Episode 22 - The statistics for Covid-19 infections appear to be much better than they were just one month ago. But are those numbers too good to be true? My two cents on why government should not ease restrictions, even if Belize is finally starting to flatten the curve.
Plus some good news as Mrs. Rossana Briceno becomes our new Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children.
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Brent Toombs 0:14
Coming up, even if we might be flattening the curve. Now is not the time to take our foot off the break.
You're listening to Brent's two cents, the semi serious thoughts of a guy in Belize. And now here's the host of this podcast from somewhere in Belize City, Brent Toombs.
Brent Toombs 0:40
Hey, welcome to the podcast for the week of January the 25th. Well, the big news recently is that it seems there may be some good news regarding Belize's COVID-19 situation. When you look at the statistics for this month, compared to last, there appears to be reasons for optimism that we might be flattening the curve. In December, Belize was averaging about 100 new infections, every day. To date in January. We are reporting around 40 cases per day and that number is trending lower in the last couple of weeks. The positivity rate for tests in December was generally between 25, to 40% daily. Well, in January we've actually had a few days where the positivity rate has been in the single digits. Now in December we lost 78 people to COVID-19. And as of the time of recording this podcast on Sunday January the 24th 42 people have died from COVID-19 so far this month. And that's a number that can't be ignored. No matter how anxious people are to think that we are getting this virus under control. We are still losing an average of two people per day to this disease, but overall the picture looks a bit more optimistic than it did one month ago. And already the public is agitating for a relaxation of the COVID-19 containment regulations. Both the Prime Minister and Minister of Home Affairs have indicated that a new statutory instrument is expected to take effect on February 1 that will deliver exactly that. And I think that will be a massive mistake.
Brent Toombs 2:41
First, I don't believe the situation has improved as much as the daily infographics suggest. Now, I'm not going to wander into the realm of conspiracy theories and tell you that the Ministry of Health and Wellness is putting a bogus numbers to make GOB look good. There are too many dedicated scientists in the chain, and if the ministry was cooking the books, someone would be blowing the whistle. But I do find it remarkable how much less testing is being done this month, compared to last, especially after the government went to such great lengths to boast about increasing testing capacity and including the results from rapid tests conducted at private facilities. With all that you would think the number of tests, being conducted daily would be at an all time high. But for reasons that have yet to be explained. The Daily number of tests in January is averaging less than half of what was being conducted in December. Last month the average number of tests conducted every single day was around 700. So far this month. That number is less than 350. And as a former American president once suggested. If we did half the testing, we'd have half the number of cases.
Brent Toombs 4:01
So, less people are being tested, and less positive cases are being recorded. But what can't be denied. Is that the positivity rate for those people who do get tested has dropped of late. However, even that could be cause for concern. Personally, I have to wonder if the reason both the overall test numbers, and the positivity rate is suddenly so much lower is because people who are experiencing minor symptoms or know that they have had close contact with someone who tested positive are simply avoiding getting tested. Many people don't want to know their status, because they can't afford to be off work, while they quarantine. And I'm sure a number of people went through the holidays with itchy throats and mild fevers, but tried to hide their symptoms, because they were afraid of getting locked down during Christmas. And then of course, it's human nature to deny that there may be anything wrong with our health. I mean, I can't have COVID-19. It's just the change in the weather. It's the rain or the air conditioning that has me feeling this way. Now I don't need to take a test. So officially believes currently has 389 active cases of COVID-19. Common sense suggests the real number is probably much higher.
Brent Toombs 5:29
But not even a cynic like myself can deny that the situation in Belize has likely improved in the past 30 days while we've been under curfew, and other restrictions. And as the saying goes, if it ain't broke, don't fix it.
Brent Toombs 5:46
Another reason why government needs to stay the course with restrictions, is that these encouraging numbers from the past few weeks, only look good by comparison to December, which was the worst month statistically, since the pandemic came to police. We still recorded 28, new cases on Sunday, and 22 on Saturday, and 24, the day before that, and 34, the day before that. Do you remember back in early August, when we locked down entire communities when we started recording 15 to 20 cases per day?That's the reality of exponential spread with this virus.
