Tonight, COVID is spreading across Belize - and it's spreading security
forces thin. Between the BDF and Police, 250 law enforcement personnel
are at home - either in self isolation after a positive test, or in
quarantine because they were exposed.
For the police, 100 cops are at home because of COVID - 60 have tested
positive for the virus, while another 40 are in quarantine because of
Today, via Zoom video conference, the Commissioner of police told us
that he's been forced to re-deploy manpower to keep domestic security
at an optimal level - and it's not been easy:
Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police
"It is really sad for us that we currently have a number of 61 police
officers who are infected with the COVID-19 virus. Since the start of
COVID-19 we have had 88 infected officers, some of whom have recovered, and
we have 61 active cases. Those active cases are currently in isolation and
we also have about 40 or so police officers who have are in quarantine,
pending results. So the COVID-19 pandemic has truly hit us hard, police
officers on a daily basis, we have to interact with people, we conduct
house searches, we conduct people searches, we have to arrest people and
those are activities that brings us in direct contact with individuals,
many of whom we do not know what their status are, so it really and truly
puts us at risk and even though yes, we try our utmost best to ensure that
officers wear their PPE, at times the PPE does not serve the purpose the
way we would expect it to. Just over the past 2 weeks, we had to change our
personnel from along the Santa Cruz, San Victor Douglas area, those are
involved in the contraband hotspots because many of them were infected with
the virus as well."
"Should rapid testing be made available for frontline workers, especially
those who have to be in constant contact with new members of the public on
"I did get that suggestion this morning from a good friend who suggested to
me that we should being to do our own rapid testing as police and it is
something that I'm going to discuss with my minister to see what support we
can get for that. I do believe that yes, if we can do that it would help
significantly because the truth is, we come into contact with a lot of
people and to arrest somebody requires physical contact with that
"How has the quarantining and the self-isolation and the diagnosis of so
many officers, so many dozen of officers affected your ability to deploy
and police effectively when your juggling man power from hotspot to the
"I think Jules I need to go into the world chess competition, and I might
win that competition, it's like juggling and playing chess. It is difficult
at times because separate and a part from the fact that we have about 100
or so officers out of commission, we also since the COVID-19 pandemic
began, we have also lost at least about another 100 officers due to
attrition, either resignation, dismissal, person retiring, going off
medically, deaths, etc, so we have also loss over 100 due to attrition
since the COVID-19 pandemic. So, you can see where our numbers is depleting
but despite that, we continue to remain effective and efficient as we can."
Fortunately, No police officers are currently hospitalised for COVID
Keeping Cops Motivated
And with 100 cops dealing with COVID up close, and thousands more still
on duty and very afraid to get infected, how is the police department
managing to stay motivated and engaged with a community that is
That's what we asked the Commissioner:
"This is right now is the hardest time for policing in memory because of
the duration, we're going into the 8th month of COVID awareness, my
perception is that some of the officers are inevitably losing motivation
and this may be for a number of reasons, they are very afraid to get
infected and that is a completely rational fear. Two, there is only so much
you can do, I saw people campaigning this morning for politics with their
mask under their chin. How hard is to keep officers motivated and focus on
enforcing really what is a public health issue more than a law and order
Chester Williams - Commissioner of Police
"The truth is Mr. Vasquez that indeed many of our officers are affected
psychologically because just the thought of some of them getting infected
do affects them and sometimes it's not for them per say but the fact that
they might be infected and go home to families unknowing to them that they
are infected, then they infect their loved ones, that makes it even worse.
I am here, I can tell you I don't really want to interact with my mother
because I don't know if I'm infected and I don't want to infect her, so I
try as best as I can to interact with her, which is extremely hard for both
of us. At the end of the day, as I've said before as police officers, we
are a special breed of people and the things that we do in difficult
circumstances are difficult times are you rightly alluded to are things
that some people would never dream to do for not even an hour but despite
that, majority of officers are still committed every day to come to work
and do what they need to do to ensure the safety of others. The campaign
issue, I saw a group yesterday indeed and they were campaigning, they were
in very close proximity of one another, they were not wearing their mask
properly and I stopped beside them and I said come on, you need to social
distance and you need to ensure that you wear your mask and they apologised
and they put on their mask and being to walk with spaces in between but I
am sure that when they got up the road again, they continue to do what they
want, these are the things that people need to understand. The police and
the Ministry of Health do not have the power to stop the spread, who have
the power, are each of us individually to ensure that we make it our
individual interest to do what we need to do to protect ourselves and to
protect our loved ones."
BDF Thinned Out By COVID Infections
And, it's not just our police force but also our defence forces that
have been thinned out by COVID-19.
There are 142 soldiers either in quarantine or in self-isolation; 65 of
those are positive cases, while 39 are from the military installation
in Orange Walk
Via Zoom video conference, we got a zoom update on the situation from
Lt. Col Brandon Garcia, who told Cherisse Halsall that COVID-19 will
not stop the BDF from manning the north.
Lt. Col Brandon Garcia - Chief of Staff of the BDF
"When those persons on operation actually were allowed some down time, they
went home and one of them in particular came back, because he was with some
infected persons in his family."
"So, we know that that index case happened about 2 weeks ago, by all
measures would you label that soldier a super spreader?"
Lt. Col Brandon Garcia
"Well, it started yes with him and to this date we have confirmed that
within the BDF we have a total of 65 positive cases, 39 with 39 alone being
from the military installation in Orange Walk also a total of 142 persons,
or 142 soldiers are quarantined or on self-isolation at home."
