PM Chairs Cabinet in Quarantine - 11/25/20 11:43 AM
Prime Minister John Briceno may have tested positive for COVID 19, but he told our newsroom via text today that he feels well with no major symptoms, and chaired a virtual Cabinet meeting today.
And - as long as health allowed - he had to chair that meeting because the government has urgent business to get on with - and the public is getting impatient.
This afternoon, PM Briceno - who still has not hosted a press conference almost two weeks into his term - put up a facebook post halfway between apology and explanation of his COVID condition. Here's what it said, and what it means:
In this afternoon's post, Briceno says, quote, "I am feeling fine and am working in quarantine until further notice from the medical experts."
6 weeks ago - in October, Briceno told us that in the event of contracting the coronavirus it's the isolation that would kill him:
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"I know every day that I get home Rossana is scared, saying you might get us sick, kinda joking and so forth. Although she likes to joke that should I get Covid that I will no die from Covid, I'll be dying from being alone in a room for 2 weeks. I hate being alone."
That was 6 weeks ago - but today, via text Briceno told us that he's not alone. He said he chaired a virtual meeting of Cabinet today.
But clearly his priority in this post is to make the point that he's been responsible - even when the evidence we've seen shows less than optimal engagements. Briceno writes: "While I am always doing my utmost to always wear a mask and physically distance from others, my job does require a lot of interaction with people and so I am glad that we were able to catch the infection in the early stages to prevent any further spread."
And while no one has said for sure when he was infected or who the prime minister got it from or gave it to - he tells us his family has all tested negative.
But we know that his Cabinet Secretary Stuart Leslie - with whom he's had close and daily contact is positive - as well as at least one other elected representative.
But, Briceno says in his post, he's been taking measures and so should everyone: "I want to take this opportunity to implore everyone to please take all necessary precautions against this dangerous disease. We must protect each other by wearing our masks, physically distancing and self-quarantining if we have any suspicions or flu-like symptoms. While many of us are doing the right thing, the sad truth is many of us are still not, and we are unwittingly spreading this virus.."
Lastly - while COVID numbers keep climbing, Briceno says government is coming up with a plan: "Our medical and economic experts are hard at work finalizing our comprehensive country-wide Covid-19 Strategy which I believe will go a long way in combatting this pandemic and protecting our people,"
But, in the day before the election he said he had a plan:
FILE: November 3, 2020
Hon. John Briceno, Prime Minister
"And we are making plans as we speak as to how we are going to address these issues. The issue of Covid as I mentioned this morning we need to change the way we are handling the Covid pandemic at this time."
Until he got to Belmopan and - apparently to his dismay found there was no plan: "We were shocked to learn that there is no real plan to contain the spread of the virus. Cabinet instructed the minister of health to meet with his technical team and advisors to develop a comprehensive plan to address the spread of this virus."
The bottom line is that more than feel good facebook posts, Briceno's administration needs to present a COVID response quickly - 35 persons have died in the last 12 days.
In a brief address to the nation last week, Briceno spoke about that comprehensive COVID plan that was due to be presented today, and a pending report from Minister of Infrastructure Development and Housing, and the Minister of Disaster Risk Management - presumably about the flooding. Also, at today's Cabinet Briceno said he would discuss the team of CEO's assigned to each ministry.
Did all of that happen? Well, we don't know, right now it's Cabinet confidential and no press release has been issued. So, bottom line, the long awaited final list of CEO's is still not known.
So, for sure the public is getting impatient and today the opposition UDP hinted at that. A release wishes Prime Minister Briceno a speedy recovery, but also calls on him to reconvene the National Oversight Committee, which had been managing the nation's COVID-19 response. The UDP says it would participate as part of, quote, "a bi-partisan approach to this health crisis."
A release adds, quote, "Belize is currently in a critical window, and actions taken over the next few days will save lives, or result in additional sickness and deaths. Health experts expect a spike in new infections to be manifested in the coming days as a result of Election DayLet us act before it is too late." End quote.