NEWLY crowned Soca Monarch and renowned gospel artiste, Samuel Medas, sings that ‘Inside is nat fuh we’ and even though I agree with him (a whole year ‘inside’ already!) the still-evolving COVID-19 pandemic emphasises that it has to be.
Last week, in his column in another daily newspaper, Director of the National Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Dr. Zulfikar Bux, highlighted that unless persons take the necessary precautions and adhere to the COVID-19 guidelines, the country may be devastated by the adverse effects of the virus.
While lamenting the staggering increases in COVID-19 cases recorded daily, at least over the past month, Dr. Bux opined that the increases could be prompted by two factors: the importation of the P1 variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the virus that causes COVID-19), which was first detected in Guyana’s south and south-western neighbour Brazil and, just plain irresponsible behaviours whereby persons are not avoiding large gatherings and maintaining a social distance, washing hands constantly and wearing masks.
“My concern is that it may be the former (the importation of the variant) and the latter (the irresponsible behaviour) is responsible for its rapid spread. Common sense would dictate that we should not wait to find out, but get responsible and heed preventative measures before the situation really gets out of control,” Dr. Bux underscored.
For context’s sake, variants of viruses are expected. As viruses spread, they mutate (change). Scientists note that most variants are of little to no significance but now and then, some mutations give the virus an advantage. This was the case with the novel coronavirus and the P1/Brazil variant as well as the other two variants that have emerged thus far- the B.1.1.7/ United Kingdom (UK) variant and the B.1.351/ South Africa variant. The advantage that these variants have is that they are more transmissible (meaning that more persons can become infected) and in some cases, able to bypass the immune response produced by the COVID-19 vaccines.
The Brazil variant, in particular, has been one of great concern to Guyana due to the porous border that separates the two countries and the myriad of illegal crossings that have been occurring, since through the official crossing between the two countries (the Takutu bridge) has been closed since March last year.
Now, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony says that it would be mere speculation to attribute the increase in COVID-19 cases to the importation of the variant. This is so because Guyana has been unable to detect whether any of the variants are present in the country thus far. Only 10 samples were sent abroad, to Trinidad, for genetic analysis to be conducted by the Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA). Those samples were not variants.
Even so, with the current surge in cases, Dr. Bux advocated for Guyanese to place a concerted effort on adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines. His comments come on the heels of the string of observances in Guyana- that is, Phagwah, Easter, and Ramadan.
On Phagwah day, I travelled around Georgetown and parts of the East Coast of Demerara (ECD) trying to photograph families and friends playing with the coloured water and powder. Phagwah is usually the day when hundreds of persons would gather on the streets, at community centre grounds and other open places. Usually, it would be difficult to drive through streets without being powdered or splashed with buckets of water. Or even drive at all, since the streets would be filled with no space for a vehicle to manoeuvre through.
Sunday last, however, I had to peer through every nook and cranny, hoping to spot a few coloured faces, so that I can take a few photographs of ‘Phagwah in a pandemic.’ Understandably, there were no big events at the Everest Cricket Ground or the National Stadium, but part of me (the pessimistic side) believed that there would be hoards of people congregating in public spaces, flouting the COVID-19 guidelines that had been instituted. Instead, I was pleasantly surprised when it was difficult for me to see people ‘playing Phagwah.’ In fact, I found only seven families and one group of friends.
Maybe persons were adhering to the COVID-19 guidelines, maybe they were not. Certainly, however, some persons were at least a tad concerned about what was happening. But, I hope that as we celebrate Easter today and Ramadan soon, we can be very wary of the real occurrences that are taking hold of our country and be very mindful that the COVID-19 pandemic is still a real threat.
If you would like to discuss this column or any of my previous writings, please feel free to contact me via email: email@example.com