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Cabinet approved the reopening of land borders effective 1st January 2022. The health conditions applicable to such travel will be published shortly.


Tonight, the biggest news coming out of yesterday's Cabinet brief is that land borders will be reopened January 1st.

That means in 17 days, Belizeans will finally be able to leave the country without having to get on an airplane. Of course, there will be certain health-related requirements and the government is working on fine tuning them before publication.

The land borders have been shut since March 2020, back when the first COVID case was recorded in the country. Since then, they've opened for one way travel only, allowing tourists - who are booked at Gold Standard certified hotels - to enter the country.

Channel 7

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Bze Ambassador To Mexico On Border Regs

But while we may see that uptick, Chetumal is embracing the news of the surge of Belizeans who will be crossing the border. Before the pandemic, roughly 30,000 Belizeans crossed the border every month. And since there was no shopping at Plazas Las Americas or Sam's, Chetumal's economy has seen a major decline, with business owners begging for borders to reopen. But even when they do in 16 days, Belizeans are still wary about the pandemic and being stuck at the border if they get infected over on the other side. But today the Belizean Ambassador to Mexico, Oscar Arnold, explained that in Othon P Blanco, Quintana Roo, where Chetumal is located, the COVID situation isn't much different than here in Belize:

H.E Oscar Arnold - Belize Ambassador to Mexico
"To date they have recovered about 10,500 total cases in that municipality with about 504 deaths, so not too much dissimilar from what we saw in Belize, when it comes to the number of deaths we're hovering right under 600, in total in Mexico the entire country, 136 million doses of vaccines have been issued with 66 million people from the population being fully vaccinated and another 14 million having at least one vaccination, they have started the booster shots with the persons in the population who are 60 and older because they found their 2 case of omnicron here in Mexico and so now they are doing their booster shots. Their vaccination program should run up to March 2022 when I think they will have the number of vaccinated people in they country where they want, so the opening of the border in January is coming at a time when we see cases both in Belize and Mexico on a downward trend, so that's pretty good. The benefit for both countries obviously we've heard the cries of the business men in Chetumal, I think businesses there have also shuttered their doors and had to close down and so the injection of some people going across the border to the Chetumal side to shop will obviously be a welcome thing for them and so obviously they stand to benefit from that. On our side of the border we may see an uptick in a volume of people may go across to the free zone, so that may increase as well, we know that we saw the numbers increase when we actually opened the free zone earlier this year and we saw the amount of jobs that it impacted and the amount of businesses that reopened, we actually saw their number of sales increase. So I think that there will be some benefits to both sides."

But if Belizeans start buying their basic necessities down to the toilet paper they use in Mexico, then that means there's less money to rebuild Belize's economy. And while tourism is booming, we have seen the importance of keeping our money at home. We asked Ambassador Arnold if he feels that this border reopening will negatively impact our fragile and rebounding economy:

H.E Oscar Arnold
"That is always a concern and to be honest with you, where the economy is now is far better than where it was a year ago and that is always a concern but Belizeans have always been resilient, I've seen the number of online businesses and people providing their services online grow. I was trying to get some numbers to look at what amount of that went to online sales through Amazon and that sort of thing. So while there was an amount of money that was spent at home, I know that in tourism industry for example when they gave deals or half off or specials to Belizeans that was able to hold them over until the entire tourist industry was open and there will be some flight of spending from the Belizean economy but I also believe that it invites an amount of spending to come into Belize as well. Suppliers might find it a little bit easier to source items across the border in Mexico that they currently can't find on the shelves. I know that the shipping industry is going through it's own set of problems and the log that it takes for our good to arrive to shore has been increases, so that may impact suppliers in Belize where they will be able to easier source items across the border."

Border Management Ready To Rumble When Borders Re-Open

The Tourism Minister was also asked to give an update on the Border Management Unit, which falls under his portfolio.

Viewers will remember that shortly after he took over responsibility for Tourism and Diaspora Relations, he came out swinging at the former Barrow Government over the state of that Statutory Body's finances. During one of his first remarks as Minister in the House of Representatives, Mahler asserted that the former administration left the Border Management Unit with very little finance in their bank accounts and a massive debt that the new administration has to pay off.

