As COVID-19 shows some signs of abating countries around the world are lifting restrictions and reopening businesses. We look at 12 countries on our beat and see what measures are being implemented and when.
Keith Hockton, IL Malaysia Correspondent
The Government of Malaysia has done a very good controlling COVID-19. At the very start of the pandemic, on March 18, 2020, they enforced a Movement Control Order, a lot earlier than most western countries, to try and break the chain of COVID-19 spreading. In retrospect, it was a very smart move, and again in retrospect sitting in Malaysia now, it was absolutely the right thing to do.
In the ensuing days after the lockdown was announced the media actively spread the hashtag #stayhome. At this stage you were not forced to but advised to do so. Non-governmental organizations, as well as prison inmates, started to produce masks for front liners. Various organizations hosted fundraising events to provide essential PPE, mainly to hospitals, and the entire nation went into lockdown. A provisional hospital was set up in KL and collaborations with healthcare service providers were granted, while additional laboratories were assigned to enhance the capabilities of the Ministry of Health.
Once month later lockdown came into effect. We were immediately confined to home. We were only allowed out to food shop, only one person was allowed per car, and we were not allowed to travel more than 10 km (6.2 miles), from home. For the first month, the police were very understanding, and if you broke a rule, traveled outside the area, forgot a mask, or went jogging at 6 a.m., they would politely send you home with a wave and a smile. As the cases started to build across the country, and it exploded elsewhere in the region, they started to get a little more serious. On the spot fines were issued and if you were caught again, as a second-time offender you were arrested. The notion of staying in suddenly became the norm.
And it wasn’t hard. We worked from home, we read, we played more games, and for the first month our gym and pool in the building were open. We cooked more, we zoomed more, we slept more, and the first three months flew by. In July the government relaxed the lockdown conditions, cafés, shops, and restaurants re-opened and although Malaysia was still locked to the outside world we were allowed to travel internally.
All of the resorts throughout Malaysia, those that survived, were open and offering amazing discounts in an effort to attract Malaysians and the expats who lived here back, and travel everyone did. Life for most people returned to normal.
So here we are at the beginning of September, and it has just been announced that Malaysia will stay closed to international tourists until the end of the year. Due to the fact that Malaysia acted so quickly in March to the pandemic, there have only been 125 deaths and out of the reported 9,334 cases of COVID-19, 9,048 have recovered without any serious effects. Yes, Malaysia has a population of 31 million people but if you use Australia as a comparison, with a population of 25 million people they have suffered 611 deaths, with 25,670 cases. 21, 111 people recovered but as restrictions have relaxed the cases have started to balloon again.
I think Malaysia handled, and are handling the pandemic very, very well. At this stage we can travel internationally and leaving Malaysia isn’t the problem, getting back in is. MM2H visa holders, if they decide to leave, now have to produce a letter from Malaysian Immigration, a letter from MOTAC ( Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia), and a letter from the Malaysian embassy or consulate in the country of where you are based 24 hours before you travel. The message here is clear, do not travel internationally if you do not have to.
Kathleen Evans, IL Coastal Costa Rica Correspondent
The Costa Rican government has done a good job during the COVID-19 pandemic – keeping the numbers comparatively low to our neighboring countries. However, as with all of Latin America, Costa Rica is currently seeing some spikes in new cases as commerce continues to open up. Although closing the borders to foreigners has severely hit our tourism industry, it has also helped keep critical-needs hospital beds open. The Ministerio de Salud (Health Ministry) has announced its carefully calculated continuing plan for reopening the country.
As of August, the expanded list of tourists welcomed to travel to Costa Rica includes the countries of Canada, EU, Schengen, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Uruguay, Korea, Japan, China, Singapore, and Thailand. As of September 1, the northeastern United States of New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine will also be added to the list. Also, legal Costa Rican residents from any country or state can now return. States and countries will be reviewed every 2 weeks.
Requirements for visitors upon entry are as follows:
- Proof of a negative PCR-RT Coronavirus test within 48 hours of travel
- Complete an epidemiological form or health pass
- Proof of travel insurance to cover possible quarantine and healthcare costs
- Valid ID providing proof they are from an approved country or state
- Residents do not need a Covid test but will be required to quarantine for 14 days
Private planes and private yachts are also allowed, following the same protocols outlined above. Land borders (except for citizens and residents) remain closed at this time.
