By Vishani Ragobeer
IT seems as though there is scant regard for the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 in Guyana. Wearing a mask (and wearing it properly) is not common and physical distancing is a myth, apparently, in too many places. Yet, COVID-19 continues to infect persons and claim lives almost every day.
For me, personally, this scant regard for a very real virus and the pandemic is disappointing. I was scheduled to return home in May, but instead, I came back at the end of September. During that time, I had to follow the guidelines and protocols initiated by the Trinidad government. And I am not exaggerating when I say that it has been a culture shock for me (a strange reverse culture shock, at that) returning from Trinidad, where it is very rare to see someone without a mask.
I use public transportation to get to work; I have to take two buses to get to the office. Each time I go into a mini-bus, I look around to see who is wearing a mask and who isn’t. There has not been a single time I have travelled that all passengers were wearing masks. Today, the driver of the first bus I took wore his mask on his chin and was talking to another man in the front seat throughout my entire journey. He did not have a conductor either, so he was collecting the fare and interacting with many people.
Even with these adventures in public transportation, the stark reality of COVID-19 hit me when I was doing a Vox Populi (a ‘man in the street’), along Regent Street. After speaking to the second vendor, I made my way to another woman who was selling soft drinks and water on the pavement. I found out that she contracted COVID-19 in April, and gave it to her daughter and grand-daughter. What are the odds of me speaking to random vendors on Regent Street and meeting someone who has COVID-19?
She chatted with me for a bit and told me about the stigma she faced as a vendor; persons are hesitant to purchase from her because they are fearful that they might contract the virus (though she has recovered since May). There is disconnect between fear of purchasing from this woman and peoples’ willingness to take other precautions. She told me that she has tried to tell the other business persons around her to wear masks, since they are in contact with a number of persons frequently, but they refuse to. She said that she was even ‘cussed out’ for telling someone to wear a mask.
I understand that wearing a mask is strange and it can feel like an imposition (particularly those tight ones which feel as though they’re pulling down my ears). I understand that constant sanitisation feels ‘extra’- I walked into four consecutive stores and each of them requires me to sanitise before entering. But, precautions are necessary. This virus has literally caused a global pandemic, forcing airports to close and productivity to slow down.
Just as I’m writing this article, Guyana has done 15,078 COVID-19 tests. Out of that number, 3,188 persons tested positive. I couldn’t find the data on how many people have been tested more than once, but if we were to use this data, as is, it means that almost every fifth person has COVID-19.
Furthermore, for today’s daily update, 95 positive cases out of 263 tests were recorded. This is not inconsistent with the daily updates we have been getting in the over 200 days we’ve had COVID-19 in Guyana. I say this to show the very possible reality that COVID-19 is closer to each of us than we think. We cannot keep operating as though we are invincible and cannot be affected by COVID-19.
I do not believe that safeguarding ourselves from COVID-19 is a burden of government or higher authority. These authorities have the responsibility to facilitate and provide services, help sustain livelihoods, and generally, create an environment that is conscious of the effects of COVID-19.
We must be the ones who choose to wear a mask and wash our hands; we must be the ones who avoid large and non-essential gatherings. We have to pull up our loved ones when they are endangering themselves and others around them by not taking the necessary precautions. Each person has that responsibility.