He told us today that the government has been attempting to service the debt with the very little revenue trickling in, due to the land borders being mostly closed:

"I was told that the revenues that come through there are not audited, I'm not sure if it's not audited or come to the ministry, is that so?"

Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations
"It's a statutory board, so it has it's own board just like all statutory board and all revenue it generates is managed by the board and the management team."

"But the suggestion is that it's significant revenue and we don't know what's happening with that."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"Well if you look at any other statutory board it's the same thing but we do audit its financials, I can tell you since we have taken over the helm at border management, the revenues have grown significantly because we have stopped a lot of the leakage that were accruing at that agency."

Daniel Ortiz
"I remember you speaking out this in the house, you had suggested that the previous government left a debt and a very small savings resources, what is the situation since then in terms of recovery for that unit?"

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"It has been a slow process because the borders have been pretty much closed, the flow of tourism through the borders have been slow, through the west and north primarily, we have stabilized things, we have stopped the bleeding and I believe as things pick up we will do much better and we will be able to facilitate the loans more efficiently that we have been left with."

When land borders reopen on January 1, the Border Management's revenue stream is expected to increase significantly.

Get Your Vaxx Before A Vacation in Chetumal

We also asked Mahler - who has responsibility for border management about Cabinet's decision to reopen land borders. As we told you last night, Cabinet has approved the re-opening of land borders for January 1st, 2022, New Year's Day.

The Government also made it clear that although Belizeans will be allowed to cross the border legally, there are certain health conditions that will apply. When we asked Mahler about what those could be, he said that at this time, Cabinet is considering allowing only those Belizeans who have been vaccinated. Here's his explanation of the rationale:

Hon. Anthony Mahler - Minister of Tourism & Diaspora Relations
"In cabinet we decided that once you're going for less than 24 hours you don't have to test coming back in but we're looking at seriously having only people who are fully vaccinated to go in and out."

"So what about testing some days later, I think I saw that suggestion on social media because it is very possible that people might go across, get it and come back but the incubation period is there."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"If you go more than a day then when you come back, you have to test that's how I understand it but there's always going to be some risk dealing with COVID or any virus that we will be confronted in the future and so, we're trying our best to have the borders open for Belizeans as well. As you know in the middle of this year we opened for tourism flow and we think now its high time for us to open it up to Belizeans just like we did for the airport."

"There are several factors I think the government will consider there. One has to do with the revenue that stayed in country during this entire time. Do we expect that our local businesses will start losing some of that revenue that will likely go out because people have been waiting for a very long time to go out and get cheaper products and then if you can speak to us about the tourism aspect, numbers we expect of tourists coming through those land borders and its something that you I think would have been waiting for a long time for."

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"Well from a tourism standpoint first, the borders have been open for tourist traffic since July but there were some measures that were in place that made it onerous for them to come back and forth. We believe that just by the nature of the industry in terms of the time, this is the peak season, we believe we will see a lot more flows inbound and outbound, that's where border management makes most of their money for those people going outbound and in terms of locals, we just can't keep lockdown forever as long as we put in the protocols, the process in place to have a safe back and forth across the border, we did so with the free zone and that has been successful, so we believe we can replicate that."

"Could you close off the year in terms of tourism, what you're expectations?"

Hon. Anthony Mahler
"We believe with the additional flights that we have coming in, we believe that the efforts that we've been putting in marketing with out international partners and the airlines and with cruise, we believe that we are going to have solid year. Now, anything can happen if a new variant pops up and it's as aggressive as the omnicron or the delta then we can have some issues but we believe that people on a whole now understand how to move, how to travel, how to operate in this new norm and so we believe that in 2022 we should be an uptick in tourism."

Channel 7

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In T-minus 12 days, the land borders will be reopening and Belizeans are dusting off their passports and digging up any old pesos they might have lingering from their last Chet trip.

But the government has still not issued the full list of requirements needed to cross the border, though the PM is hoping to get that done sooner than later. Still, with Omicron right next door in Mexico, it seems like a risk to reopen the borders. But according to the PM, we can't stay locked up forever.

