Belize’s COVID-19 infection rate climbs to 7; Government reinstitutes nation-wide curfew
Updated: Dec 29, 2020
In epidemiological speak, the infection rate or simply the R-number is possibly one of the most important statistic. Regardless of what it is called, the R-number measures the average number of persons who contract a disease from one infected patient. For instance, this implies that a disease with an infection rate of 3 would mean that an infected person is likely to infect approximately 3 other persons.
In the case of the Spanish Flu 1918-19, epidemiological models have estimated an infection rate of about 2. Researchers have also placed the seasonal strains of influenza’s rate at about 1.3. In the case of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID 19 or Sars-CoV-2), earlier estimates had placed its R number between 2.2 and 2.7, before studies like the May 2020 work by Zhao et. al placed it between 2.24 and 3.58.
Taking the Zhao et. al estimates into account, it is, therefore, noteworthy that the official estimate for Belize’s national infection rate is reported to be as high as (7). An infection rate this high is a strong sign that public officials will soon have to augment the levels of public health restrictions being faced in the CARICOM member state.
Speaking at an official press conference, Belize's Ministry of Health’s National Surveillance Officer Lorna Perez, explained:
“At the Epidemiology Unit we try to come up with models to predict where we are headed with regards to the outbreak. …[the] model highlighted that the number of new persons that are being infected at the moment by a confirmed case is seven persons. You can imagine that for every positive person that we have there are seven additional persons that are being infected.”
That rate, as reported by Perez, is almost double the Zhao et. al estimate, and portends a severe strain on the developing country’s health system. It is likely it is such data that has prompted the newly elected People’s United Party (PUP) administration to reenact, inter alia, a national curfew. Commencing on Saturday, November 28th, the 21-day curfew will run from 10:00 pm to 5 am.
The infection rate, however, is not static. It instead depends of key factors such as the COVID 19’s natural infection rate (which in March was assumed to be closer to 3); the presence of immunity within the population; population densities; and, of course, “how a population behaves”. Given that the virus requires human-to-human transmission, it becomes pivotal for citizens to adhere to the physical distancing and hygienic protocols that have been advised and even inscribed in the country’s laws.
In addition to the curfew, Minister of Health Hon. Michel Chebat had also announced other measures that will impact specific sectors of the Belizean economy. This includes a reiteration of the call for ‘work-from-home' or 'staff-shift rotation' orders for companies. Restaurants that do not have ‘outdoor’ dining capabilities will be limited to takeout and delivery services only, while those with outdoor dining services are being limited to half their original seating capacities. Bars and Gymnasiums, along with casinos, gaming establishments, discotheques, and night clubs remain closed.
Noteworthy, however, is that the new administration appears to likewise be hesitant to return the country to a complete economic lockdown. This hesitancy is likely motivated by the fact that the small developing economy is already projected by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to see a decline of approximately 16% in Gross Domestic Product (GDP), a figure that represents the country’s sharpest contraction since the four decades of its independence. Additionally, unemployment is expected to be approximately 25% by the end of 2020. Furthermore, estimated government revenues have declined, with projections suggesting a more than 17% drop from about US$0.6 billion in 2019 to US$0.490 billion.
With that type of outlook, a complete economic lockdown is likely difficult to countenance, while at the same time the infection rate being as high as it is—and if it is not contained quickly—can place pressure on policymakers to employ the "last resort" of a complete shutdown.