BELMOPAN, Belize – The Belize government says it will impose stricter measures including the amendment to legislation to curb the contraband trade as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) country experiences an exploding number of cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
Health authorities say there are more than 50 active cases as well as community transmission in San Pedro which is now under lockdown as are three villages in the Orange Walk District for the next 14 days.
A curfew is being imposed with a limit on social gatherings and the mandatory use of the mask and social distancing.
The curfew will be between 10.00 pm and 5.00 am (local time) on weekdays, while on weekends, it will be for five hours beginning at midnight.
Prime Minister Dean Barrow, speaking at a news conference on Thursday evening, spoke of the measures to be implemented over the next two weeks.
“Again we will close bars, discotheques, rum shops and nightclubs countrywide. Casinos we are going to allow to continue to operate but under the regime that we had institute before we lifted the last State of Emergency. We are going to put a limit on social gatherings.
“We are going to return to a cap on social gatherings including church attendance. The maximum number of persons allowed to gather socially will be twenty five and even with that twenty five there is the requirement for social distancing. In terms of public transportation we repeat on the buses there is a limit to seating capacity. There is mandatory use of mask. There are the sanitation protocols.”
Barrow said that “with the maritime modes of transport, we have seen the pictures of social media of people packed together like sardines in the water taxis.
“That as I said from yesterday will have to stop and we are not in terms of enforcement we are not just going to go after passengers who are in breach. We are going to go after the operators of the water taxis and operators.”
Prime Minister Barrow also announced that given the increase in what her termed “border jumpers,” his administration will also be going to Parliament to amend the legislation to curb the contraband hustle. He said the full force of the law will come down on anyone caught with contraband goods and that they will also be charged as border jumpers.
Barrow acknowledged that the draconian laws are meant to discourage the illegal activity.
“Currently, it is three months in the first instance and then a year for second or subsequent offence. We are going to increase that three month penalty to six months,” he said, adding, “we are going to go to the House and we will make that border jumping offence. If you are charged with the offence of border jumping you will not ultimately to get bail from the Magistrate’s Court.
“You will have to go the Supreme Court. Again, as an indication of how absolutely seriously we are treating what has been happening with impunity ever since the lifting of the last state of emergency. Anybody found in possession of any contraband item will be treated as a border jumper and charged as a border jumper.
“We are advised by the Attorney General’s Ministry that we can do that by way of the regulation. In any event, we are going to go to the House on the next occasion and we are going to amend the principal legislation so that, we can, in cases where as things now stand people are found in possession of contraband and customs would detain the contraband articles but then the offenders can make some arrangement to pay three times the duty or three times the value of the goods and be allowed to go free – that is absolutely going to change.”
Barrow warned persons that if they are found in possession of Corona Beer, for example, which seems to be the favourite based on pictures that are posted on social media, after tracing and if you are found to have the beer in your possession “you are immediately going to be charged as a border jumper.
“People will say perhaps that this is extremely draconian – it is meant to be,” Barrow said.
Belize now has 114 confirmed cases of the virus and two deaths.