Airlines are selling tickets in anticipation of the addition of more states in the near future. However, be aware you may have to change the departure to a later date depending on the next possible extension. I recommend checking periodically with your airline and other online sources. There are a number of daily English language online newspapers sharing updates regarding Costa Rican government policies. The Tico Times is a good place to start.
Marsha Scarbrough, IL Spain Correspondent
Spain’s coronavirus-inspired state of alarm officially ended at midnight on Saturday, June 20, 2020. Free movement within the country has resumed for the first time since March 14, and the country’s borders are open to European visitors. Masks are still required in public places where it is not possible to keep 1.5 meters (4.2 feet) physical distance.
The 14-day quarantine period has been lifted for overseas visitors including those from the UK, although temperatures will be taken upon arrival at the airport. The border with Portugal remains closed at Portugal’s request until July 1 when Spain begins welcoming travelers from all over the world.
Restaurants will continue to operate at 60% capacity, 75% capacity after July 1. Outdoor dining will go to 100% capacity July 1.
Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez thanked the nation for its patience, sacrifice, and unity over the past 13 weeks, but warned “we cannot lower our guard.” He pointed out the World Health Organization sees the virus accelerating and that Spain must avoid a second wave “at all costs.”
Wendy Justice, IL Southeast Asia Correspondent
After going for 99 days without any cases of COVID-19 community transmission, a new case was discovered at a hospital in Da Nang in late July. More cases followed in Da Nang, in neighboring Hoi An, and in Hai Duong, an industrial city about 50 miles east of Hanoi.
The government immediately closed the airport in Da Nang and implemented strict social distancing measures, quarantines, and mandatory facemask directives in all three cities. Most tourists who were in Da Nang were allowed to return to their homes elsewhere in Vietnam, though they had to agree to 14 days of quarantine and report any symptoms of the virus. The Ministry of Health announced on August 20th that the outbreaks have “basically been put under control,” and “all suspected cases have been traced, tested, and quarantined.” New cases have dropped from more than 40 per day to the single digits.
Since the start of the initial outbreak in late January, Vietnam has recorded a total of 1,009 cases, 439 of which are still active—which is still pretty remarkable for a country with a population of nearly 100 million.
Da Nang and Hoi An are still locked down and the airport is still closed, but the most recent flare-up has had little effect elsewhere in the country.
Here in Hanoi, there are only 11 patients in this current outbreak; most of them had recently traveled to Da Nang and were tested and quarantined upon their return. Bars, nightclubs, and karaoke lounges have been ordered to close and gatherings of more than 50 people have been officially halted, though in reality, enforcement is quite lax, probably because the risk of community transmission here is considered low. Restaurants must allow at least one meter (3.3 feet) between tables, while restaurant staff are required to take everyone’s temperature and provide hand sanitizer. Shopping malls are open but again, we all wear our facemasks, have our temperatures taken, and use hand sanitizer before entering. Similar restrictions are in place for Ho Chi Minh City, too.
So far, there has been no announcement of when the borders will re-open, though Singapore has just announced that people entering from low-risk countries, including Vietnam and Malaysia, for “general travel” will only be required to undergo a COVID-19 test upon entry and a one-week “stay home” requirement, followed by a final COVID-19 test. In a pilot program, visitors from two countries, Brunei and New Zealand, will not be required to observe any stay home requirements, though they’ll still need to be tested upon arrival and self-quarantine until a negative result is confirmed. This is good news, as it shows that slowly, countries in this region are exploring ways to relax their borders for general travel.
According to the Vietnamese embassy, “only diplomatic, official duty, and special cases, including experts, business managers, foreign investors, and high-tech workers of businesses involved in important projects” can enter Vietnam. Everyone entering the country must undergo a two-week quarantine.
The government has generously allowed foreign expats and tourists to remain in Vietnam long past their original visa expiration dates, and has waived all visa-run requirements. No one is forced to leave.
