OVER the last several months, Guyanese society had been distracted by two issues– the political problems and the COVID-19 pandemic. Both issues have had very demoralising and negative effects on the society, especially on the economy and the standard of living and both seem to be unrelentingly spiralling downwards. The leaders of the society, whether they belong to the private sector, the political segment, the religious bodies or the main NGOs, seem to have been overcome by hypnotic inactivity in the face of the enormity of the problems.
The political problems seem to be moving towards equilibrium as the public is gradually beginning to see the objective truth and are freeing themselves from the tangle of fake news and propaganda. They are emerging out of their ennui and are once again being themselves, desiring to live creative lives.
In respect of the COVID-19 pandemic, the authorities have been taking purposeful action whenever they do, but this has been somewhat mechanistic and imitative of what is done in the developed world. These would include the now universal precautions of bodily distancing, wearing of masks, regularly washing hands and sanitisation of surroundings. All these precautions are directed to avoiding the virus coming into contact with the body, either by touch or airborne. The other very major precaution is the lockdown of the country and the economy and the methodology of this has varied from country to country.
In Guyana, the lockdown has affected social and economic life — funerals and weddings only attended by essential persons; restaurants and places of public entertainment closed; supermarkets and drugstores open for part of the day; public transport functions; industries mostly closed or disrupted; government offices mostly unfunctional and so on.
All of this has resulted in the country and its citizens becoming poorer and poorer and imposing much suffering among the population.
In evaluating the lockdown and what movement could be taken, the equation, “Life versus Livelihood” continuously has to be kept in mind.
In Guyana, the time has come for us to seriously begin to review the lockdown and we will do this with the equation, “Life versus Livelihood” in mind. Indeed, every country is faced with the dilemma of deciding how much weight to give to the sides of the equation.
Historically, the COVID-19 pandemic is rather mild: there have been fewer than a million deaths in the last half-a-year – as compared with pandemics of the past such as the Black Death of medieval times, Cholera of the 19th century and the Spanish Flu of the 20th century which killed tens of millions of people. Why COVID-19 has generated such fear is because of the sudden and painful deaths with which sufferers are visited and the fact that no cures or vaccines have so far been discovered. It should not be forgotten that it is likely that the universal precautions taken have successfully been able to limit the pandemic and to prevent it from being the terrible killer like Spanish Flu and other past pandemics.
Another positive and optimistic fact to remind ourselves about is that epidemics such as Sars, the Bird Flu, MERS, all respiratory diseases like COVID-19 as well as Ebola and AIDS are most virulent and dangerous in the first six months. Thereafter, they begin to recede and in three or four years they become sporadic. This characteristic of a limited time for the disease to be at its most dangerous virulence is, after all, the assumption and raison d’etre for quarantines, since it is known that within two weeks an infected person would be rid of the infection.
In Guyana, COVID-19 has not been the scourge as it has been in, say, Brazil, where thousands have died. In the last six months, about 500 persons were infected and most of them have recovered or are recovering and there have been 11 deaths at the time of writing, far less than deaths caused by traffic accidents or tobacco-related diseases.
Given the positive trends outlined above, it is time that the authorities now emphasise the “livelihood ” side of the equation, since there would be little risk in now lifting the lockdown. At present, the economy is in a tailspin recession; there is widespread want, social life is all but destroyed and the quality of life has deteriorated. We should not await a cataclysmic economic collapse, but should lift the lockdown in a phased and creative manner.
The Committee of the Guyana Consumers Association would like to propose the following:-
(A) Georgetown and its environs are the epicentres of the epidemic and most deaths and infected persons occur here. Infected persons and deaths from the disease are rare in other parts of the country.
(B) The lockdown should be lifted now in other parts of the country. The internal airways would begin to fly again, farmers, miners, small shops and other commercial and industrial enterprises, government offices, the courts and the schools would again get to work. it must be emphasised that the safety measures such as wearing masks, sanitisation, regular hand-washing, bodily distancing and so on must be enforced and insisted upon by the health authorities, the police and other relevant authorities, especially in the more populated areas. Careful and vigilant surveillance must be maintained in the districts bordering Brazil.
(C) The economic and social life of Georgetown should be freed up at the discretion of the authorities, but it should be done in a creative and phased way and the lockdown should be ended by mid-September. In all of this, the COVID-19 safety measures should be enforced and maintained for at least half-a-year after the lifting of the lockdown.