AT 73 and 8 on Friday (seventy-three confirmed cases with eight deaths), my colleague, Imran Khan, concluded that the Coronavirus curve in Guyana is still climbing uphill. In comparison, the Director of Public Information noted that the curve in Jamaica is flattening.
“Curve” is a new label that has been coined to explain the movement in the incidence of COVID-19 cases around the world. “Uphill” is not healthy; while being on a “plateau” or “flattening” is better news, showing that the number of persons being infected or dying is stable or reducing.

In Guyana, there must be some cause to worry that, from the trend, a spike in the number of confirmed cases, or even persons dying, appears to be imminent. The time is therefore now for a serious, non-emotive/no-nonsense, review of all the measures that have been put in place to combat the spread of the disease, in particular, closure of our borders and airspace.

It may be too soon to say but, with a larger population, the Jamaican numbers indicate that their measures have prevented a dramatic spike. Since March 21, Jamaica’s air and seaports have been closed to incoming passenger traffic. But that has changed with the deportation, from the United States to Jamaica, of nationals who are styled “involuntary returned migrants” (IRMs). Some of the estimated 16,000 IRMs, as was revealed in Guatemala, were tested positive for COVID-19.

There is an active lobby for the return of Guyanese nationals from foreign lands. There is also a business side to the lobby about which I get calls round-the-clock. Suffice to say that these potential returnees fall into several categories: those claiming to be stranded overseas while on business or vacation; those, particularly from New York and Florida, who have over-stayed their visa entry period; and professionals and students who wish to return home. Representation is also being made for the return of the bodies of Guyanese who have died overseas.

While Jamaica has flexed by allowing “controlled re-entry” of Jamaican nationals while the airspace remains closed to all others until May 31, the twin-island republic, Trinidad and Tobago, has shut its airspace tightly. A mere request via a diplomatic note from Barbados to repatriate Trinis whom it claimed were stranded on the island, drew a sharp response from Trinidad. Barbados, whose own airspace remains closed until May 30, commented that it was “deeply disturbed” that the request was deemed disrespect for T&T’s border policy!

I made reference to the above to show that it is not an easy matter to decide on relaxation of entry requirements for nationals from overseas, including within the Caribbean. It is recognized that this is a highly charged issue.

In an extraordinary time of a pandemic, re-opening the airspace to passengers’ flights has to be premised on a balance between the right of citizens to return home, and the public policy concern of protection for resident Guyanese from imported cases of coronavirus. It also has to fit within the medical capacity of Guyana for testing, quarantining and treatment/hospitalization of large inflows into the country.

In this situation, we have to plan for the worse even as we hope for the best, which was the reason for the strengthening of the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF). The appointment of Lt. Col. Joseph Harmon as Chief Executive Officer (CEO/NCTF) and others to manage the command centre is a welcomed move.

I have worked with Mr. Harmon, then Minister of State with responsibility for civil disaster, during episodes of flooding in Guyana and hurricanes in the Caribbean. I can attest to his experience and capability which will come in handy as we tackle the complex problems that have arisen and would arise as we buckle down for a long fight against COVID-19, which is an all-people battle for survival.

This is not the time for politicians to belch bubbles, as if intoxicated on a mixture of soap water and cheap bleach, about government’s failures, some time in the past, to plan for COVID-19.

This is no time for bluff and buffoonery, as I witnessed the Opposition Leader doing last Friday, about a fictional, imaginary “president-elect” whom, he claimed, has magical plans to address the pandemic. There is, since 2015, a constitutional President – David Granger – and he is leading the campaign in Guyana against the coronavirus contagion. Our traditional partners such as the United States of America and United Nations organisations have recognized the efforts of a friendly government and they have, as we say in Guyana, chipped in financially and materially.

This is an unprecedented period in Guyana’s history when, faced with tragic socio-economic consequences, politicians have to act with responsibility. It is not politics-as-usual when politicians on the hustle could spin false expectations that they would roll out $50,000 to each citizen, together with 50,000 jobs, 50,000 houses, 50,000 scholarships, $50,000 worth in hampers, and 50,000 this and that!

I listened to the Leader of the Opposition, in between his bluffs about “sanctions” and more foreign interference, as he admitted that there is a President in place and in office in Guyana, who is the symbol of the constitutional order. There is no such thing as a “president-in-waiting” or “president-elect”. As a lawyer, I advise Mr. Jagdeo to be more careful in his choice of words!

In the same breath he tried to stoke his own fears about the outcome of the ballot recount process, which he believed would be rigged. So, in his cuss-down style, he publicly attacked the integrity of the Chairman of the Elections Commission. Then he threatened to boycott parliament, and to reject any calls for inclusive governance.

Those utterances will not help the process of strengthening our multi-ethnic democracy, and realizing national reconciliation. I rather feel that they would come back to haunt him, since he may have thrown out of the window one last chance of rejoining the national patriotic forces in Guyana.

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