Brent Toombs 6:49
So no one should be suggesting that the situation is under control, until we start seeing several weeks with no new cases reported. and to quote the previous Attorney General. We are not there yet! But the calls to lift the curfew and open up churches and bars and gyms is beginning to grow louder. People are becoming impatient. And I really don't blame them because authorities are doing a terrible job of communicating with the public about what's going on. Say what you want about the previous administration. But one thing they got right was communication when it came to the battle against COVID-19. At least two to three times per week we got live briefings with question and answer sessions about the situation, the Attorney General broke down all the regulations so there could be no misunderstanding about what was or was not allowed. And most importantly, Director of health services, Dr Marvin Manzanero continuously explained what the data they collected meant, and the rationale behind various policies. You can't drop an SI on people and then just leave them to figure it out for themselves, or change your testing methodology and not explain what these new statistics, actually represent. When you create an information vacuum, people will fill that void with their own version of the truth, one that suits their biases, or desires.
Brent Toombs 8:28
And that's the biggest reason I have for why government should not ease up on restrictions yet. Experience has taught us that too many people are incapable of policing themselves and behaving responsible. During this pandemic in Belize the desire to bash seems to overwhelm all common sense. As it stands right now, bars are supposed to be closed and restaurants can only sell alcohol with meals, until 6pm. But that's not stopping many establishments from promoting their happy hours with two for one cocktails, a popular spot just north of the hall of a bridge in Belize City is offering free bocce with every round, as if a tiny plate of chips and dip counts as a meal. I just recently saw another restaurant in San Pedro, promoting a Valentine's Day party, complete with two DJs and a bikini contest at a restaurant. And this is the same sort of shit that was going on back in the spring. During the first lockdown. You give people an inch, and they will take a mile, especially if there's a party to be had.
Brent Toombs 9:48
As soon as government relaxes the curfe, even by a few hours, more people are going to be out socializing with people from outside their homes, whether that's in restaurants, acting as de facto bars or in parks or other public spaces, or in private homes. Now, I do sympathize with responsible business operators, especially those restaurants and vendors that simply want to sell food, and are not trying to operate like some sort of speakeasy. The 8pm curfew is devastating for you. And I wish people could be trusted to stay out later. This is a situation where I'm afraid the good will continue to suffer for the bad. So I expect the big topic of conversation this week will be speculation about the next statutory instrument, and just how far geobee might go in terms of relaxing regulations. I hope that instead of just striking items from the current SI to placate people who have grown fatigued by the curfew that they instead take a look at what regulations, need to be adjusted. In some cases that could mean actually tightening up things in some areas in order to loosen up restrictions elsewhere. For example, go ahead, start the curfew at 10pm, but add a restriction that no one can have any visitors, including relatives in their home or yard. After 8pm. The only exception should be for childcare, or the care of someone who needs assistance, anyone caught drinking alcohol in any public place should be arrested jailed overnight and fined, $1,000.
Brent Toombs 11:39
Change the mask regulation to only allow a person to remove their masks in public, to eat or drink. If they are seated, and if there is no one within six feet of them. So, say goodbye to the walking maskless while eating chicken wings exemption. I think restaurants should be allowed to remain open until 9pm. However, there should be a hard limit of two alcoholic drinks per customer food vendors should be allowed to sell on the street provided its takeaway only, and that they enforce physical distancing regulations. In my opinion, buying street food is actually much safer than dining at a restaurant, especially those restaurants where people are drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and trying to speak over loud music. Let the grocery stores stay open until 9pm, but continue to stop alcohol sales at six. Bars, nightclubs casinos churches and gyms should remain closed.