"What can you tell me about contact process that has been going on, how has
it identified all those that you know about and how much can you tell us
about who else may have been exposed?"
Lt. Col Brandon Garcia
"The contact tracing is being done with the assistance from the Ministry of
Health and our doctors are also involved in this process."
"With this large incapacitation of soldiers, what does this mean for the
BDF? How are you able to operate with all of these people out of
Lt. Col Brandon Garcia
"So, while I cannot speak to the plans we have in place, I will say there
are no issues fulfilling our commitment. Basically, we are saying that we
as a force for us to minimize the transmission of this virus, it requires
employing the necessary precautions, it requires access to rapid testing
kits, it requires an understanding of the problem within itself. It
requires an implementation of doing things differently and also the most
important, it requires continuous leadership. All these requirements work
in tandem with knowing one status throughout this pandemic. So that is our
approach to all that is happening within the BDF, so that we in return can
protect the citizens of this country."
A relief is currently being conducted along the border to replace all
those soldiers currently out of commission due to COVID.
COVID Breaks Into The Prison
And, it's not only police and health workers - but - as we told you
last week - prison guards have also been infected.
For months now there have been rumblings of a COVID outbreak at the
Belize Central Prison.
And, it seemed an inevitability - with a large number of men and women
confined to cramped spaces. Still, the prison had been doing a
remarkable job of keeping the virus at bay. However. with the
increasingly wide footprint of COVID-19, there was only so long they
could remain an island isolated against infection.
This morning Cherisse Halsall headed to Hattieville to find out about
the outbreak at the Belize Central Prison.
The Belize Central Prison, it's a fortress, a place from which thoughts of
escape are mostly futile. But while Prisoners don't seem to get out,
Covid-19 has managed to get in.
This morning we went behind prison walls to ask the Kolbe Foundation's
C.E.O. about the prison's first brush with COVID 19, a small outbreak
that's left 6 prison guards and 8 inmates infected with the virus.
Virgilio Murillo - C.E.O, Kolbe Foundation
"We did a hundred and 52 rapid tests, that was done amongst guards and
inmates, and of that 152 rapid tests, 8 inmates only turned out as positive
for COVID 19. That included one female inmate and 7 male inmates. We also
did some PCR tests aside from the 30 that we had done initially. That 30
like I said yielded 4 and then we did 21 on Tuesday or Monday that is and
that resulted in two more guards testing positive for COVID-19. We have
done some more PCR tests a total of 54 which we have not received any
results yet for, so we are still waiting for the results for those. But out
of that 54, 45 was done on inmates and the remaining was done on guards."
The question now is, how much contact did those positive cases have with
the rest of the prison population?
"We've quarantined everybody who needs to be quarantined and we're hoping
that that is how it stays now the quarantining should take care of them and
14 days later they will go back and do a subsequent list that should clear
them up. Whoever isn't cleared up by then. I imagine you'd have to push on
with another 14 days quarantine. What we have done right now to those ones
that are under quarantine they are being attended to by guards and
obviously the guards are properly dressed in their PPE including a face
shield and the Hazmat suit and what have you, gloves and everything are
properly sanitized and sterilized on a regular basis."
"With the knowledge that there is, as I said, a small outbreak in the
prison, what's the mood like here among inmates that may not yet be
affected, infected. How are they feeling about the fact that the virus is
nowhere among your population?"
"Well, like I've always maintained as long as you educate the prison
population and the staff and you don't hide any information from them, your
open with the information, you shouldn't be getting any resistance or
rebellion if you want to call it that and that is what we have done all
along we have been keeping them in the loop. What I want to mention here is
that with the widespread of COVID-19 in the community it would be wishful
thinking for anybody to think that it would not eventually reach the
prison. In my mind it has always been just a matter of when. Right now the
prisoners are still entitled to maintain telephone contact with their
families, visits are still suspended and they will remain so, suspended
until we start to see some kind of improvement in the broader community. It
would be very risky to open up for visits, especially bearing in mind what
is happening on the outside."
And while every precaution is being taken to mitigate the spread, personnel
at the prison are almost operating blindly. Murillo says he is waiting
patiently for the results of additional testing that will give a better
idea of how many people might have contracted the highly contagious
"I know that they are very overwhelmed with the amounts of testing that
they're doing in the broader community, these tests like I said were done
like two days ago and I was hoping that we would have gotten the last set
yesterday and then probably the set they did yesterday, maybe tomorrow but
it doesn't happen that way obviously. So we're just waiting and we'll see
what happens with that, I am hopeful that maybe by the end of today we
should get the results for those though and then I would be in a better
position to say what are the results of those."
COVID Taking A Toll On Frontline Workers
Yesterday on Ask The Experts, Director of Health Services Dr. Marvin
Manzanero discussed the outbreak in these frontline security and health
Dr. Marvin Manzanero - Director of Health Services
"The issue with the group of BDF soldiers who have been stationed in Orange
Walk. Some of the numbers that you saw there, it's at least 27 from that
group that was stationed in Orange Walk turned positive, from that BD
group, just so that you're aware. The majority of them are being
quarantined now - I am told - in Belmopan. But, up to about 60 of those had
actually been swabbed, but 27 of them have been confirmed to be positive,
and they are being isolated elsewhere. We have also 14 police officers who
are currently listed as active cases of sars COVID-2, and I'm not so sure
if that entails or include the 3 new officers from a specific group in the
Cayo District that turned out positive this morning. That's exposure [of]
frontline workers, and we also have 4 healthcare workers that are currently
having an active case of Sars COVID-2."