Ebola Scare Prompts Press Conference

Belize had its first Ebola related scare when Plus TV broke the news on social media on Thursday night. Cruise ship, Carnival Magic, had as one of its passengers a woman who handled some of the samples taken from the Dallas Ebola patient who died.

The US Center for Disease control (CDC) had told health care workers who had come in contact with the Ebola patient directly or indirectly, to monitor themselves over a 21 day period. However, with the second Health care worker infected in the US, the CDC raised its level of monitoring by saying that all those who were in contact with the Ebola patient need to be monitored by US authorities. And that is when they found out that one of those workers was on a cruise ship right off the Belize City Harbor.

Why the worker was on a cruise ship before the 21 days of observation was over is anybody’s guess, but the US wanted the woman and her partner to disembark the cruise ship in Belize, and then have her taken to the Phillip Goldson International Airport to board a waiting US plane fitted to deal with the Ebola virus.

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-06h10m14s85The US Embassy and top US officials, including Secretary of State John Kerry, made several calls to try and persuade Prime Minister Dean Barrow to allow the ‘low risk” passengers to come through Belize. They said the couple were not exhibiting any signs of Ebola but it was just extra precaution.

However, the Government of Belize, against great pressure from the US, made the decision to deny them their request to evacuate the two passengers through Belize. Audrey Wallace, CEO of the Prime Minister’s Office, explained the chronology of the events that followed thereafter.

 

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-06h11m13s171Audrey Wallace – CEO Prime Minister’s Office

“Shortly after 4pm, the US Embassy called again to say that notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s decision, an evacuation flight had been arranged, and the plane will be leaving the US for Belize. The Government’s position was reiterated and the Embassy told that no transfer would be facilitated, and the plane should not take off from the States or if it had already taken off, it should turn back.

About an hour later I received a call from the US Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of the Western Hemisphere. The Assistant Secretary informed me that the flight was on its way, and would be landing in an hour. I reiterated that the Government was adamant that no evacuation from Belize through PGIA would be accommodated. I was there after informed that the US Secretary of State, John Kerry would be seeking to speak to the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister eventually took a call from Secretary Kerry, around 7:30 pm, and we can fill you in on that discussion. 

Suffice to say that I was advised by the Prime Minister, within an hour of that call, that the decision not to facilitate the evacuation stood, and that the US Embassy should be informed accordingly, and that no further appeals could be entertained.  This was done.

The plane that had arrived, and was waiting at PGIA left, and the Belize Coast Guard escorted the cruise ship out of Belizean waters, about 10:30 last night.”

 

The Prime Minister explored several options proposed by the US Government but remained adamant in his decision not to allow the two passengers to make contact with any Belizean personnel.

 

vlcsnap-2014-10-18-06h33m09s8Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“He insisted that there really was no threat, and that I would not be putting Belizeans at any real risk. I stuck to my line, which was that in the circumstances we couldn’t take any chances.

He did ask whether I would consider, whether I would agree to explore the possibility of their sending a helicopter that would land on the deck of the cruise ship, and then take the two passengers straight across to the PGIA. In other words, he thought that an option could be explored, that would mean that no Belizean would come into any kind of contact at all with these passengers.

I said, ‘Well,  have your people tell us what would be the logistics of that.’  That alternative was that the tender would be handled by the Carnival personnel, bring the passengers to the Fort Street Tourism, an Embassy car would pick them up and take them to the airport. I said but those tenders are Belizean.  They are operated by Belizean operators, and they remain in Belize.  

So the alternative suggestion was the life boat, because that would go back to the ship, be handled by Carnival personnel, go back to the ship and so there would be no question of any possibility of  contamination. But that will then still leave the US driver and the Embassy vehicle.

I’m giving you all these details, because I want to repeat yet again that if it had been at all possible to do this thing in a way that could have absolutely eliminate any possibility of any risk to Belizeans, I would have been willing.

The fact is, after the most anxious consideration, I concluded that the original position had to stand, because it could not let the circumstances be possible to do what the Americans were asking, without exposing some Belizeans to some degree of risk.”

 

As we told you, the incubation period for the disease is 21 days after possible contact with the virus. Friday marked 19 days since that unnamed passenger had indirect contact with an Ebola patient, leaving us with 2 days of uncertainty. Furthermore we were informed on Thursday that when the Government got wind of the situation the ship had already disembarked 3,760 passengers although the quarantined passengers stayed on the ship.

 

Louis Wade, Jr, – PlusNews

“Do we know when that quarantine occurred on the ship, and there is a question as to whether or not passengers, beside these individuals, had the opportunity to disembark and enjoy Belize?  If so, how many passengers?  Could we please have an understanding of that time frame?

Audrey Wallace

“When we found out it was 9:40, around that time.  When the call was made to my office, the people had already disembarked.  The two passengers, not patients,  the two passengers had been quarantined earlier.  In terms of the exact time that they had been quarantined on the ship, we do not know.

But the Government of Belize did not find out about this until after the disembarkation of those passengers.  So, we were not able to respond to that aspect.”

 

We have been told that the ship made its way to Cancun, Mexico, where negotiations with the Mexican authorities have  yielded the same result; a no entry for the passengers in question.

About the Author