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"Well, there are a number of measures, but I will be having a meeting with the minister of health on Wednesday afternoon and the minister of immigration to be able to have a better understanding as to what we are to do. Obviously, we have to be very cautious and be very careful with the Omicron virus. But the point is that it is going to come here. We can't run away from it, we can't afford to lockdown the entire country like we did before. It's going to set us back even more. So we just have to open up and continue to be as cautious as we possibly can and the most important thing get vaccinated. Thats the only way we can help you and those that have already gotten vaccinated get your booster shots. Covid19 is a flu and that's what people don't understand. The flu you get it every year if you're not careful and you could get it today and then 1-2 months later you could get it again, Thats Covid19. It's so much more deadlier and the only way we can protect ourselves it is getting vaccinated."

"We know that the borders has to open, this is life, it has to move on, but do you feel Belize's economy will suffer because people will spend their money over at Chet?"

Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"Well it is obvious that more and more people will be able to go and spend their money in Chetumal, but we just have to do as business people to do more to get our people to stay home and giving them less incentives to go to buy in Chetumal, but we can't stay locked up forever and that's the reality."

Channel 7

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PM Says Border Has to Reopen, Country Can No Longer Be Locked Down

Land border are set to reopen on January first, but there are concerns as to what measures are being put in place to shield the population from another COVID-19 outbreak. Those measures are yet to be announced. We asked PM Brice�o for an update.

Prime Minister John Brice�o

"There are a number of measures. But, I will be having a meeting with the Minister of Health on Wednesday afternoon, as well as immigration, to be able to have a better understanding as to what we want to do. Obviously we have to be very cautious and careful about the omicron virus. But, the point is that it is going to come here. We can't run away from it. We can't afford to lock down the entire country like we did before. We can't afford it. It is going to set us back even more. So, we just have to open up and be as cautious as we can. The most important thing is to get vaccinated. That is the only way we can help you. And those who have already gotten vaccinated get your booster shot."

COVID-19 Task Force: Too Soon to Open Borders

Earlier today, we spoke with Doctor Melissa Diaz-Musa, a member of the COVID Medical Response Committee. We got her comments on the reopening of land borders on January first. It is expected that a lot of Belizeans will flock to the northern and western borders to head to Chetumal and Melchor. According to Tourism Minister Anthony Mahler, persons heading across the border for day trips won't have to test on re-entry into the country, but those who go for longer stays will. But with an incubation period of three to five days, there is concern among health professionals. Doctor Diaz-Musa says that their recommendation remains that borders should not be opened - at least not at this time.

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa, Deputy Regional Health Manager, Central Health Region

"Our recommendation remains to hold on the opening of the land borders. We feel that emphasis should be placed at this point on the schools, opening the schools safely for a few months and monitoring the situation. But if the land borders are opened as well, we have recommendations in place that will help us to ensure that we control the land borders as best as possible, similar to what we are doing with P.G.I.A."

Duane Moody

"If you are only going for twenty-four hours you won't have to test when you come back unless you are day three days. I see some gaps in my mind because in twenty-four hours you can contract the virus and then come back into the country. Three days later, you end up positive, but you've already exposed others to it. The concerns there."

Dr. Melissa Diaz-Musa

"When we look at omicron and this is the variant that we are most concerned about for 2022; at this point, we still have delta as the prominent variant in country. But if you look at omicron and how it is much more transmissible than even delta and we saw the burden that delta had caused our health system, it is pretty early still because there's a lot that's not really well known about omicron. And for that reason it probably would be best for us to delay the opening of the border until we can see what's happening in other countries with omicron. A lot of the recommendations though, if we do open, a lot of the recommendations we are still in discussion at this point. But in addition to the recommendations from the Ministry of Health and Wellness, we also need to ensure; this is where personal responsibility comes in. Many times, if we travel, so even now at this point - although the regulations aren't there - that if we travel and come in from the U.S., let's say, and we land in Belize and we have a negative test, there is no mandatory quarantine at this point. But the recommendation would be if you do travel to another country, you can set some days if you are at work so that if I come in today, I am not back at work tomorrow. Let me wait three days and see what develops in the next three to four days so I can take an additional three days leave and I protect my colleagues as well, I isolate and I protect my family members as well. If you are just travelling for a day, obviously if we test you on return, you won't have the viral load to pick up a positive test as yet because we've got to keep in mind the incubation period of this virus. So it is important that if it opens, we've got to have strict regulations in place."

Channel 5

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