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Health Minister stands by testing regimen, addresses equipment delays

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Posted: Monday, April 27, 2020. 7:26 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: With just over nine hundred tests done since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic here, Belize has had only eighteen cases reported and two dead. We have gone nearly two full weeks since the last reported positive test and six persons have recovered, with more expected.

In all, that is a tidy record according to Minister of Health Pablo Marin. “We are happy of the outcome but we are still looking at what is happening [in the countries around us]. We have Mexico – just today I think they had another 50 new cases and this is still happening.”

The Minister took the opportunity to remind his fellow norteños that with the borders closed, travel to Mexico and particularly Chetumal, Botes, La Union and others is prohibited to avoid the spread of COVID-19. These are all municipalities in the neighbouring state of Quintana Roo. He expects that the borders and airport will remain closed until cases in the neighbouring countries come down.

As for testing here, Marin explained that swabs due in the country last week are being held while more come this week. With the arrivals of reagents and enzymes this weekend, testing, which had briefly been stopped last week, have resumed and will continue (the Amerijet plane bringing the items did not come last week.)

According to Marin, there is some hoarding of goods but Belize has enough for present purposes. He also clarified that the rapid test kit recommended by PUP Cayo South area rep Julius Espat has not been approved by the Pan American/World Health Organization and so Belize continues using the current PCR method; Belize currently has capacity for 200 tests per day.

Belize does continue to look at the Central American/South Korea donation of test kits but does not have the requisite machines, specific enzymes and training for lab personnel (he made note that Belize is acquiring a second PCR machine to spell the first). But Belize continues to test and per capita, has done more daily testing than our neighbours (three to four times as many as Mexico, four to five times as many as Guatemala and six times as many as Jamaica and Honduras).

We challenged Marin on what basis he uses to say this and he contends that some of these countries use our similar testing regimen (but did not say which). But he maintains that our regime of lockdown and selective testing has isolated cases and kept Belize from being overrun.

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