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Mar 23, 2020

Belize Records First Case of COVID-19 in San Pedro

The first case of COVID-19 was confirmed today. The woman is currently under quarantine in San Pedro, while her family members are in isolation. The individual, who is a Belizean, arrived at the Philip Goldson International Airport from Los Angeles on Thursday, travelling via Texas.  On Friday, she was checked at a private clinic as symptoms were manifesting.  The grim announcement was made this morning by Prime Minister Dean Barrow; it sent the community in San Pedro into a state of panic.  Here is News Five’s Isani Cayetano with a report.


Dean Barrow

Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“I have the very unpleasant duty of announcing this morning that we have our first confirmed case of a Belizean citizen having tested positive for COVID-19.  The person is a Belizean citizen but goes back and forth between our country and the U.S., came into Belize from Los Angeles on Thursday, as I understand it, had already started feeling unwell and so went straight into self-isolation.”


Isani Cayetano, Reporting

The first confirmed case of novel coronavirus was recorded in San Pedro by the Ministry of Health today.  After several weeks of closely monitoring the spread of the pandemic within the region, Belize now joins over a hundred and ninety countries that are affected by COVID-19.


Marvin Manzanero

Dr. Marvin Manzanero, Director of Health Services

“We have identified the case, she has been in self-isolation.  She doesn’t require at this point in time hospitalization which means that we are not going to bring her to the facility.  She is self-isolated at home and I am being told this morning that she is actually improving.  Her family members that were in immediate contact will be screened as is the process and we’ll do mapping exercises in terms of who she may have been in contact with before she actually got to San Pedro.”


Health authorities have commenced contact tracing via the individual’s travel history in order to determine who the patient may have also exposed to the virus while en route to Ambergris Caye.  A state of emergency has also been declared on the island.  This will allow for the ministry to conduct the exercise properly.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“While we don’t know for sure and will the full tracing and mapping exercise will be done, it does seem as though there was very minimal contact with anyone except for the physician that attended the person at the private clinic she visited and that physician was properly protected.”


The initial case was confirmed at about 10:45 p.m. on Sunday, after health officials had conducted eleven tests, including the one in San Pedro that has returned positive.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“We have eleven swabs done yesterday [and] the only one that came back positive is the one that we are confirming today.  Just one other thing in terms of screening, you will do a first test and if that is reactive then we have a confirmatory test done, so both of them would have to turn out to be positive before we can actually come back to you and say we have a confirmed case.”


Along with this confirmation comes restrictions that government has already began to implement for residents and non-residents of San Pedro in an effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“There are things we’re going to be doing to ensure that in fact that is going to happen.  The principal message, apart from making the announcement I just did, the principal message I want to send out this morning is this, we, I repeat, must take this thing extremely seriously, but we mustn’t overreact and we mustn’t panic.”


But residents of the island town have done quite the opposite.  Immediately following the prime minister’s televised announcement, there were snaking queues at the water taxi terminals as many attempted to flee the location.


Prime Minister Dean Barrow

“We’re asking San Pedranos to, as it were, shelter in place.  We know that there are people, today is the last day for international flights and we know that there are people who are coming in from the island to try to actually get out of the country.  So we’re not enforcing as from today any kind of quarantine with respect to the island but we’re asking San Pedranos not to come to the mainland, except it is absolutely essential and we are asking mainlanders not to go to San Pedro except it is absolutely essential.  We will give some thought to whether in fact we need to impose a quarantine if we do after further consultations with the medical personnel, it would only be for something like forty-eight hours.  That is the kind of timeframe that they need to do as comprehensive a mapping exercise as possible.”


Two health teams have since been dispatched to San Pedro to assist with the timely mapping of all persons who potentially came into contact with the thirty-eight-year-old woman.  As is required by international standards, the Ministry of Health has proceeded to inform the World Health Organization, as well as the Pan American Health Organization.


Dr. Marvin Manzanero

“I will have to go and set up the template report for WHO and PAHO as a first confirmed case.  We are going to label it as an imported case because the travel history, ten days prior to her arrival here is exclusively in the U.S.”


Reporting for News Five, I am Isani Cayetano.

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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