Posted: Wednesday, September 30, 2020. 11:40 am CST.
By Aaron Humes: The Philip Goldson International Airport (PGIA), shuttered since March in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, re-opens officially tomorrow, Thursday, October 1.
The press will be given a tour of what is expected to be a much-changed space this afternoon and we will have highlights of that for you later.
But the PGIA was never truly “closed” in the popular sense, as limited domestic flights, cargo flights and even some international transport continued even in the height of the pandemic, to some consternation in August when it was believed that visitors to San Pedro Town may have been behind a dangerous spike in COVID-19 cases.
From as early as June, the Government was inclined to re-open the airport as part of a phased return to tourism, but it has been postponed twice, the first time because of a lack of preparation, the second because of a rise in cases that threatened vulnerable populations particularly in the chief tourist destination on Ambergris Caye.
Prior to the planned August re-opening, a multi-sectoral group had developed extensive guidelines for the reception, housing and movement of tourists as well as returning Belizeans, including the establishment of a ‘Gold Standard’ of hotels and accommodations as well as participating workers.
The Ministry of Health announced plans to implement rapid testing for visitors at the Airport but still requires where possible a negative PCR test for COVID-19 on arrival. Also, the Belize Health App was established in order to help monitor tourist movement through Belize.
Most of the requirements including that for quarantine upon entry have been slightly relaxed.
But with the return of tourists, Belize Hotel Association (BHA) president Ted Tejada told reporters on Tuesday that he expects it will be “another three weeks” before tourists truly return in numbers, and even then it will be too late for some. “…initially on August 15th we saw a lot more people making their own bookings but because of not opening on that particular date and having them cancel, as you know when you’re going on holiday you have to apply for vacations from the company there’s a lot of paperwork that needed to be done that did not happen and with that being said October 1st we’re believing that some of the guests will be waiting for a couple of weeks maybe three and once they see that we are serious that we are going to open the airport, the international airport then they’ll proceed in buying their tickets so we have faith that within the next three weeks we will see a return of our tourists back to Belize… I believe that by November 1st we should see a bigger amount of guests coming in and at this moment there are a lot of hotels that are waiting for that opportunity. A lot of Hotels will no longer make it. I know already of some hotels that are already on sale because they could no longer sustain the pandemic. We just have to try and have faith that we are going to come back to where it was in a couple of months,” Tejada said, noting that the average arrivals on weekends for a normal high season as between 42 to 48 thousand.
Over 700 arrivals, of which about 20 percent will be tourists, are expected from Thursday into the weekend.
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