Published On: Mon, Oct 20th, 2014

Belize refuses entry to Ebola-exposed worker on cruise ship

Dean-BarrowBELMOPAN, Belize -- On Thursday, the prime minister of Belize, Dean Barrow, rejected a request from the US Secretary of State, John Kerry, to use Belizean territory to transport a self-quarantined Ebola-exposed lab worker on a cruise ship off the shore of Belize City.

Barrow had already been in negotiations all day with US officials who wanted to remove the passenger and transport her via Medevac from Belize back to Texas. The passenger was still within the incubation period for exposure to Ebola after she reportedly handled a sealed vial of blood from the only patient from the US who had died from the Ebola virus.

After the news broke on international media, many people debated Barrow’s decision not to allow the transportation of this person through Belize’s territory. One argument was the exposure was of such low risk that there was practically no chance of any problem occurring. Further, it was said the reaction was one of unreasonable fear and the US State Department was disappointed with Barrow’s reaction.

However, many Belizeans agreed with the decision made by their prime minister, citing that Belize has no plan whatsoever to deal with any Ebola case, no matter how small the risk.

The cruise ship eventually left, and the Medevac aircraft, which had already landed in Belize to transport the individual, left Belize without a patient on board. The next stop for the cruise ship was Mexico, which also refused it entry to its territory for evacuation of the self-quarantined passenger and her companion.

In a press statement on Friday, the government of Belize said, while it recognised that the risk was low given that there were no signs or symptoms of the Ebola virus, nonetheless, consistent with provisions outlined in international health regulations as it relates to health measures for entry of travelers who may pose public health risks as well as provisions for ships and aircrafts at points of entry, the decision was taken that the most appropriate response was for the passenger and her traveling companion to remain in quarantine on board the ship.

“The government of Belize regrets that it was unable to facilitate the request to move these persons from the cruise ship to the international airport for evacuation to the United States. This decision was made out of preponderance of caution for the welfare of the citizens and residents of Belize,” the statement read.

The government of Belize has also imposed, with immediate effect, a ban on visas for all citizens from countries of the Western Region of Africa considered high risk for the Ebola virus. This includes Liberia, Guinea, Nigeria and any other country that may be added to the list as the epidemic may evolve.

In the case of Sierra Leone, because no visa is required by those citizens to enter Belize, a travel ban is being issued to citizens of that country. Also, any person of whatever nationality wishing to travel to Belize who has visited any affected area of West Africa within the last 30 days will be prohibited from entering Belize. Additionally, all cruise ship passengers will be vetted for entry by immigration officers prior to disembarkation.

Joseph Guerrero contributed to this report - Caribbean News Now contributor

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