizeans returning home, their family should pick them up just before the security and of course as I mentioned, it's important for Belizeans to remember that when your family members are coming back home to Belize they are entering, but they are going into quarantine, so you don't want to bring your whole family, you have to remember that there is a possibility that within those 10 days after arriving that they could potentially show signs and symptoms, so it's important for them to go home and isolate."
Enrique Hoare, Manager of Operations, P.G.I.A. "We will only allow the gold standards vehicle from the gold standard hotels and operators. We will only use the taxi to move people from the airport. For people coming to meet on their own, basically we are not going to allow any outside vehicles to come here, except those that have been actually certified."
There are also changes for those leaving the country who won't be able to wave goodbye to family as they board their flight. That's because departure terminals are now for travelers only.
Enrique Hoare, Manager of Operations, P.G.I.A. "One of the biggest changes that we're going to have is that the terminal will now be for travelers or travelling passengers only. That will then afford us the spacing to meet all the social distancing and all the other protocols that we need to abide by. You will find that the aviation industry is one that is very flexible. We've been able to take various shocks over the years 911, 9 years ago which brought different standard and we here to deal with whatever we have to deal with."
At the helm of all these procedures are over 700 airport employees who have undergone months of preparation for the challenges that lie ahead.
Enrique Hoare "Well, we have done training for over 700 airport employees with the support of ministry of health and Covid especially. We have also reached out to our airport taxi union that they both are training with ministry of health and they also did a training with BTB to ensure that they can meet the various standards. We at the airport took it upon ourselves to say that everybody that's working at the airport must undergo a Covid training. Failure to abide by that we would not allow that person to operate until they received the necessary training."
And with all those measures in place the BTB can only hope that the re-opening of the country can be a tentative first step toward some measure of normalcy for Belize's most vital industry.
And, if you're wondering about airport access for your private vehicle it won't be granted, instead, you'll have to pick up your loved one at a designated drop-off point either at the junction with the northern highway or at the roundabout with the John Smith Road.
Arrivals will be dropped off there by certified airport union taxis. This is to ensure that they leave the airport in an approved vehicle for verification of their intended quarantine destination.
Is the P.G.I.A. Ready for Reopening? Here is a Look at Protocols in Place
United and American Airlines are set to resume commercial flights beginning this Thursday. More than seven hundred Belizeans and visitors are to land at the Philip Goldson International Airport in the next few days. For months, the industry has been preparing for the day when the tourism industry can begin to bounce back and spur economic activity after months of the downturn caused by the COVID pandemic. Today, we headed to the P.G.I.A. for an organized tour and a first-hand look at the steps the passengers will go through on arrival. Here is Hipolito Novelo with a report.
Hipolito Novelo, Reporting
The Philip Goldson International Airports re-opens for commercial flights on Thursday, October first, and the government has ensured that protocols are in place at the P.G.I.A. to receive tourists and returning Belizeans. In fact, a little over seven hundred persons are expected to arrive over the course of the weekend; the majority are Belizeans which means that the anticipated boom in the tourism industry will not be immediate. At the P.G.I.A. there are seven checkpoints
Misty Michael, Director of Marketing and Industry Relations, B.T.B.
“When the airport reopens tomorrow the arrival process is slightly different for a tourist arriving with a negative PCR versus another passenger. The arrival process is comprised of seven different check points. Check point one is disembarking the airplane. Checkpoint two is a hospitality meet and greet. All passengers have to enter check point two. In this checkpoint we are basically ensuring that all passengers have downloaded the Belize health app, that they completed their arrivals. If they are Belizeans that they complete the quarantine form. In the case of tourists who are staying at a gold standard hotel and traveling within the same corridor, that they receive their sage corridor bands so that it makes it easier to move them through the safe corridor process. When there is also a health verification that takes place in checkpoint two. The public health inspectors will ensure that all of the information hat was placed into the Belize Health App is correct. There is also a temperature check that takes place at checkpoint two.”
Once cleared the person then moves to check point three for further processing.
“Checkpoint three is another health check. The health nurses and then from there you move into checkpoint four which is the health unit. Now if you’ve arrive with a negative PCR and there are no other visible signs or symptoms that would indicate that you could possibly have COVID you will be cleared to go through the green line. If you are in the green line you bypass the health unit and you go straight through to immigration or customs processing.”
