Yesterday we showed you the activity at the northern border which wasn't exactly brisk. Up to 4:00 pm under 500 persons had crossed.
Well, this afternoon at the Benque Viejo border things looked dead!
Except for a few stragglers - there were only a few stragglers coming in and out.
The office ring charge of immigration confirmed that in the first two days of the bride being opened 330 persons have come in and 337 have gone out.
But, many of those who crossed the Belize side didn't necessarily go into Melchor. That's because they have to take a 160 Belize dollar COVID test on the Guatemalan side - and it has to be negative for them to cross over.
For most of them that isn't worth it - and many just stay to drink in Champon, or - as some told us - they choose to just skip across the river and enter Guatemala illegally.
Talks are underway between health authorities on both sides to remove the testing requirement ton both sides for persons who are only staying for the day in Melchor or Benque Viejo.
A Smooth System to Process Persons Travelling Through Western Border
It is day two since land borders have been reopened for Belizeans, and today a News Five team headed to the western border with Guatemala to see exactly what the procedure and traffic was looking like. We found just a small group of persons, primarily tourists who were going on one-day tours to Peten, using this port of entry. Reporter Duane Moody files this report.
Duane Moody, Reporting
There were not many persons making their way into Belize at the western border with Guatemala. There were, however, tourists heading into Guatemala for tours in neighbouring Peten. Glenda Yanes and her husband were among several Belizeans who successfully made their way across the border and into Belize.
Glenda Yanes, Santa Elena Resident
“It was pretty scary not knowing if you gonna test positive or negative, but thank God, it was negative and it wasn’t that bad.”
“The process was easy?”
“Yeah, it was pretty easy.”
But it wasn’t as easy for a few persons travelling into Guatemala, which is now asking everyone entering that country to provide a negative antigen test.
Antonio Ochaeta, Belize Western Border Money Changers Association
“People are asking what is the procedure, how much they do have to pay – if they do have to pay or not. From yesterday, which was the reopening of the border, it was quite a mix-up. Some people went across with their rapid test, went to visit came back the same day. Others were turned back because they didn’t have the rapid test.”
Janel Espat of the Border Management Agency breaks down the requirements for Belizean and foreign travellers.
Janel Espat, Chief Financial Officer, Border Management Agency
“Belizeans are required to be fully vaccinated to exit the country. If they return on the same day, then they are not required to be tested on return. Otherwise, then they must be tested upon return at their own expense. All foreign nationals are required to be tested upon arrival. The only exception are the day trippers that exit and return on the same day, so likewise, they will be exempted from being tested upon return unless they demonstrating any flu-like symptoms. Guatemala requires foreigners to be fully vaccinated to enter their country and to provide a negative test result. The test can be done in Guatemala at a cost of three hundred quetzals, somewhere around eighty-five dollars for the test.”
“There are various health protocols in place here in Belize. But just beyond this barrier and the OIRSA Sanitation Treatment area, there is no mask mandate in Guatemala and that is of concern to Belizeans.”
As foreigners make their way onto Belizean soil, they are informed of the mask mandate in Belize and after an initial screening by an immigration officer and health personnel, they are queued for processing.
Julio Sabido, Acting Site Manager, Western Border
“We did some infrastructure work to accommodate tourists and Belizeans coming in. We created two lanes – one being for Belizeans that had exit Belize for day trips. For those, we ask them to have their vaccination card.”
“There is a health form that was created by the Ministry of Health. All persons exiting that have the intension of returning are required to complete the form and the immigration officials, date and stamp the form, and the health officials together with immigration utilise that form to determine whether or not the people who are returning require testing.”
“Like how you all know, tourists and foreigners are required to take a COVID test upon arrival. We have a lane just for those tourists and when they come in, they proceed to Belize Diagnostic Center where they take their COVID test. After they’ve taken their test, they have to wait their time and then they proceed to the health inspector who gives them the clearance for them to enter immigration and the building.”
So over the past two days, movement at the western border has been minimal with less than a hundred persons travelling through that port of entry. But Acting Site Manager Julio Sabido believes that in the days ahead, the traffic will increase.
“It should pick up. Normally over the weekends, we do receive a lot of tourists that are entering Belize. So we do believe that it will pick up, especially now that we heading into Easter. So we do expect to have more traffic during the coming months and days.”