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Apr 22, 2003

Visitors from six countries banned due to SARS

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SARS, the acronym for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, has finally made a direct impact on Belize. No, there have not been any reported instances of the deadly disease here…but to make sure things stay that way the Minister of Home Affairs, Ralph Fonseca, has ordered a temporary ban on the entry of citizens into Belize from six specific places: The People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, India and Canada. While the first four East Asian territories are acknowledged to be hotbeds of the virus, the last two remain a mystery. Why, for example would citizens of India, a country with only one reported case of SARS, be barred from entering Belize? And what about Canada? Even though it has reported a total of one hundred and thirty-nine SARS cases, health authorities there have already isolated most suspected carriers. Accounting for perhaps as much as fifteen percent of tourist arrivals, the barring of Canadian visitors will have a major impact on the economy. While there may be a sound explanation for these decisions, unfortunately, despite our repeated phone calls, nobody in the Ministry of Home Affairs was talking. Late this evening News 5′s Patrick Jones spoke to Director of Health Services Dr. Errol Vanzie, who, while acknowledging the danger of the epidemic, could not explain the choice of countries.

Dr. Errol Vanzie, Director of Health Services

“In the last two weeks we have seen a decrease in the rate of increase of cases. And if that continues, within two to three weeks we might see a significant decrease in the number of cases. If that is the case then probably the restriction can be removed.”

Patrick Jones

“Dr. Vanzie, India is listed on the list of countries for which the advisory has been issued, yet in India the World Health Organisation lists only one confirmed case there as opposed to the United Kingdom with six and the United States with thirty odd, why not target them on the advisory list?”

Dr. Errol Vanzie

“Well in the list that we submitted to Immigration, as I mentioned before, Mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam.”

Patrick Jones

“So you did not advise them to give an advisory for India?”

Dr. Errol Vanzie

“No, not from the Ministry of Health. But I assume they have reason to include India in their list.”

Patrick Jones

“Dr. Vanzie I get the idea that although the Ministry of Health is listed as a cooperating Ministry in this, that somebody issued this advisory without proper consultation across the board. Is that the case?”

Dr. Errol Vanzie

“No I cannot say if that is the case. I know that we have had several meetings with different sectors of government, including immigration, and we discussed the risk of SARS entering into Belize. And based on that we agree on certain activities and within that context I assume that the Ministry of Home Affairs has issued this advisory.”

Patrick Jones

“From a health perspective what other advice have you given to people who work lets say at the airport, the ports and other places where people enter from outside the country?”

Dr. Errol Vanzie

“People that are in constant contact with travellers such as Immigration Officers and Customs Officers, we have advised that they use universal precautions such as using gloves and masks, face masks.”

Patrick Jones

“Is there in your opinion a real cause for concern at this time for Belize from SARS?”

Dr. Errol Vanzie

“Yes it is, because of the mode of transmission and the fact that we have direct link with that part of the world. We have people coming in routinely into the country, and so the probability exists that a person could be incubating the disease, comes into the country and then we have an outbreak.”

According to the release from the Ministry of Home Affairs, all airlines serving Belize have been informed of the decision and Belizeans are advised not to travel to any of the six named countries. In a phone conversation today with Director of Tourism Tracy Taegar, she expressed surprise at the announcement and reported that to her knowledge, the Ministry of Tourism was not consulted or even informed of the decision to initiate the travel ban. According to the press release, the ban is temporary and may be lifted at any time. Of the six countries whose citizens are banned from entering Belize, Mainland China has reported the most SARS cases, two thousand and one. Hong Kong reports one thousand, four hundred and thirty-four, Singapore one hundred and eighty-six, Canada one hundred and thirty-nine, Vietnam sixty-three and India, one. Countries not named in the ban are the United States with thirty-eight cases and Taiwan with twenty-nine.


Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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