Navigating the seemingly unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic
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IT is now more than one year since the emergence and worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus, yet there seems to be no real target for when the world would be able to exit the pandemic. It is clear, however, that we can adapt and try to overcome great challenges, but we need to do more to take care of the more vulnerable among us.

My colleagues and I spent much of the past two weeks exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic has created significant disturbances across all facets of society, not only in the health sector. It has hurt families, disrupted access to justice, devastated the economy and businesses, disadvantaged learners, and emphasised the need for food security.

For me, navigating COVID-19 has been such a difficult experience. I was in Trinidad when the pandemic struck the Caribbean and inevitably spread to Guyana. While there I was contending with my anguish and plain disappointment at the state of affairs in Guyana, owing to the protracted electoral process and the resulting occurrences. The first case in Trinidad was recorded on the same day I played Phagwah in one of my school’s parking lots — the first time in days I was able to take my mind off of Guyana.

In a matter of days, airports shut, borders closed and I was stuck in the Twin Island Republic moving from place to place. I was without a stable source of income and eventually, resorted to selling mango chow (something similar to pickled mangoes), cornbread, and brownies with my friends on sidewalks.

Too many days, while focusing on ‘Zoom school,’ I questioned whether travelling to Trinidad to pursue my undergraduate studies was the right decision for me. Fortunately, I was blessed with friends and colleagues who took a vested interest in ensuring that I was alright and helped me learn to cope with the circumstances that were presented.

I recall being confined to my hall of residence for weeks on end, only able to leave to go to the supermarket to purchase groceries once in a while. As the weeks became months, I was able to help my colleagues organise repatriation flights home, but I couldn’t find myself on one of those flights until much later.

I know that there are so many people with their own unique experiences of navigating this seemingly unrelenting pandemic. I think it is worth acknowledging that we pushed forward despite the challenges of the past year and we continue to navigate the challenges as they are presented.

Now, we are all part of the nationwide vaccination rollout. This rollout has been accompanied by high levels of skepticism and hesitancy. And that is understandable; only the passage of time will permit the scientific community to understand the long-term effects of COVID-19 and whether vaccines will offer long-term protection.

The vaccination rollout, however, has ushered in a sense of hope also. It signals that we have some greater agency in navigating this pandemic and protecting ourselves from the disease (though wearing masks, social distancing, and engaging in constant sanitisation would have allowed this all the while).

Of course, vaccines are not the magic potion that will end the pandemic, but they could help in preventing persons from contracting the severe forms of the virus, thus preventing hospitalisation and deaths. And, these jabs can help us constrain the mutation of the coronavirus into more potentially devastating forms.

The pandemic has an inherent focus on our health system and it begs us to rethink the devolution of health services and resources, however. It is not acceptable for rural and hinterland communities to suffer, because there are not enough health facilities and supplies to take care of their populations. It is not enough for specialised care to be concentrated on the coastland, or for the rollout of vaccines to get to these communities last.

Outside of the health dynamics of the pandemic, we have been able to innovate and adapt. Access to justice became virtual, concessions and reliefs were granted to help stimulate the economy and we have made attempts at ensuring there is some increased access to education. These efforts are great, but they are not enough to ensure equitable development.

What remains now is for us to widen our focus on adequate social safety nets for the more disadvantaged persons in our society and strive towards the equitable distribution of resources and opportunities to ensure that a state of equality is achieved. It is not enough for us to adapt to and surmount the challenges of the pandemic, but we must think about ensuring that we never have to face these challenges ever again.

If you would like to discuss this column or any of my previous writings, please feel free to contact me via email: vish14ragobeer@gmail.com

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