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Prime Minister of Belize John Briceño (File photo)

Belize PM says COVID-19 brought country’s economy to its ‘knees’

Prime Minister of Belize John Briceño (File photo)

Prime Minister of Belize John Briceño declared on Friday that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought the country’s economy to its “knees”.

In his maiden address to the United Nations General Assembly, Briceño told the 76th Session Debate that his country’s unemployment rate has reached 30 per cent, “as thousands of Belizeans lost their jobs.”

He said the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) declined by 14 per cent, the debt has ballooned to 130 per cent of GDP, and that many businesses were shuttered. Briceño says the poverty rate has increased to 60 per cent.

An aerial view of a section of Belize city. (Photo: International Environments)

Briceño said the human toll from the pandemic has been “deadly,” disclosing that already 399 Belizeans have lost their lives to COVID-19.

“The impact of the pandemic has been swift, dramatic and devastating…We have a fatality rate of 2.05 per cent. Thousands have been hospitalised so far. Our health facilities are overwhelmed as they were unprepared for the surge in admission of critical patients.”

But Briceño said the devastation is not unique to Belize, stating that to confront the urgency of the pandemic, governments across the globe have reallocated funds “to meet desperate needs.”

“Loans originally committed for development and climate change were diverted to cover emergency health needs and to mitigate the impact on the unemployed,” he said. “Massive additional borrowings became the new normal as lockdowns were extended.”

He added that the Common Framework and Debt Service Suspension Initiative has “failed to offer forbearance” to most middle-income Small Island Developing States, including Belize, “who were ineligible, despite our debt unsustainability.”