…to curb spread of COVID-19
…more soldiers, people’s militia to patrol Regions 8 & 9
AMID concerns over the continued illegal crossings from Brazil, where there is a high prevalence of COVID-19 cases, patrols and checkpoints at the Guyana/Brazil border at Region Eight (Potaro-Siparuni) and Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) will be increased in a bid to reduce the importation of COVID-19 cases.
Last Wednesday, members of the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF) engaged the regional authorities and residents in Regions Eight and Nine; this was done as part of efforts geared at intensifying monitoring of the porous and expansive Guyana/Brazil border. While there, the enforcement of the National COVID-19 guidelines and other issues, such as trafficking in persons, were discussed.
“One of our missions is to restrict cross border movement at the Takutu Bridge and at illegal crossing points at the Guyana/Brazil border in order to prevent any new strains of COVID-19 from coming into Guyana,” Director of the NCTF, Colonel Nazrul Hussain, told the Guyana Chronicle subsequently.
Since March last year, the border between Guyana and Brazil has been closed as part of efforts to mitigate the spread of the novel coronavirus, and, earlier this year, flights from Brazil ceased. Though these restrictions were instituted, trade has been permitted but only on Thursdays via the Takutu Bridge, which is the official crossing between the two countries.
The size of the border has allowed persons to travel across using several ‘back track’ routes or illegal crossings. Cognisant of this, Colonel Hussain noted that the Task Force would be increasing the number of soldiers monitoring the border and adding several new checkpoints.
“We plan to use the ranks of the Guyana People’s Militia to be able to assist in this regard… and we will be mobilising the local ranks from the Guyana Police Force because we will be increasing the force in the area,” Colonel Hussain also highlighted.
While he did not disclose the location of the checkpoints, for obvious security reasons, Colonel Hussain noted that focus will be placed on monitoring the national border and internal travel in both regions.
“We will also be doing similar activities in Region Eight to take care of border villages like Orinduik and Kanapan and in Region Nine, areas including Karasabai, Aishalton and inland at Annai,” the NCTF Director explained.
In tandem with the size of the manpower to be tapped for this operation, several modes of transportation will be used to police the border and in-region travelling. These include pickups, ATVs, boats, drones, bikes and horseback patrol. Importantly, the Colonel noted that while there will be a ‘crackdown’ on travelling, the NCTF is cognisant that a large portion of the economic activity and sustenance of the two regions depend on engagement with Brazil.
As such, the trade between the two countries will be allowed to continue but it will be robustly monitored by the National Task Force, including the Regional Task Forces, the Guyana Revenue Authority (GRA) and Immigration authorities.
The Colonel emphasised, “At the end of the day, you want to be able to protect them (the residents) and the country but still allow them to sustain themselves with food supplies, do business, construction and so forth.”
But the local authorities, including the police officers who are spearheading Operation ‘Covicurb’, will ensure that all COVID-19 guidelines, such as social distancing, wearing masks and adequate sanitisation, are enforced.
Guyana’s south and south-western border is shared with Brazil and while communities in Region Nine and to a lesser extent, Region Eight, have enjoyed fruitful engagements with that country, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented a worrying situation. Many Guyanese have taken up residence in the bordering areas in Brazil.
Since last year, however, Brazil has recorded 293,000 COVID deaths while more than 12 million persons have been infected with the coronavirus. More recently, there has been the emergence of newer variants of Sar-Cov-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) known as the P1 and P2 variants in Brazil. These variants are reportedly more transmissible, which means that more persons can become infected, and the P1 variant, in particular, has the ability to partially escape from protective immune responses produced by current COVID-19 vaccines.
In January, the Regional Chairman of Region Nine, Brian Allicock, voiced his concerns over the illegal crossings between Guyana and Brazil. Allicock related that many of the illegal crossings occur at night, where, despite the best efforts to patrol the area by the armed forces and community policing groups, travellers are able to “slip through”. He also highlighted that many of the persons who cross illegally travel in “cliques” that allow them to better maneuver the border restrictions.
Earlier in March, when the Guyana Chronicle travelled to the ‘Deep South’ area in Region Nine, the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC) had already taken steps to ensure that the spread of COVID-19 was mitigated in the region.
In Aishalton and at several other communities, gates were erected at the entrance to the communities to monitor and record travel, allowing the village councils to engage in its own contact tracing, if need be. The gate monitors — which are women from the village — are tasked with recording the names and temperature of each person.
At Saurab, which is the gateway to the ‘Deep South’, there is a fixed checkpoint too. Here, all vehicles heading into the Deep South- where there have not been any COVID-19 cases- are checked for foreigners.
Recently, however, three COVID-19 cases were discovered in Sand Creek, in the South Rupununi area. According to information from the SRDC, two of these cases were imported from Brazil while one was imported from Georgetown. The community is currently in a two-week lockdown, whereby travel by bus into or out of the community is not permitted.