I, like most Belizeans or Belizean residents, tuned in to the third Press Conference by the National Oversight Committee for COVID-19. I listened with mixed feelings to the announcement of a 30-day State of Emergency and thought with some concern; for a people in emergency. Mostly, I felt the weight of what this means for us as a people, and the heavy burden of the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition because of the coming effects of this decision.
The Ministry of Health, along with other social actors, begun the awareness campaigning process in early February, when the realization that the virus was going to have wide spread impact on the world. This was ramped up with the declaration of COVID-19 as a pandemic. Despite this, there seem to be the usual attitude of a dependence on our strong belief that Belize is ‘blessed’ so we did not take the precautions and warnings seriously. Despite the initial warnings that COVID-19 was an eventuality and avoidance was not possible. The plan was that we adopt the necessary protocols such as proper hygiene and social distancing to help mitigate the magnitude of the virus on our country.
Following the trend of most of our Caribbean neighbours, who declared their nations in a state of emergency (varying degrees) after the discovery of the third case of COVID-19, Belize declared its State of Emergency, yesterday March 31, 2020. (https://caribbeanlifestyle.com/belize-declares-national-state-of-emergency/) The Prime Minister cited that the lack of adherence to the social distancing and other precautionary protocols was a motivating factor in the decision to shut-down the country. While many of us will want shout ‘he shouda mi do it lang time’. We seem blissfully oblivious of the reasoning for and ramifications of such an act. Unfortunately, based on the wave of violent and discriminatory comments on social media, we prefer to crucify victims and blame the government instead of taking the necessary steps to protect ourselves. We speak of self-isolation as though it is a cure and that such an act would result in no positive tests. We glorify ‘fake news’ and gossip that incites violence and victimization as freedom of speech.
So here we are, so accustomed to being told and in some instances forced to do what is right. Here we are, still holding on to our collective comfort of blame, name calling and finger pointing; easier to see someone else as responsible other than us. Here we are in a state of emergency.
Over the past two weeks, lots of people criticized the government for approaching the response from an economic position. Economics, money is the basis for effectively responding to this crisis in a holistic manner. Imagine all resources being reallocated to ramp up the healthcare system with no attention to livelihoods; how would we survive? Thinking now to the fact that the original budget set out for the health response has already increased by 102% already; if there was not a clear plan for finding resources this would not have been possible. I wonder though, do we truly understand the ramifications of this, based on the parameters outlined by the National Oversight Committee? Do we see that because of our evidenced unwillingness to adhere to the protocols that we have now entered into a process that would lead to significant economic effects, such as hundreds of jobs lost – none essential services suspended and these businesses have every legal right to terminate contracts under the ‘force majeure’ clause? This means for persons who were earning $1500 per month, will now have to apply for economic assistance through the government and essence will receive $300 per month…an 80% reduction in income. This means that the government has to also find additional resources to allocate to additional security personnel, healthcare workers and their families, and all the other public servants who will now be working beyond the regular schedule to keep us safe. Even for 30 days, the economic effects will be significant.
Our responsibility in this process is simple, but I fear may be an impossibility. Our responsibility is to set aside our political differences and support the efforts of the National Oversight Committee; adhere to the protocols set in place to protect us. This is not about us being ‘good’ this is about all of us being at risk, and as CEO Judith Alpuche said, exercise our civic duty in protecting our fellow Belizean, our children, our friends. We can take Singapore as an example; their successful management of the epidemic has been presented as a best practice by the United Nations. The success was due to the overwhelming support of the people in adhering to the protocols and systems being put in place; to put aside their differences and embrace as a nation the collective responsibility for reducing the catastrophic effects of this virus.
30 days is a long time, too long for a small nation like ours. I pray that we will survive with minimal catastrophic effects, no deaths and a buoyant economy.
I stand with you Belize! I stand with and salute our Government!
Blessings and Safe Quarantine