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Belize to implement health insurance for all visitors as country deals with COVID surge

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BELMOPAN, Belize (CMC) – Belize is implementing new travel insurance for all visitors entering the country even as it acknowledged that it cannot afford another lockdown amid the record increase in cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Deputy Manager of the Ministry of Health and Wellness’s Central Health Region, Dr Melissa Diaz-Musa, confirmed that there are now 6, 500 plus active cases “and we have been seeing between 500 to a 1,000 new cases daily from the latter part of last year.

“Yesterday we had gone to 878 cases…and we continue to see cases in all our facilities countrywide,” she added.

The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) said that all visitors arriving will now be required to purchase Belize Travel Health Insurance so as to protect travellers against medical and other expenses incurred if they test positive for COVID-19 during their stay.

It said that the insurance will cost US$18 and covers up to US$50,000 in medical expenses related to COVID-19 treatment for a period of 21 days. It will also cover quarantine lodging expenses of up to US$2,000

“There is a new travel insurance that will be implemented on the 15th of February. The policy covers a visitor if they get sick in the country,” said BTB chairman, Evan Tillett.

“It also provides trip cancellation coverage, so what it does is to protect the hotel sector as well as protect the guest, in case the guest can’t come and we are operating in a pandemic, an Omicron environment.

“What we are seeing is that in some cases, guests test positive after they have already spent their vacation, and the public health regulation says that it is at the cost of the visitor. A lot of times these visitors don’t have the money to pay for it. So, having the insurance provides a level of coverage, a level of safety, for the guest and for the industry,” Tillett added.

Tillett said Belize is the latest country to be implementing health insurance, noting “Jamaica has a travel insurance programme, Turks and Cacaos, Dubai, so it is nothing new for the tourism sector. “Given the fact of the importance of the tourism sector in Belize, giving 40 per cent of gross domestic product, it is important that we protect our industry, our locals, our guests”.

Meanwhile, Public Services Minister, Henry Charles Usher says while Cabinet continues to be advised by the COVID-19 Task Force, the country cannot afford to shut down or lock off as was done in the early months of the pandemic back in 2020.

“This omicron variant has really changed the ball game because it is so easily spread. Luckily, it seems that we are not seeing as severe cases as before with the other variants; certainly with Delta, we saw a lot of severe cases. We are not seeing that with omicron, but it is spreading,” he told News Five television.

“So we have to continue to practice the safety measures and that’s what Cabinet stressed on Tuesday. To make sure that we continue to have these regulations in place: wearing of masks, physical distancing, sanitization of offices, washing of hands and so on. It is important that these continue to be in place.

“We also have to balance that with the economy and we have to make sure that the economy remains open. We have to be safe, but we have to be open and we have to have people working. We see a number of government departments being closed down because of this, even the Ministry of Public Service. Unfortunately, we had a minor outbreak and we decided to close for a day last week to sanitise the office. Thankfully, none of our workers are with any severe illness right now,” Usher added.

Usher said that the medical task force had made a couple of recommendations, “not in terms of lockdown or anything like that.

“But we know the Omicron came here probably through the airport or some other port and so they are recommending that the tests that are done; that the testing period is less. So in terms of the PCR testing, instead of 96 hours it’s brought down to 48 hours; the rapid test, 24 hours so that we can have a better idea if that person is contagious or not.”

Usher said recommendations like that are coming forward, but he has not seen any recommendations having to do with any type of lockdown.

“But lockdown or not, we have to be safe. We have to practice our safe practices and we have to be healthier as a society and as a country. Our people have to be healthier because if you combine healthy living with the vaccine, more than likely there is a very good chance you will be safe.

“We have to continue monitoring it. We hope that we can see a burnout of this virus that it just goes through very fast, so fast that it burns itself out. We are seeing other countries in Europe that have already reached their peak,” Usher added.

Belize has recorded 607 deaths and 39, 890 infections linked to COVID-19 since March 2020.

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