Valerie Fortney-Schneider, IL Italy Correspondent
Italy‘s Covid-19 situation over the summer has thrown a curve-ball to the well-executed and paced reopening strategy. With an increase in case numbers since the August prime vacation period, some regions are re-evaluating the plans set in place for reopening schools and universities. While the reopening of schools is set for mid-September, many universities are planning on continuing virtual classes and at-home study plans along with in-person classes, at least through the end of the year. Some students may choose to complete the semester at home; where classes can’t be reduced enough for safe distancing, they will be streamed online.
Schools are being re-tooled to reduce the number of students to allow more space for safe distancing, and face masks will likely be required; where classes cannot be reduced, they are talking about shifts or on-and-off days so as not to have too many students in one classroom at a time. All school personnel will be tested before school begins.
It is all still evolving and being discussed, and decisions will be made primarily on a region-by-region basis. Meanwhile, the number of cases from summer parties led to the closing of discos and beach dance clubs, where too many people weren’t adhering to the directives requiring masks and distancing, as well as limited numbers of patrons.
While the numbers aren’t astronomical, they are worrisome to the health ministers and government authorities, enough to mandate that masks must be worn, even outdoors, after 6:00 PM, when many more people tend to be out in the piazzas and streets, or risk a fine. Some towns, like Amalfi, imposed mandatory masks outdoors as well as indoors at all times during the month of August, given the high numbers of tourists.
The government will take a hot-spot approach, imposing more restrictions on those areas with elevated cases, rather than a nationwide approach, at least for the time being, in hopes of containing the more localized outbreaks while also avoiding another devastating total shut-down. The requirements for face-masks when entering any public space -stores, bars, restaurants, supermarkets, etc.—remain in place through the end of October, and distance requirements are still to be observed indoors, especially at dining and drinking establishments.
Nancy Kiernan, IL Colombia Correspondent
Colombia’s national quarantine will end on August 31, 2020. President Duque has extended the State of Health Emergency until November 30, 2020. This extension is a legal formality that will allow the government the option to implement emergency measures as needed should the number of cases spike in specific areas of the country. During the month of September, Colombia will be in a state of “selective isolation”, which focuses on tracking contacts and infections. Daily monitoring of the data to assess whether the measure is effective or not to slow down the transmission rate of the coronavirus.
We have moved from a mode of “everything is closed except for a few specific exceptions” to a situation where “everything is open with only a few restrictions”. City mayors will continue to make decisions about what services will be open and under what conditions.
Domestic flight routes are slowly opening up with new routes being added every week. International flights are supposedly starting on September 1, 2020, with very limited services. However, many people are reporting on Facebook that their flights for early September have been canceled. The general feeling is that tourist flights into Colombia will not be in full force until November 2020.
The President is encouraging people to continue to telework as much as possible and avoid returning to offices unless it is essential for customer contact. Schools will continue to offer classes via the internet rather than in person for the rest of the school year. The majority of Colombian schools have an academic year that runs from February to November.
Bogotá, the nation´s capital has been hit the hardest with the number of cases. The Mayor announced that the specific neighborhood quarantines will be lifted on August 26, 2020. Essential services such as justice, security, or basic necessities will be open every day and will not have any restrictions, while in other sectors, such as construction, will function from Monday to Saturday, beginning at 10:00 am. For now, casinos, cinemas, churches, or discos, among others, will not be reactivated.
The Mayor of Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city, along with nine other mayors from the surrounding cities, announced that pico y cédula (restriction of leaving your home based on the last digit of your ID number) will be terminated effective August 31, 2020. In addition, they released this economic reopening schedule, however, each business will require approval by the health ministry certifying that they have implemented sufficient biosecurity protocols.
First week of September:
- Sit-down restaurants
Second week of September:
- Outdoor theaters
- Churches and places of worship
- Specific outdoor attractions (Parque Arvi, Pueblito Paisa)
- Sports to practice (not for fans to attend)
Third week of September:
- Movie theaters
- Specific outdoor attraction (Parque Norte)
First week of October:
Third week of November:
- Discotheques / night clubs
First week of December:
- Large gathering events
Tricia Pimental, IL Portugal Correspondent
As of July 16, Portugal has restricted travel in compliance with EU directives for any non-essential travel from the United States. There are varying restrictions on other countries, not quite as severe, although it does depend on your country of origin.
