Earlier in our news cast we told you about the big Ebola scare and the two days of uncertainty that we must monitor, before we can consider ourselves out of the woods. But even though the possibilities that anyone in Belize came in contact with the virus are low, the fact remains that the virus has grown to worldwide concern. Belize, being the small country that it is, does not have the resources necessary to fight the Ebola virus in the event that it does find its way into the country. So instead, Belize is putting in place all necessary measures that our limited resources allow, to ensure it never makes its way into Belize.
Minister Godwin Hulse, Immigration Minister, told reporters on Friday about the stop order on the issuance of visas to people coming from countries of high risk for the Ebola virus.
“We’ve immediately issued a stop on the issuance of visas to persons coming from the West Africa area, whom we consider high risk, and those countries will be Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria,and any other country that the Ministry thinks has now been affected.
Nigeria is a special case, because though it’s a Commonwealth country, it requires visas, and even though they have declared that they are free, we consider the persons travelling from Nigeria a risk.
Sierra Leone citizens, on the other hand, do not require visas to enter Belize. So we will issue a travel ban on persons coming from Sierra Leone.
Our embassies are being advised immediately. The airlines will be advised of this decision forthwith.
In addition, persons whatever nationality who have visited that area of West Africa within the last 30 days will not be allowed to land in Belize and the airlines will be advised accordingly.
We’ve established a protocol, as you may or may not know. There’s a team that boards the cruise ship, to screen the manifest and the passengers who want to land in Belize.
As I understand it, persons who will travel beyond the Tourism Village would be the ones who would present themselves to Immigration for the necessary clearance to land. Persons who would remain within the vicinity of the Tourism Village were only ticked off on the manifest. Effectively immediately that protocol has changed. Every single person who will disembark from a cruise ship, the passport of such person will be reviewed by Immigration, to ensure that no person has been in the high risk area of West Africa within the last 30 days.
All immigration officers effective immediately will be outfitted with the necessary or some protective gear, meaning gloves and masks, to help to protect our people.”
Minister Hulse says effective immediately, every single person who will disembark from cruise ships will have their passport reviewed to make sure that they were not in a high risk area within the last 30 days.
CEO in the Ministry of Health Peter Allan also spoke to the media about the screening measures to be put in place at the different port of entries of Belize.
“I’ve actually already scheduled, and continuing as we speak, is meetings and trainings with all officers at the Phillip Goldson International Airport, to provide sensitization information and to make sure that there’s a clear definition of roles and responsibilities.
A screening form for all passengers has been developed and is being implemented, and an isolation facility is being provided at the Phillip Goldson International Airport for further screening for passengers, who may be considered at some risk due to the surveillance forms.
The Ministry of Health has provided a Hotline, and the Hotline is 629-5604, and we are working with BTL to provide a toll free number as soon as possible to assist in this capacity.
We have developed a rapid response team to follow up on cases, and we have received permission already to hire another ten Public Health Inspectors, to strengthen our response at the borders and points of entry.
We have prepared a team for contact tracing and they will be able immediately to be dispersed around the country, to contact anybody who shows up on the surveillance issues.
We are providing further treatments, further advice on treatment and infection control. Our own guidelines are being constantly reviewed. We have identified sites were isolation may be used if possible. We have our own healthcare team here, again, Dr. Figueroa and Dr. Manzanero to answer any questions.
The personal protection equipment kits that we have are those that were purchased for H1N1. They can be used in this instance but they are not ideal. The ideal personal protective equipment that is recommended by the World Health Organization is not available in the very short term, and so we have sent in the procurement request for those kits.”
Health officers will act as the first point of buffer at the airport along with immigration officials. These immigration officers will be outfitted with some protective gears. Although Belize does have some protective gear, they are not considered as adequate to combat the deadly virus.
Ministry of Health CEO Dr. Peter Allen says that his Ministry has ordered 750 hazmat suits.
As for Belizeans who have travelled in high risk areas, they cannot be denied entry and so the Government is devising protocols to deal with that as well.
CEO Peter Allen says that their plan for response to Ebola is evolving as they go along and they will be providing weekly press briefings on this issue of grave concern.