If a passenger arrives without a PCR test, they will be tested at the airport.
“There is a differentiation within the testing as well. Tourists who are traveling within the safe corridor would only need to be swabbed and they will be able to exit the clinic and finish the arrival process. Belizean who will be going back into the community will be swabbed and they will proceed to checkpoint five which is a waiting lounge and they will wait there to get their test results from a health officer. We anticipate that the result will take anywhere from maybe twenty-five to thirty minutes for them to get that back. Once they receive their test results the health officer will place a stamp on their arrival form which indicates that they have been cleared by all of those previous checkpoint and then they will be allowed to enter back into the arrival hall to complete the entry process. And of course that include immigration, baggage claim and customs and that is check point six.”
The final checkpoint is the number seven at the airport exit.
“At the exit, B.T.B. also has a team and they will be looking for tourist traveling within the sage corridor. So they will be looking for the wristbands. If they are traveling by ground transfer to their hotel say in Cayo they will be directed to the ground transfer outside. If they are traveling by air to one of the islands or down south the team will be working with Maya and Tropic for them to be at the door to pick up their passenger for onward transport.”
Access to the airport compound will be restricted. Only gold standard approved transportation will be allowed access. Operations Manager at the PGIA Enrique Hoare says over seven hundred airport employees have undergone training. Members of the airport taxi union have also participated training.
Enrique Hoare, Operations Manager, P.G.I.A.
“We have done training for over seven hundred airport employees with the support of Ministry of Health on COVID especially. We have also reached out to our airport taxi union that they both a training in Ministry of Health and they also did a training with B.T.B. to ensure that they can meet the various standards. We as the airport took it upon ourselves to say that everybody that is working at the airport must undergo a COVID training, failure to abide by that we will not allow that person to operate until they have received the necessary training. We will only allow the gold standards vehicles from the gold standard hotels and operators. We will only use the taxi to move people from the airport. For people coming to meet on their own, right now we are not going to allow any outside vehicle to come here except that have been certified.”
Is the P.G.I.A. Ready for Reopening? Here is a Look at Protocols in Place
United and American Airlines are set to resume commercial flights beginning this Thursday. More than seven hundred Belizeans and visitors are to land at the Philip Goldson International Airport in the next few days. For months, the industry has been preparing for the day when the tourism industry can begin to bounce back and spur economic activity after months of the downturn caused by the COVID pandemic. Today, we headed to the P.G.I.A. for an organized tour and a first-hand look at the steps the passengers will go through on arrival.
Re: Airport Ready For Tourist Arrivals, Here’s How It Works
#545316 10/05/2004:34 AM10/05/2004:34 AM
October 3, 2020 6:30 am est. Boarded United Airlines at Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington, DC bound for Belize. At check-in the Agent was very nice she asked to see my barcode verifying that I had downloaded the Belize Health App, she is a Belizean. Process went very smoothly while she explained that they had to turn people away because they went to the airport unprepared. She thanked me for coming prepared and for checking in before I arrived at the airport.
Arrival at Belize PGIA 12:30pm. Was met with nothing but professionalism and cheerful welcomes from the beginning to end.
Temperature taken and directed to the health station to be tested. I was screened by a very nice nurse who sent me off to the testing area. After reading all the horror stories about the test I proceeded in the line with dread (total hogwash). The nurse doing the test was cheery and calming and that eased my apprehension somewhat. When the doctor came and said hi Ms. Gomez I was then totally put at ease, the doctor was Dr. Hakeem Arzu I've know Hakeem from since he was a young high schooler.
Now the test: 10 seconds of slight discomfort, unnu stap spread propaganda. I was then sent to wait for my results in a very comfortable air conditioned room. Thirty minutes later I had my negative results and proceeded to Immigration, baggage claim, duty free and customs. Personnel for all those entities were following the proper protocols.
Proud Belizean returning home and totally impressed with the process from beginning to end. Total time from landing to end approximately an hour. If I had brought my own negative test it would have been considerably shorter.
I am now isolating for 10 days. Will make some demands of the children every few minutes heehee. I want a bell so I can summon them.