The former GG was instrumental during the pandemic, since he is the
one who signed all those midnight SI's into law - one after the other.
That job was only necessitated because COVID was spreading fast, and
we're all hoping that the new GG won't be asked to do the same in the
face of a serious second wave.
But, tonight, the medical community is fearing the worst after Cabinet
announced its decision to reopen borders to tourists in four days.
While the Belize Medical and Dental Association has yet to make a
statement, one prominent doctor, Mark Musa, took to Facebook to express
In his post, Doctor Mark, the elder brother of Minister Kareem Musa,
stated that the country is not ready since only a quarter of the
population has received their first dose of vaccinations. Additionally,
he said that the neighbouring countries of Mexico and Guatemala are
battling COVID surges as we speak. His post goes on to say that the
economic benefit of allowing tourists through the land borders does not
outweigh the public health risk of another wave of the virus.
And Musa's colleague, Dr Fernando Cuellar, agrees with him â€“ and so
does the wider medical community. Dr Cuellar told us today that they
have had discussion among themselves and feel that Belize is not ready
for the reopening of the borders â€“ especially in such short notice. He
explained that the health of Belizeans â€“ and of frontline workers â€“ is
not being given enough consideration.
"Is this a situation where it seems to be money over health?"
Dr. Fernando Cuellar - Internist
"Yeah, definitely I, myself, individually and perhaps most of my colleagues
think this is a terrible idea. They're planning to reopen the land borders
within the next three days or four days and I think we're not prepared to
do that. I think this interview was born out of what was posted earlier
today by my colleague Mark Musa and kudos to him to be brave to do such a
thing because that's one of the things missing within our population, we're
not brave enough to stand up to speak our mind. And indeed we've been
having much discussion, meetings and so forth where we in the medical
community feel that right now is not the best time to do this. And let me
categorically say this that we the health sector are very much aware of the
economic situation here in Belize. We more than anybody else who are on the
ground know the lick weh the Belizean people the tek. People don't come to
their appointments, people can't afford their medication, people can't do
their testing so I will challenge anybody in the higher ups that we on the
ground are more in touch with what Belizeans are facing economically. And I
say this because we are criticized that we don't give the economic part
more consideration and that is definitely not true, we know exactly what's
going on in the economic part. However, when we weigh that against the
health risk that this would post, it doesn't add up. It doesn't add up that
we have a couple thousand tourists come in and expose our people at risk.
We need to 1. Further our vaccination percentage, 2. And one of the things
I hear, and this is true, this is true from the Ministry of Health and the
people who work in the Ministry of Health, we are not prepared, we have to
give consideration to those healthcare workers that have been working their
butts off for the past year, tirelessly and yet have this so we need to
prepare properly. I do think it would be a terrible mistake for us to open
in three days."
"Do you feel like it's almost a slap in the face for the doctors and nurses
who had to work when the COVID cases surging back in late 2020 and now that
Dr. Fernando Cuellar
"Dah nuh only slap, Courtney, dah slap, punch, kick, any other thing you
want to use. And let's all work together, if we all cognizant that we need
to get this economy, we couldn't pay a 7 million coupon payment for our
debt just last week, we know that, but let's do it safely. So, from the
beginning, say you know what, healthcare guys, Ministry of Health, we want
to open, tell us, not the other way around, that we wah open and you figure
out what we wah do. Because that's the way it's coming across, that we wah
open and healthcare you see how we wah fit in this."
Both Doctors Musa and Cuellar suggested that the decision be revoked
and instead extended for at least three months so that proper
infrastructure, with consultation from the medical community, can be in
place. Additionally, Dr Cuellar is urging his fellow medical
professionals, especially those working in facilities at the border, to
demand that they are given proper facilities to ensure their comfort
Minister of Health on Reopening Borders
On May thirty-first, land borders will officially open to international tourists only. The decision taken by the cabinet has been met with mixed reviews, especially so because the COVID-19 numbers in neighbouring Quintana Roo are spiking and there is concern that the reopening may trigger another wave in Belize, including variant strains that have been detected in Mexico. Today, News Five quizzed Health and Wellness Minister Michel Chebat about the decision and the rationale behind it.
Michel Chebat, Minister of Health & Wellness
“We are going to be opening the North and the West and the San Pedro and the South as well, but it is going to be a phased opening; in the initial stages it is just gonna be opened for tourists wanting to come into the country. I can tell you that this has been a joint effort of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Tourism and the Ministry of Health making sure that we have the correct protocols in place and to try to continue safeguarding the citizenry of Belize.”
“Sir, it is a move that is getting mixed reviews primarily because in Cancun, or in Quintana Roo, they’ve been spiking. There is also a threat of a lockdown in that area. Is there a concern there?”
“Correctly so. That was a concern; that was a matter that we discussed and we raised in the discussions when we were deciding whether or not to open the borders. But we feel we have sufficient safeguards within our country and we are going to have sufficient safeguards with our borders to try to stem and to keep away as much as that as we can.”
Dr. Cuellar Says Variant Arrival Could Be Catastrophic for Belize
News Five also asked Doctor Cuellar about the chances of a new variant entering Belize, even with the protocols being put in place at the borders, and the implications for Belizeans if a variant does enter the country. He says this could be catastrophic.
Dr. Fernando Cuellar, Belize Medical Associates
“If we refer to different arguments like what doctor Musa put forward introducing different variants and our vaccination rate to go up before that happens, those are valid arguments that need to be addressed also. We would want those vaccinations to be a little bit more. Realistically we can’t reach heard immunity before we open up because that won’t happen. But we want our vaccination program to run a little more distance. I can’t see if we get a few thousand tourists if it would solve our economic crisis. I mean we could not pay a seven million dollars coupon last week, so we need to be careful.”
“Can you speak to reality of these different variants, the reality of the risk there?”
Dr. Fernando Cuellar
“Catastrophe will happen. We can read articles and we have been doing it exhaustively. For example the AstraZeneca vaccine is now proving to be effective against it. So we could have very scientific discussions about whether or not a vaccination will cover the variant. But differently if one gets in here and havoc reaches it won’t take many numbers. Look what is happening in Trinidad and Tobago for example, in Jamaica where they have played Russian roulette with the virus and we see who is losing now.
Go an interview and let the people at the bottom in the Ministry of Health at the bottom tell you indeed. And nuh believe no C.E.O. from any ministry, please.”