Flights are limited and subject to cancellation and/or extensive delays. The Portuguese airline TAP is being nationalized in August in order to ensure some international flights.
If you live in Portugal or were lucky enough to have arrived here when it was open, masks are required in all interior public spaces, privately owned or government-controlled, as well as the use of hand sanitizer upon entering and the observation at all times of the two-meter social distancing rules.
The restrictions are in a state of flux; in some areas increased, in some relaxed. There is no consistency as it depends on the actual case counts in various municipalities. So it’s important to call ahead regarding a museum or restaurant because closures and change of hours are common. In sum, even though there has been an easing of some regulations, it’s essential to do due diligence.
In an effort both to keep the economy stimulated and inspire “rediscovery” in the land of the Discoverers, President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has invited the Portuguese to become reacquainted with their country’s cultural heritage by urging them to plan holidays in the country and to visit monuments tourists characteristically frequent, which they themselves may not have visited for some time.
Even if you’re not ready for an international journey, whet your appetite for future travel by bringing Portugal into your own home. Turismo do Algarve offers an online look at five days in the Algarve region. Go to www.algarvepromotion.pt, click “English” and “Virtual Fam Trip” and away you go.
Tuula Rampont, IL France Correspondent
In response to the mounting Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases that were spreading rapidly throughout France, the country went into a strict, nationwide lockdown which began on March 17, 2020, and lasted until May 11, 2020.
Starting on July 1, international travelers were permitted to enter France from countries that have the virus “under control”.
During this period of confinement, all non-essential businesses were closed, along with schools, parks, beaches, cafés, and restaurants. The government created auto-generated authorization forms, which individuals could fill-out and download from their home computers or smartphones. Authorized trips outside the home were limited to doctor’s visits, food shopping, essential professional activities, and sporting activities within a one-kilometer radius of one’s home—a little over half a mile away.
As the number of COVID-19 cases in France continued to steadily decline, the government announced that a progressive “deconfinement”, re-opening, of the country would begin on May 11. The goal, as elaborated by Prime Minister Edouard Philippe the week prior to the re-opening, was to ensure the health and safety of French citizens while working on rebuilding the economy.
French President Macron, in his July 14 (Bastille Day) address, said that wearing masks indoors when in public will be mandatory starting August 1. They’ve since pushed that date up to Monday, July 20th.
There are some new “cluster cases” in different parts of the country and travel from the U.S. is still restricted.
Donna Stiteler, IL Cuenca Correspondent
Ecuador announced its reopening on May 15, and after more than two months of nationwide lockdown, people are returning to the town centers to shop and eat at the outdoor restaurants.
Ecuadorians have been diligent in cooperating with the government’s restrictions and it has paid off. President Morena outlined specific reopening measures, with each of Ecuador’s provinces may implementing its own re-opening strategies and safety measures. Most of Ecuador has escaped large outbreaks of COVID-19 cases, with the exception of the Guayaquil area, which was hardest hit and is scheduled for a more limited reopening plan.
Citizens are still required to wear masks and gloves when out, and to social distance when with others. Many of the stores, pharmacies, and banks mark standing areas outside their facilities with big painted circles marking the six-foot distance to ensure compliance. Citizens are allowed out for medical supplies, groceries, or walking their dogs. Stiff penalties for violators include a $100 fine for the first offense, $200 for the second, $400 for the third, followed by jail time. This helped with compliance—but no one complained. Curfew has once again been was extended to 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. for all of Ecuador’s citizens. In some provinces, where the virus spread is minor, curfew starts at 9 p.m.
Ecuador uses a “traffic light system” to communicate with its citizens the level of safety measures to follow each day. “Red” is the highest level with the most restrictions and includes a mandatory curfew. “Yellow” connotes more people are allowed outside their homes and lessens curfew hours and self-isolation restrictions. “Green” is for when we are mostly reopened and a signal that things are back to normal—or the new normal established during the pandemic.
