With High Tech – And Highly Successful – Initiatives, Belize Moves Closer To Normalcy
Our regular readers would be well aware of our pride and respect for the partnership that exists between the government, NGOs, travel industry and, especially, the people of Belize.
That’s something we feel all the time, but has really come to the fore during this unprecedented global pandemic. We can’t say enough – and there wouldn’t be enough space anyway – to give credit and salute all the homegrown heroes who pulled together to snatch victory from the jaws of this virus.
We don’t like to brag, but if becoming the first country in all the Americas to be COVID-free isn’t a victory, we don’t know what is.
In the midst of a global pandemic that has already infected over five million people and counting, Belize has had a total of 18 cases, with no new infections since April 13th.
How this came to pass is another one of those “only in Belize” stories…
And again, it’s all due to Belize’s government, non-government organizations, and people working together to achieve something extraordinary.
Check it out:
When the Coronavirus first reared its ugly head, Belize’s Ministry of Health took quick, decisive action. Strict surveillance protocols were put in place at the borders, and officials began preparing for the worst while still hoping for the best.
Then, when the first case of COVID-19 arrived, the government declared a State of Emergency, immediately closed borders, organized doctors, hospitals and clinics nationwide, and put in place lockdown and other legislation to restrict movement and contain the spread of the virus.
And here’s where the high tech, highly creative part comes in.
Belize was set to begin its national census in May, 2020. But, when Coronavirus was first identified as a threat, authorities instead modified the census data-collection resources to control the virus.
Healthcare professionals worked with software developers, statisticians and census field workers to create one of the earliest COVID-19 integrated tracking, tracing and reporting platforms in the Americas.
It began with software developers designing an app that turned census field workers into COVID “detectives.” Instead of going door-to-door just to collect census data, the field workers now carried tablets armed with “Open Health” – a data recording and reporting app that allowed for real time collection and sharing of vital information.
Pretty cool, right?
These field workers could now interview “persons of Interest” who were identified by meeting various risk factors. The field workers then uploaded the data they collected in real time, mapping contacts, risk areas and individual cases.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health used their version of the app to log data gathered from calls to its hotline into the same common database.
An additional component, a self-reporting app, allowed individuals to report their own health status.
With data from the field workers, the hotline, and self-reporting, health authorities now had vital, real time information that gave them a comprehensive picture of the national public health.
This information allowed them to assess the COVID-19 risk level in each of Belize’s districts, and then match that with the capacity of the local hospitals and clinics – all updated in real time.
The result? As of 22 May, 2020, Belize, with 18 known COVID-19 cases and two deaths, has now passed the 40-day mark of no new cases and is gradually, carefully returning to some semblance of pre-Coronavirus normalcy.
Physical distancing, wearing face masks and other measures are still mandatory and strictly enforced, but most businesses and government offices have reopened, and local tourism may soon be encouraged as the first step to welcoming overseas visitors to a safe, secure, and healthy country.
And the team members that helped make all this happen aren’t finished yet.
They’re working on new apps that will help screen and keep track of citizens, residents and visitors entering Belize once the airport and borders open. And, when schools open and larger gatherings are permitted, it will be important to continue screening the general population with contact tracers and other diagnostic tools.
While we’re not completely out of the woods – or rainforest – yet, it looks like the “Little Country That Could” did it again.
Stay well, everyone, keep checking for new updates here, and we look forward to seeing you soon!