Fri | Jan 28, 2022

Island to implement health insurance for all visitors as country deals with COVID surge

Published:Saturday | January 15, 2022 | 12:07 AM

BELMOPAN (CMC):

Belize is implementing a new travel insurance for all visitors entering the country, even as it acknowledged that it cannot afford another lockdown, given the record increase in cases of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Deputy manager of the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ Central Health Region, Dr Melissa Diaz-Musa confirmed that there are now 6,500 plus active cases “and we have been seeing between 500 to a 1,000 new cases daily from the latter part of last year.

“Yesterday we had gone just to 878 cases … and we continue to see cases in all our facilities countrywide,” she added.

The Belize Tourism Board (BTB) said that all visitors arriving here will now be required to purchase Belize Travel Health Insurance so as to protect travellers against medical and other expenses incurred if they test positive for COVID-19 during their stay.

It said that the insurance will cost US$18 and covers up to US$50,000 in medical expenses related to COVID-19 treatment for a period of 21 days. It will also cover quarantine lodging expenses of up to US$2,000.

“There is a new travel insurance that will be implemented on the 15th of February. The policy covers a visitor if they get sick in the country,” said BTB Chairman Evan Tillett.

“It also provides trip cancellation coverage, so what it does is to protect the hotel sector as well as protect the guest, in case the guest can’t come and we are operating in a pandemic, an Omicron environment.

“What we are seeing is that, in some cases, guests test positive after they already spent their vacation, and the public health regulation says that it is at the cost of the visitor. A lot of times, these visitors don’t have the monies to pay for it. So, having the insurance provides a level of coverage, a level of safety, for the guest and for the industry,” Tillett added.

Tillett said Belize is the latest country to be implementing health insurance, noting “Jamaica has a travel insurance programme, Turks and Caicos, Dubai, so it is nothing new for the tourism sector. Given the fact of the importance of the tourism sector in Belize, giving 40 per cent of gross domestic product, it is important that we protect our industry, our locals, our guests”.

Meanwhile, Public Services Minister Henry Charles Usher says, while Cabinet continues to be advised by the COVID-19 Task Force, the country cannot afford to shut down or lock off, as was done in the early months of the pandemic back in 2020.

“This Omicron variant has really changed the ball game because it is so easily spread. Luckily, it seems that we are not seeing as severe cases as before with the other variants; certainly with Delta, we saw a lot of severe cases. We are not seeing that with Omicron, but it is spreading,” he told News Five television.

“So we have to continue to practise the safety measures and that’s what Cabinet stressed on Tuesday. To make sure that we continue to have these regulations in place: wearing of masks, physical distancing, sanitisation of offices, washing of hands and so on. It is important that these continue to be in place.

“We also have to balance that with the economy and we have to make sure that the economy remains open. We have to be safe, but we have to be open and we have to have people working. We see a number of government departments being closed down because of this, even the Ministry of Public Service. Unfortunately, we had a minor outbreak and we decided to close for a day last week to sanitise the office. Thankfully, none of our workers are with any severe illness right now,” Usher added.