On May 25, the country moved from a Red-Light signal to Yellow, and the re-opening started in earnest. The first street artists are playing music and juggling light torches on the major boulevards. The amount of people on the street has gone from a handful to a lively manageable mix enjoying the sunny weather. People are all smiles as they enjoy newfound freedoms and a new appreciation of the beauty of their Ecuadorian towns. But Ecuadorians are still required to wear masks, and to social distance.
A collection of stores are now open including hardware stores, clothing boutiques, cheese and bread shops, and neighborhood tiendas. People may sit and enjoy a meal at a handful of restaurants while social distancing, especially those with outdoor seating. You can exercise in the parks sans dogs or ride your bike around the miles of trails around town. You can actually walk downtown to get takeout lunches and breathe fresh air while getting some Vitamin D.
As of June 1, the daily curfew will be extended from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. and in cities with limited cases, up to 9 p.m. Private stores and offices, banks, public institutions, and pharmacies are now allowed to open with 50% of staff and 30% capacity of customers and clients on the premises. Car owners are allowed to operate private vehicles two days per week (up from one day a week) based on license plate numbers. Malls are open with 30% capacity. To the great relief of the indigenous, who use the bus to get their products to mercados, city buses are finally operating but at 30% capacity only. The tranvia is providing free rides to get people cross town safely. The medical system is fully prepared for any new emergency breakouts, and elective out-patient medical care is now allowed with hospital capacity held at 30% capacity.
Although Ecuador has made great strides in keeping the citizens safe, there are still mandatory requirements to wear facemasks. Face-to-face classes are suspended, and public events are prohibited. Land borders are still closed, but there are private certified drivers who can transport people to neighboring cities. International air travel is slowly opening as of June 1st, but quarantines are required for people entering the country, with provisions now being made for citizens to quarantine at home.
David Hammond, IL Uruguay Correspondent
The first case of COVID-19 was identified in Uruguay on March 13. Soon after, the government closed all schools and universities as well as restaurants and most retail businesses other than food stores, pharmacies, and some banks.
Retail stores and restaurants started reopening in May. Shopping malls reopened June 9. Public schools reopened for face-to-face classes in phases over June. Many gyms also reopened.
All reopened businesses follow new Covid-19 protocols. In most businesses, all customers and workers must wear a mask. Many stores have installed plastic shields between cashiers and customers. Tape lines on the floor show how far to stand apart when waiting in a line. And in-store cleaning schedules are more frequent.
Many businesses in small spaces limit the number of customers allowed in the store at any one time. Some have lines of people waiting outside three to six feet apart.
To enter a shopping mall, you must get your temperature checked, clean your hands with alcohol and gel, and step on a sanitation mat. During the first two hours, the mall is open, priority is given to people over 65.
Regarding medical care, I recently had a shoulder injury. So I can report how the medical system works first hand.
Many doctor appointments are now by phone. For my shoulder injury, I reported it to my primary general care doctor over the phone. He referred me to a specialist. I spoke with the specialist on the phone, who had me come in the next day to examine it.
When I or anyone visits a hospital, you must wear a mask, get your temperature checked, clean your hands with alcohol and gel, and answer a few health questions before entering.
The normal treatment for my shoulder condition is daily physical therapy at the hospital. But because of the virus concern, I just go to the hospital twice per week. This is to help lower the number of people coming and going into the hospital. At the hospital, the therapist trained me on what to do at home on my own the other days of the week.
Regarding transportation, all buses and taxis are running normally. Wearing a mask is required.
All movie theaters, including the movie theaters in the malls, are still closed. The target date to reopen movie theaters in Uruguay is September 19th.
In response to COVID-19, private companies, government, hospitals, volunteers, and individuals work together like one team from the start. Through good planning and cooperation, we never had a shortage of test kits, masks, toilet paper, or food.
Many markets added extra racks of alcohol in gel and cleaning products. Quality surgical masks with double layers and a wire to shape around the nose bridge are available at most pharmacies for 85 cents each. Cloth masks are sold at stores and kiosks for around $1.20 each. If you want to go to a store, and don’t have a mask, many stores will give one to you.