Brent Toombs 12:43
Now, all of this requires enforcement, which is one area where Belize never seems to be consistent. Certainly not for very long. And really that's why we end up with a pm curfews and everything being closed because we won't police ourselves, and the police won't police us either. At least not for more than a couple of weeks. Speaking of which, when's the last time anyone saw one of those Justices of the Peace who are supposed to be enforcing COVID-19 regulations in every business. Yeah. My point exactly. So, like it or not, we need restrictions to keep the virus under control. Even if the data suggests that we have flattened the curve for now it won't stay flat for long. Once we turn people loose, to do whatever they want. We saw what happened in Belize in July. We've seen that happen over and over again in the US, Canada, England and Europe. Every time authorities ease up on restrictions. The virus begins to spike, a few weeks or a few months later, and we haven't even begun to feel the effects of the new variants of COVID-19 that are up to 70% more contagious. And it's only a matter of time until that gets introduced in beliefs. People say we need to learn to live with the virus. And yes, that's true. But these unpopular restrictions, is actually what living with COVID-19. looks like.
Brent Toombs 14:50
Okay how about a bit of good news? On Friday of last week, Mrs Rossana Bricneo, the spouse of the prime minister was officially appointed as the Special Envoy for the Development of Families and Children. Now, there are a couple of reasons why I think this is such great news. First, despite a slight change in title this is basically a continuation of the position previously held by Kim Simplis Barrow, the spouse of the previous Prime Minister. I am very happy to see this type of continuity, because too often, the political cycle in Belize, is to destroy anything that your predecessor did, and either rebuild it in your own name or ignore it altogether. Mrs Barrow left some pretty big shoes to fill. And the new government could have decided not to fill them in order to diminish her legacy. So kudos to Prime Minister Bticeno for putting the needs of some of Belize's most vulnerable citizens ahead of politics. Another reason why I think this appointment is good news is because of who the new special envoy is Rossana Briceno has long been a passionate advocate for women and children. In particular, children with special needs. And like her predecessor, Mrs Briceno's efforts in this regard, have never been politically motivated. Now, don't think that the spouse of the Prime Minister automatically becomes the Special Envoy for women and children or a Special Envoy for the development of families and children. It's just a fortunate coincidence that our current prime minister and our previous prime minister are both married to women who care deeply about social justice, gender equity, and the welfare of children.
Brent Toombs 16:32
Now I am sure Mrs. Briceno will have her own agenda for the office, and I was pleased to hear that one of herr priorities will be to find economic relief for women who are being disproportionately affected by COVID-19. But she also pledged to strengthen those institutions that were put in place by the previous Special Envoy, such as the Inspiration Center and the Neonatal, and Pediatric Intensive Care Unit at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital.
Brent Toombs 16:58
Socongratulations Mrs Briceno, and thank you for taking on the burden of this very needed role to help make Belize, a better society for everyone. And that's some good news.
Brent Toombs 17:28
OK, before I go, I want to make a slight correction from something from last week's podcast on that episode I spoke about how Belize's foreign cannabis consultant, Alex Lavin and his company Growth Industries are from Rhode Island, where recreational marijuana is still illegal. Well, I was not aware that growth industries, is also registered in California, where recreational weed is legal. Now speaking of the weed issue, Minister of Home Affairs and New Growth Industries, Kareem Musa, will be hosting a virtual town hall meeting with Alex Lavin on Wednesday January 27 at 7pm via zoom. However, you need to register for this meeting, and submit any questions you might have before noon on Tuesday. I'll put a link for that in the Notes for this episode. I also want to give a shout out to Glen Tillett for the article he posted over the weekend, about the current COVID situation, and the call from some quarters to relax restrictions. I've included a link to that in the show notes as well. It was a great read as I was preparing my own notes for this podcast, especially as Glenn had already compiled the statistics for December in January. So Glenn, thank you for that.
Brent Toombs 18:45
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Brent Toombs 19:41
And that's going to do it for Episode 22 of Brent's Two Cents. I'll be back next week with another episode. But until then please continue to wear your masks, wash your hands, stay home as much as possible, and most importantly, be nice to each other.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai