Covid19, a pandemic, is a potential disaster for Belize, and is beyond anything we have experienced before. Standard epidemiological models indicate that an uncontrolled epidemic could infect 60% of a country’s population, and it can have a mortality rate of 0.9%. For Belize, this means 245,093 persons could be infected (Estimated population of Belize as of 2019:408,487) and 2,205 persons can die. COVID19 does not discriminate gender, ethnicity, social standing, geographic location or age. This means ANYONE OF US can become infected and die.
COVID19 can be worse than Hurricane Hattie in many ways (which I will share some thoughts on in a subsequent posting), but primarily in terms of the potential death toll and occurrence and recovery period. In the case of the former, 400 persons or 0.3% of the population of Belize lost their lives as a result of Hurricane Hattie. They were primarily from Belize City and Stann Creek District. (Estimated population of Belize 1960:119,934).
In the case of the latter, COVID19 is not a few days, a one shot impact where the hurricane strikes one particular area and leaves, and thereafter a recovery period with local and global support. COVID19 is estimated to take its toll over a protracted period of 3 to 6 months over the whole country, and possibly another 6 months to ensure no re-occurrence. Furthermore, Belize will be competing with countries impacted also by COVID19, thus resources may become very scarce.
In addition, and more so than Hattie, COVID19 will force us to rethink governance and political systems, our economy, our socio-cultural values and practice and our relationship with our ourselves, our families and society, with the environment, and with the global community.
Fortunately, we are now positioned to learn from the experiences of other countries, and to be able to share ours with them as well. Similar to all countries currently affected by COVID19, we have started with one case with the likelihood of an increase in the number of cases in the days to come. Consequently, what can happen next will be up to EACH AND EVERYONE OF US.
So, I thought it important to use this platform to share a little bit more on the phases of the pandemic we are confronted with-COVID19 as I myself begin to learn about this novel virus. What phase we are in, what we can learn and adapt from others, and what our expectations should be, as we all work together, government and people, to navigate the way forward, and minimize the onslaught of a potential disaster.
(1) Testing and Tracing Phase-This is when there are a few cases of COVID19. Countries which have succeeded so far in limiting the epidemic (Singapore, Hong Kong and Taiwan) have done so by identifying and isolating the infected individuals and tracing the people they have come into contact with so they too can be either tested, monitored, and, if necessary, isolated.
THIS IS WHERE WE ARE. IT IS THE MOST CRITICAL PHASE AND THAT WHICH THE MINISTRY OF HEALTH IS ENGAGED IN NOW SINCE 1 COVID19 CASE WAS CONFIRMED MARCH 23rd, 2020.
In this phase, successful countries leveraged their public-health infrastructure and data analytics, affordable healthcare, and extensive educational outreach. This, along with inculcated discipline and socio-cultural practices contributed to their success. While Belize health care landscape may not be on par, we have other elements to leverage. I will share these in a subsequent post.
(2) Breakout Phase-This occurs when testing and tracing is lax. In Belizean colloquialism, this is the ‘WHEN SHIT HIT THE FAN” phase as what occurs is the spread of the virus to the community and the exponential growth of cases. Exponential growth means 1 person becomes 2, becomes 4, becomes 8, becomes 16, becomes 32, becomes 64, becomes 108, becomes 216, becomes 432, becomes 864, becomes 1,728, becomes 3,456, becomes 6,912, becomes 13,824…you get the picture.
China reported its first case January 11th, 2020, and since then, COVID19 has expanded to all parts of the globe, and now it is in Belize. As of today, 3 months and 14 days later, the global picture reports 436,379 infections and 19,638 deaths. That one case in Belize, and any other that may emerge, has the potential to expand to all parts of Belize and beyond.
The key to limiting the epidemic in this breakout phase is practice social distancing accompanied by some sort of shutdown in which all non-essential businesses are closed; events are canceled; public areas are cleared; and most people are ordered to remain in their homes. China implemented a stringent lockdown several weeks into the epidemic and not before.
THE GOVERNMENT OF BELIZE HAS INITIATED SOME OF THESE ACTIONS ALREADY, AND MANY INSTITUTIONS AND PERSONS HAVE STARTED TO COMPLY OR ARE IN THE PROCESS OF COMPLIANCE.
As a note, all of us have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that the “SHIT NO HIT THE FAN” in Belize. If a shutdown is successful, it will slow the rate of the spread, and the data has shown that if carried out early enough and effectively enough, our health care system will not be overwhelmed (or to use the correct term-the curve will be flattened as the picture depicts), for if it becomes overwhelmed, as in the case of Italy, then it could lead to thousands of deaths. In this scenario, the state will be forced to start making hard and painful decisions as to who will live and who will die, or in our Belizean colloquialism ‘the state wah be God’ and a criteria will be set based on age, gender and pre-existing conditions, or it can very well be ‘who knows who.’
Undoubtedly, a national lockdown will be extremely costly, but it will save lives. I will share some thoughts on this in a subsequent post.
This time in our journey of nationhood too shall pass. We will bounce back. How fast, will depend on the action each of us take.
Jeffery Sachs in ‘Our best hope for fighting coronavirus’ in SDSN Global dated March 23rd, 2020
www.worldometers.info downloaded 03/25/2020
Statistics Institute of Belize, Abstract of Statistics 1991
www.sib.org.bz downloaded 03/25/2020
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