And while a night in the COVID ward may be costly, testing for the virus is free - from the government at least. And anyone who has been exposed or has symptoms can go to a clinic, whereas those who have to get regular testing for their jobs - and live in any of our two cities - can go to the free testing sites at the Civic Centers in Belize City and Belmopan.
But there was a bit of confusion some months ago when those whose co-workers had contracted COVID were not being tested by the ministry. We asked the PM to clear this up, and while he emphasized that the testing was free, he also noted that there was no price regulation for the private sector testing.
Hon John Briceno, Prime Minister
"What has happened is that the BPO's were passing regulations, they wanted us to include them as part of frontline workers so that they could get their employees vaccinated and then after that they were saying if you're not vaccinated by certain times then you have to go and take your test. What is happening now is that they are overwhelming the system, all of them were lining up, they wanted to get their test in a hurry and some of them were becoming rude, they were cursing the nurses and they were even stoning a bottle at them and so the ministry decided said we can't keep up so you all, go somewhere else to get test, we are going to deal with the people who have been exposed and the people who are sick so I think that is where it created an uncertainty but what we have done, because of that need we have been opening more centers, we're been decentralizing the testing and probably I expect that in the distant future we will probably be able to go to a pharmacy and get test because you don't need to be a doctor or nurse to do a test."
"The testing is set by the private sector. Let's not mix up oranges and apples here. First of all the government does not charge for a test, and if you have been exposed you can go tot the hospital and t4esting sites and getting it free of cost now there's the privates sector and most of them are looking at the tourist that come into Belize and they are the ones that charge and some charge $100 and I think now they're charging $75 but we do not set a price."
"Have you been able to crunch the numbers of how lucrative of a business this may be for some of these private sector institution?"
Hon John Briceno, Prime Minister
"Good for them, I mean in my business I try to maximize my profit, what we have to ensure is that they don't take advantage of poor people and that's what we're doing that's why we make testing free to Belizeans."
More Testing Sites Coming
Prime Minister Briceno assured that while there are reports of having three cruise ports in Belize City, he said they have to allow the parties to follow the environmental process and to decide which among them will be the best project for Belize in terms of the economy, the people and the environment. But turning to the issue of health, particularly COVID and making free testing more accessible to people, Briceno said the Ministry of Health is including several more testing sites. And his projection is that the number of COVID infections and deaths will start to decline in the coming weeks.
Prime Minister John Briceno
"Anybody that believe you're exposed, you could go to the public facilities and get tested. Now we're opening up even more areas, for instances right now in Belize City, now we can also go and get tested at the Civic Center. We have another area in Belmopan. We are decentralizing the testing, for the same reason that we want to make it available to many people as possible, and for them to get the results as quickly as possible. If you go in one center, and a hundred of you are there, then obviously it will take longer to get the results. If you go have different centers where only ten, or fifteen or twenty of you can go, that is what we are doing. For the UDP to say, because the UDP say that we are not handling this properly, well let me tell you something, the Alpha variant is nowhere close as contagious to what we had with the Delta. And under the Alpha, the UDP lost control of COVID. They are telling us that we have to do more testing. During their time, they have done about thirty thousand tests. That's all! We have done so far, over two hundred and fifty thousand tests, so how can you make that comparison. When they left government, they only made arrangements for about a hundred thousand vaccines, and never pay for it yet. We had to pay for it. In the region we are the second highest vaccination rates. We have over two hundred and two thousand people that have already gotten their first dose. That if you are to remove that portion of the citizens and the kids under 12-0 that is a few tens of thousands then we would have a vaccination rate of over 60% that have gotten their first vaccination. I think about a hundred and thirty five thousand; I'll be off a few thousands here and there that have already gotten both vaccinations."
Briceno says that the Ministry of Health has proposed a COVID Enforcement Unit, which Cabinet has approved to ensure that people to comply with the COVID regulations. But until that is brought into the fore, he said that people should call out those who are not adhering to the regulations in public spaces. He also said that he never accused Dr Marvin Manzanero of being responsible for anyone's death when he was at the helm as Director of Health Services.