…some businesses forced close out of fear of disease spread
By Navendra Seoraj
SECTIONS of the local business community have taken a hit because of the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic which continues to disrupt life in Guyana and most parts of the world.
Guyana recorded its first case of the virus early this month, and since then, persons have been advised by local public health authorities to practise social distancing and take other precautionary measures to prevent the spread of the virus. In recent days, the authorities have implemented several precautionary measures, including the closure of the two international airports to flights, except for those making technical stops, cargo, medevac and outgoing flights. In addition, permission would be given to special authorised flights.
While these measures are important to maintaining the health and wellbeing of Guyanese, it has not been so ‘healthy’ for the business community, especially for businesses such as restaurants, bars, nightclubs and even the transportation sector. “We have no revenues coming in;there has practically been a complete shutdown of our restaurants and bars, so everything has been shut down for us,” said Chairman of the Private Sector Commission (PSC) Gerry Gouveia in an invited comment on Tuesday.
Despite experiencing a “slowdown” in these sections of the commercial sector, Gouveia said the PSC supports the restriction on clusters, because it will contain the spread of COVID-19. Guyana has so far recorded five cases of the virus, including one death. In light of this, the PSC has consulted with the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA) and other stakeholders on the way forward as it pertains to restaurants, nightclubs and bars, and even the control of crowds in minibuses and boats.
“For public transportation, they may need to reduce passengers in buses and so forth, because there needs to be a certain level of social spacing,” Gouveia said, adding: “We could even look at the idea of advising persons to travel for only essential services.” He said an official statement targeting nightclubs, cinemas, bars, grocery stores and other establishments will soon be issued by the PSC.
President of the Guyana Manufacturing and Services Association (GMSA) Clinton Williams said the organisation’s views will also be reflected in the PSC’s statement, because there have been joint discussions on the way forward. Gouveia said the PSC is developing a list of concerns, and conducting a macro-assessment on the impact of COVID-19. When completed, he said, the study will be submitted to the government for further review.
While the PSC is yet to submit the macro-assessment, which will encapsulate the entire economy, a report on the impact of COVID-19 on the travel and tourism industries has been submitted to the Ministry of Finance through the GTA.
There have been suggestions that Guyana should impose a “total lockdown”, especially if persons continue to flout some of the measures being implemented. Some countries have already taken steps to “lockdown” amidst concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic, but while the virus has reached Guyana’s shores, Deputy Chief Medical Officer (DCMO) Dr. Karen Boyle believes that Guyana should not necessarily go down that road at this time, unless people continue to ignore the guidelines. “If people continue to ignore the advice we are giving, and guidelines in place, we may get to the point where we have to do that,” the DCMO said in an invited comment on Monday. A lockdown would entail businesses and other establishments, including public offices, closing their doors temporarily.
In further explaining this measure, Dr. Boyle said: “All businesses would have to shut down; people will not be working, and business people will not have money to pay workers… There would be economic downturn, because mortgages and everything would still be due; bills will still have to be paid… So it will be chaos.”
While this option is still open, Dr. Boyle said she trusts that Guyanese, who are a brilliant set of people, would understand the severity of the pandemic, and take responsibility by doing “the right thing”.
President David Granger had issued executive orders in line with the Public Health Ordinance. With Guyana recording five cases of COVID-19 so far, President Granger, through the Order, said immediate action is necessary to address the virus. In that regard, he directed Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence, to “restrain, segregate and isolate” persons suffering from the disease, or those who may be affected from exposure to the infection.
President Granger, as part of the Order, has even called on the Guyana Police Force (GPF) and other law enforcement agencies to provide assistance with the enforcement of the various measures where necessary.
Among the menu of measures ordered by President Granger was the containment of persons who may have shown signs of having contracted COVID-19, and the provision of curative treatment for persons who are suffering from the disease. The President also directed Minister Lawrence to remove, disinfect and destroy any personal effects, goods, buildings or other articles, materials or things exposed to the virus. The minister was also ordered to prevent the spread of the virus on the seas, rivers and waters of Guyana, and on the high seas within twelve miles of the baseline, as well as on land, among other things.
President Granger had said that funding the various initiatives will be handled by the Minister of Finance, who has been directed to expend, from the Consolidated Fund, such sums of money as may be necessary for the effectual carrying out of any or all of the measures listed.
Section 20 (2) of the Public Health Ordinance provides that the President may, in case of an emergency, expend from the public funds of Guyana such sums of money as may be necessary for the effectual carrying out of any or all of the provisions of Part III of the Ordinance which concerns “notifiable infectious diseases”.
“All government agencies and local government authorities are urged to render assistance and cooperation to undertake critical, urgent and appropriate response and measures in a timely manner to curtail and eliminate the COVID-19 threat,” President Granger said.
He also said that all citizens, residents, tourists and members of the private sector must act in accordance with the law, and comply with any lawful directives and advisories issued by appropriate government agencies to prevent further transmission of the COVID-19, and ensure the safety and wellbeing of all.
According to the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS-CoV).
The coronavirus outbreak reportedly originated in Wuhan, China, and has since spread to many other countries, including some in the Americas. Common signs of infection include respiratory symptoms, fever, coughs, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties. In more severe cases, infection can cause pneumonia, severe acute respiratory syndrome, kidney failure and even death. Persons who suspect that they may have the virus are advised not to visit a health facility, but instead call on several provided hotlines where it can be arranged for a health team to visit. Minister Lawrence noted that additional hotline numbers have been added, and staff has been increased to facilitate efficiency. The numbers are 226-7480; 229-7490; 231-1166; 227-4986; 624-6674; 624-2819; 624-9355.