Lots of Covid-19 tests are given in Uruguay every day. On August 20, 2,310 tests were processed. Thirteen of the tests came back positive. Forty-one people in Uruguay are currently sick with Covid-19. Three are hospitalized.
While things inside Uruguay are going fairly smoothly, Uruguay’s borders are still closed with exceptions, which include Uruguayan citizens and the reunification of families.
Jessica Ramesch, IL Panama Editor
Well before Panama identified its first Coronavirus case, the government here announced that it was busy putting the final touches on a comprehensive plan of action. As early as March 2, the Ministry of Health confirmed it was monitoring the health of people who had recently flown into Panama from Italy, South Korea, and China. On March 4 a newly formed multidisciplinary “Coronavirus Council” held its first meeting.
Over the next few days, we learned about plans for the national police, medical facilities, dedicated emergency hotlines, and more. So by the time the first case was identified on March 9, it seemed we were far better prepared than most to face this challenge.
We had widespread testing, virtual assistant programs to help answer questions and identify possible new cases, and were the first country in Central America to sequence the genome. The United Nations pointed to Panama as a leader in quick science- and evidence-based action and urged other countries in the region to follow our example.
Naturally, however, there were those here who agreed with how things were being handled and those who did not. Subsequent measures such as a prolonged ban on the sale of alcohol and increasingly strict curfews had many detractors (whose numbers have swelled in June as quarantine drags on).
On March 30 it was announced that “non-essential” people would only be allowed out of their homes for two hours at a time on specific days. Your time is determined by the last digit of your identification or passport number, and days are determined by gender. (Women have Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays while men have Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.) Everyone must wear masks and stay at least two meters (about 6.5 feet) apart.
There was a brief break in quarantine from June 1-6. During that time adults were allowed to go out on any day of the week regardless of gender between 5 a.m. and 7 p.m. At the end of the week, the Ministry of Health announced that public hospital beds were being occupied too quickly and that the Panama and Panama Oeste provinces would go back to quarantine.
As for businesses, few have been allowed to operate aside from, of course, medical facilities. Restaurants have been allowed to offer delivery (no eating in). Food sellers, including supermarkets and “mini-marts,” have continued to operate as well. Larger chains like Riba Smith have put numerous measures in place, among them checking IDs and taking everyone’s temperature at the door.
The government has laid out a plan for re-opening other businesses in six “blocks,” though officials have been reluctant to specify any dates, saying instead that it will all depend on rates of transmission. Block one opened up on May 13 and included retail, repair services, and shops (with limited personnel), and fishing.
Block two opened June 1 and included some construction, industrial plants, public infrastructure works, and some mining activities. Churches and parks may also open but must limit attendance to 25% of official capacity and enforce social distancing.
International flights and most domestic travel have also been on hold, with the flight ban recently extended till the end of August. It’s very possible it will be extended again, so I wouldn’t count on regular commercial flights being available from Canada or the U.S. to Panama in the next couple of months. Copa, the country’s premier airline—responsible for Panama’s moniker “The Hub of the Americas”—says it’ll likely be able to operate at just 12% of its former capacity.
If you were hoping to visit soon, your best bet for up-to-the-minute information on flights is to monitor Copa Airlines on social media or sign up for its mailing list by creating a free account at Copa.com.
Jason Holland, IL Roving Latin America Editor
Eager to turn around its devastated economy, Mexico had begun the process of re-opening when a renewed outbreak forced it to enact further restrictions on travel and commerce.
Mexico is now a hotspot for COVID-19, with the fourth-highest death rate in the world, with 39,906 deaths and 317,635 cases. Experts say Mexico’s testing model means that there could actually be eight times more infections. Hospitals and medical centers are at capacity in Mexico City and other major cities across the country.
Mexico generally has high-quality medical care at a low cost, with top facilities around the country, including those certified by Joint Commission International. However, as in many countries, the pandemic has taxed its hospitals and resources.
Throughout the crisis, Mexico’s federal government, which has faced criticism for its handling of the situation, has not taken a major role in controlling the outbreak, other than encouraging social distancing and face mask-wearing, and banning large gatherings. Schools have been closed since March.
