PM: COVID 19 Positive Persons Will Not Vote
For a few weeks now, it's been a live issue: how will persons who have tested positive for COVID 19 vote in the November 11th general election?
Right now there are over a thousand active cases - and those numbers are enough to swing the races in many closely contested divisions - especially in Corozal and Orange Walk where the most cases are concentrated. Plus, it's every citizen's constitutional right to exercise their franchise to vote in an election.
But, at a press conference today, the Prime Minister said he doesn't see any way persons with COVID 19 should or will be allowed to vote:
No Coming Across The Border To Vote
And while there are 1,029 active cases right now - we stress that not all of them are necessarily registered voters, and, of course, that number may increase or decrease in the next few weeks before the election.
And, another set of voters who will not be able to exercise their franchise on November 11th is the group that lives across the land borders, be it in the west, north, or south.
Many see their involvement in elections as a kind of voter fraud - and indeed, in some cases, it may be - but there are also Belizeans who live and work in Mexico and Guatemala and who may legitimately wish to come over to vote.
Relaxing The Restrictions On Air Travel
But today's three hour virtual press conference by the Prime Minister wasn't about the elections - in fact those subjects came up in the third hour.
The Primary purpose of today's press conference was to announce the latest decisions of the National Oversight Committee. These are to significantly relax the quarantine regulations governing travel into the country for both Belizeans and tourists.
Tourism resumed at the start of this month, and in the first two weeks, 1,547 passengers arrived, and 845 of those, or 55%, have been tourists.
Well, starting next week, those visitors won't have to go through any kind of quarantine or - in the case of Belizeans - they won't have to apply for repatriation.
From A Safe Corridor to a Casual Corridor?
And so while travel into the country is being simplified greatly, the restrictions that were governing tourists while here are also being significantly relaxed.
Under the regional guidelines, tourists were basically very comfortable prisoners at the Gold Standard Hotels where they were staying. And they could only leave in hotel sponsored tours.
It's an oppressive requirement, especially for people who have tested negative for COVID either upon arrival or just before - and - right about now - are more likely to catch COVID from the community, than they are to give it to the community.
Such is the current state of COVID contagion locally, and that's why the Prime Minister said the Oversight Committee thought it practical to relax he regulations of the safe corridor for tourists:
There Were Corridor Complaints
The relaxation is also in response to tourist complaints about the safe corridor restrictions. Apparently, its a deterrent to would be travellers and with what is traditionally the high season coming up in November, something had to give.
The Director of Tourism says the idea now is too increase the reach of the gold standard certification to restaurants and gift shops:
Karen Bevans, Director of Tourism:
"While we are pleased with the arrival process, we have been receiving concerns from stakeholders on feedback from guests with the restrictions in movement within Belize..."
Airlift To Belize Increasing
And another aspect of the visitor experience is the processing time at the airport - especially with many travellers having to take COVID 19 tests upon arrival. But, in the first two weeks - with those over 1,500 arrivals - the head of the National Task Force says it's gone surprisingly well - which is a good start since more flight will be coming:
Judith Alpuche, Chair., Covid-19 Nat'l Task Force:
"These 2 opening weeks we've process through 1,713 arriving passengers and there is quite a number of people going out as well. But focusing on the arriving passengers, the commercial lifts that come in from United and American Airlines and now TAG International has been added on to that list of carriers and well as the private flights that come in..."
Restaurant Restriction Lifted
And one more regulation relaxation that's sure to enhance the visitors' experience and the social living of many Belizeans is removing the limit on the number of persons that can be in a restaurant.
Presently, it's limited to 10 - no matter what's the size of the restaurant - or whether it is indoor our open air. The Prime Minister said that will now change to vary based on the size of the restaurant:...
Hon. Dean Barrow, Prime Minister:
"We're changing that depending on your square footage, depending on your space, you can have more then ten persons in the restaurant at the same time. You have to have the tables set apart so that you observe the social distancing protocol and you can't have more than ten persons at any one table, ten persons of the same party can be at the same table together but that number can't exceed ten..."
Still Not Opening Churches
And so, if restaurants can open to more than 10 persons, what about churches and places of worship.
Turns out there will be no relaxation of restrictions on those houses of worship. The PM explained why:
"First of all, there are these smaller churches that we seem to have a problem with in terms of compliance with the current situation. Also, the question of exhalations, in terms of the choir singing and the pastor preaching and the fact of what is now confirmed to be transmission by aerosolization, if I can use that term. Those sorts of considerations, I believe, informed the decision of the NOC not to extend that same kind of relaxation or liberalization to the churches."
The new regulations will go into effect when an amendment to the current SI goes into law at 12:01 AM on Monday.
School Situation Dismal
And, finally tonight, we've been telling you about the relaxation of the quarantine regulations to make Belize more attractive to tourists as a destination.
And while that's big business, nobody's talking about school! It's not an exaggeration to say that if some drastic intervention isn't made soon - we risk losing a generation to an impaired education. And then, who will run and staff and those tourist resorts?
It may sound dramatic, but it's real talk: Belize's children are losing with distance learning - and the kids who need it the most, are losing the most.
COVID Positive Persons Won’t be Allowed to Vote
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No Quarantining for Travelers with Negative Test Results
At today’s press conference, the PM also said that a negative COVID-19 test result presented upon arrival or determined following a rapid test at the P.G.I.A., will now free visitors [...]
Tourists Can Now Rent Vehicles for Inland Travel
Visitors arriving in country via the P.G.I.A., with a negative COVID-19 test result and do not have plans of traveling to the cayes, will now be allowed to rent vehicles [...]
Restaurants will Now be Allowed to Host More Than Ten Guests
There is good news to report in the hospitality industry this evening. Restaurants with floor spaces that can accommodate more than ten persons will now be allowed to increase the [...]
Churches Remain Closed Indefinitely
Unlike restaurants and other eateries that will now be able to expand their guest lists, churches remain closed to their flocks. The fear, according to PM Barrow, is that choirs, [...]
Schools Will Also Remain Closed Until Further Notice
When will schools be reopened for in-class attendance? While many have asked that question, the Belize National Teachers Union is seeking government’s consideration to have teachers prepare lesson plans from [...]
A Safe Corridor for Tourists Traveling Across the Country
Back to today’s press conference, Belizeans returning to the country will no longer require authorization to move about to other destinations internally. Likewise, feedback from visitors about the restrictive nature [...]
Amendment of regulation 17.
Amendment of regulation 20.
HON. PABLO MARIN
Minister of Health
(Minister responsible for quarantine)
Printed in Belize by the Government Printer
#1 Power Lane, Belmopan, Belize, C.A.
Click the link below to access a PDF copy of the above Statutory Instrument No. 149 of 2020, effective October 19, 2020.