Tonight, we begin with the latest COVID numbers - because our lead story is about the fact that Belize could be back to pre Omicron levels by the end of the month.

Tonight, one more death has been reported, an unvaccinated female from Stann Creek. 337 new cases were also identified, 86 of them from Belize, 65 from Cayo, and 58 from Orange Walk. The daily positivity rate is at 16.8% - which continues the steady downward trend.

There are also 19 hospitalizations, 8 unvaccinated, 5 partially vaxxed, 5 fully vaxxed and one not announced. Seven patients are currently admitted in the ICU.

And while things are still dire, the country is in a much better state than it was this time last month. In fact, according to the epidemiologist at the Ministry of Health, Dr Russell Manzanero, if things continue along this path, the country may return to pre-Omicron numbers by the end of this month.

It's a projection that the epidemiology unit came up with based on the data they have. Dr Manzanero is confident that if Belizeans continue following the safety protocols, we could see a sharp drop in COVID cases.

However, that also means keeping the curfew and mask regulations as well. He explained it to the media over ZOOM a few hours ago.

Dr. Russell Manzanero, Medical Epidemiologist, MOH
"According to the model that we were peaking in the early parts of January and pretty much we maintained that thigh number of cases for some time until we actually had mentioned that it was becoming stagnant or plateau, and then it would start to have a downward trend. You all have been following you numbers at this time so you have been seeing that positivity rates from late December to January were pretty much almost at thirty percent. Now that we are seeing these numbers we are seeing that there is a downward trend, for example over the weekend we are seeing that it was less than twenty percent. So, the number of total test that we are seeing positive of the total test and these are the numbers you are starting to see now. In regard to the model we are seeing there, it is pretty much saying that by mid or ending of February, you should start seeing a downward trend of cases in regard to where we are at. However, I must say that models in itself change and particularly the nature of Omicron in itself is very fluid, we really can't develop a true model to tell you this is what's going to happen, because Omicron is spreading so fast and the transmission rate is so high. So, if we continue as is with our public health measures vaccination coverage, we can see that there will be numbers decreasing. However, if we are not enforcing the use of the mask, or not getting our vaccines, all these numbers can change, so definitely modelling depends a lot on our behaviours as well."

When Will The Wave End?

But it's important to remember pre-Omicron doesn't mean pre-COVID. At the end of the month, if the projections do materialize, we'll still be in the middle of the wave.

So when will the Omicron wave end? Well, no one knows and Dr Manzanero pointed out that a wave doesn't really end until there are no cases for that variant - meaning the Delta wave technically hasn't ended yet either.

We'll hear more about that in a few, but first, Dr Manzanero also mentioned that if and when the Omicron wave does end, that won't mean we'll be out of the woods.

Dr. Russell Manzanero, Medical Epidemiologist, MOH
"If it is to end, I don't think that it's something that we can say. Yes, we are in the fourth wave and it looks somehow that it's on a down trend. However, as I mentioned it depends a lot on us, so if we don't do our part then these numbers will go right back up. With the reopening of schools, we have a paediatric population that is none vaccinated as yet. Perhaps with the reopening of borders, if we don't maintain those measures in place and the vaccination doesn't continue then we will see an increase again in those numbers. I think what I had mentioned in a separate interview was to say that you are over a wave basically is that you are reporting no cases. To get over a wave and you say okay we are finally over a wave, you would have zero cases in a X amount of time. We are not at that, we were never at that. We are seeing an increase and a decrease of cases and that's the way how this will be. Omicron will not be the last variant that we will see. We will see others. This is the nature of the virus. It mutates, it adapts and it's trying to establish itself within the population, so this is the way how it's going to be."

No Outbreaks in Schools Reported

But even while there are two variants to be wary of, so far the reopening of schools has been calmer than most expected. Of course, there are teachers and students contracting the virus, but Dr Manzanero said that there have been no major outbreaks at any one school. He explained, though, that it's important for schools to continue to maintain their protocols and for the Ministry of Education to work with them.

Dr. Russell Manzanero, Medical Epidemiologist, MOH
"We haven't had any reported cluster or spread or mention of being detected in schools or they are spreading. What we have is perhaps individuals who have infected outside, taken it in. We do know of instances where there might be a smaller number there, but is able to be contained. What we do see is that we are working along with the ministry of education and I don't know that many have in place their SOPs. It is in communication with our surveillance teams throughout the country, so that is engaged and it is activated. If there is a need to continue it, I know it's a lot on the schools, the responsibility on the schools and the teachers itself, it is a lot. When you are sending your kids to schools, its a risk, especially in our group of children who are not vaccinated. When you are talking about children who are in high schools or secondary level, they already have some form of protection and they are able to access it, If they haven't, then they should, because we are still looking at that there is a risk when you go back. Now the paediatric population would be the younger population, the ones that are the primary level, there is a concern there, our children are not vaccinated, so the public health measures and the social distancing within schools and the protocols that each of these school need to be enforced, so it is not only on the ministry of health, but I don't know that the ministry of education has to take their part as well that these are the measures that have to be set in place at each school and each school is different. Each school has to do their own measure as well."

Channel 7