Mexico’s state and local governments have stepped in with a variety of regulations, including mask mandates (enforceable by fine and brief jail time), closure of restaurants and bars, closing parks and beaches, prohibiting public events, reduced capacity on buses, and more.
Many businesses shut their doors. Many people locked down at home. In some communities, checkpoints turn away non-residents from entering. In some, the temperature of the occupants of the car is taken and the vehicle is sanitized.
Mexico’s tourism industry was eager to get back on track with a phased reopening in June. So places like Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, and the Riviera Maya, home to many resorts, is slowly reopening, with caution. There are strict sanitary measures, social distancing requirements, and other regulations. In Tulum, for example, face masks are required. In neighboring Yucatan state, there is a curfew, short operating hours for nonessential businesses, closed marinas, and no alcohol sales. Communities throughout Mexico are following some variation of these rules.
Other cities are following suit and re-opening in phases, allowing hotels to operate, as well as restaurants, which has been operating as delivery or carry-out only, and shops. But these businesses must follow guidelines for sanitation, cleaning, reduced operating hours, and capacity levels. Businesses have been shut down for not following the rules. This has been the case where I live, in San Miguel de Allende, which is slowly re-opening and has experienced an increase in visitors, so far mostly Mexican tourists from neighboring cities.
It remains to be seen if the international tourists will come back. An early look shows that there has been a small increase in national travel around the country, not so many international visitors. The United States government has advised all citizens not to travel internationally.
Crossing the land border between Mexico and the United States is officially closed to all but essential travel. So driving into Mexico for tourism, shopping, or medical or dental appointments, which was common many in border areas, is no longer allowed. Those travelers in Mexico with valid U.S. or Canadian passports are allowed to exit Mexico by car.
Part-time expats without official residence visas are also barred from entering by land. If you have temporary or permanent residence, you are allowed to cross. Anecdotal reports from various border crossings in California, Arizona, and Texas indicate that non-essential travelers have been allowed to cross, despite the regulation. The border is expected to be officially closed for months more.
You can still fly in, although airports have vastly reduced operations and there are many fewer flights—although that is expected to change soon.
Mexico, along with the United States and Brazil, is one of the worst-affected places in the world right now. Expats and locals have taken it upon themselves to safeguard themselves and others by locking down at home, limiting travel, wearing masks, and following local protocols and regulations.
Laura Diffendal, IL Belize Correspondent
While Belize had a remarkably positive experience since March to this crisis, the month of August took a turn as more cases started to crop up, as the country relaxed its regulations. Belize was the last in the Americas to get the virus and the first to have no positive cases reported in-country, but are now in the midst of dealing with the biggest outbreak. There are over 600 cases up from 50 confirmed cases in the country.
The country had reopened to in-country travel, and bars/restaurants had been allowed to have customers eat-in and could sell alcohol. People in Belize are generally very festive and the in-country travel had led to a lot of domestic fun and visits throughout the country, which while a huge positive for many residents, led to some high-risk situations as people who were still crossing borders for duty-free, etc—mixed with family and friends in-country. It required a re-start of the country-wide state of emergency, including a curfew and limits on social gatherings, along with once again, closure of eat-in bars and restaurants.
There has been debate over when to re-open the country and about the lax attitude some people have regarding masks and social distancing. Residents here were tending not to be as vigilant as in other countries because there had been no uncontrolled outbreaks. There has been much debate about reopening to international tourism, but now that has been taken off the plate as the August 15th date has been indefinitely pushed back. At this time there is no date for the international airport to open.
When the country reopens, it will be to controlled tourism or proof of residency/homeownership. The hotels are currently undergoing a “gold standard” certification and only hotels with this training can reopen to tourists. There will be a lot of limits placed upon tourists in this phase. Tourists must have proof of staying in a gold standard hotel and proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of arrival.
As for opening the international borders, this is still an area of intense debate. Everyone wants those in Belize to stay safe, but the country also depends on tourism and many, many families have zero income indefinitely until tourism comes back. The country has pulled together and has done a great job of taking care of the most vulnerable, and we are in an intense and challenging period at the moment, as we look to over the next month, preparing the country for the transition back to international travel, and how to do this as safely as possible.