WITH the exception of Barbados, Guyana has been recording fewer daily new coronavirus cases within the region. This is according to the Inter-American Development Bank (IBD)’s second Caribbean Quarterly Bulletin titled ‘The Fragile Path to Recovery’.
The report, released at the weekend, indicated that notwithstanding Guyana’s ranking, new COVID -19 cases increased significantly towards the end of the first half of 2021 and that a similar trend was detected in other Caribbean territories. “The average number of daily new cases per month increased from 42 in January to 118 in May and declined to 80 in July,” the report highlighted.
It explained that similarly, the total number of deaths per month increased from 12 in January to 93 in May, declining to 72 in July. “In relative terms, the seven-day rolling average of new cases per day peaked on May 28, with 180 cases per million population before declining to 50 on August 10, below the peaks of Trinidad and Tobago, Suriname, and The Bahamas,” the IDB report said.
The document also outlined Guyana’s robust vaccination efforts, which has been comprehensive enough to cover the country’s entire adult population of approximately 600,000. Added to that, the country has already begun the vaccination of its adolescent population, using Pfizer BioNTech, the first coronavirus vaccine to receive full approval from the United States’ Food and Drug Administration.
The Pfizer vaccine was given to Guyana as part of a donation of 5.5 million doses by the United States Government to the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), in an effort to lend support to the ongoing battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony, Guyana is poised to have enough of the vaccine to inoculate all Guyanese from the ages of 12 – 17.
Even amid aggressive global demands, Guyana is one of the very few countries that have managed to secure enough vaccines for its entire adult, and soon enough, adolescent population. In addition to the ongoing vaccinations, the government has also instituted a number of preventative measures, which continue to be amended each month, in keeping with the country’s COVID-19 status.
The IDB, in its report, also referenced the latest measures which require persons entering government buildings to either show proof of vaccination or seek services by appointment only. “Similarly, all operators of transportation services, both domestic and international, must also be able to show proof of vaccination to conduct their business activities,” the IDB recognised.
It also highlighted the two-week extension which was instituted to give persons sufficient time to get vaccinated and therefore become compliant with the new measures.
As it relates to international travel, effective August 8, all incoming adult travellers must show proof of vaccination of at least one dose, along with a negative PCR test.
The report also outlined the various COVID-19 relief measures which were put in place to assist citizens. “The main policy tools introduced by the Bank of Guyana relied on extending debt payment schedules and reduced interest rates for certain loans,” the report recognised.
It explained that the relief period was introduced in 2020 and extended through June 2021. These measures allowed beneficiaries to not have their loans classified as non-performing.
The IDB highlighted that to support liquidity, the Central Bank made efforts to reduce a series of policy rates such as “the reserve requirements, liquid as set requirements for demand deposits, and savings and time deposits, freeing up resources for loans.”
The report also pointed to the fact that commercial banks agreed to provide short-term loans at concessional rates between 5- 6 per cent, lower than the prime lending rate of 10.3 per cent. Added to that, “Commercial banks agreed to offer general concessional reductions of interest rates of one per cent and up to two per cent on consumer loans below G$10 million (US$48,000).”
The report specified too that the total loan portfolio of deposit-taking institutions was approximately US$1.5 billion in December 2020. Of that total, approximately US$69 million benefitted from relief measures, accounting for 4.6 per cent of total loans. The Bank of Guyana in its 2020 Annual Report said that it would be monitoring that figure to balance financial flexibility and financial stability.
In addition to all the measures outlined above, the People’s Progressive Party/Civic Government also expended billions to provide all households with a one-off cash grant of $25,000.
With Guyana’s challenges compounded by the floods which began in May and continues to devastate some areas, the government also announced a series of flood-relief grants which totalled $7.8 billion.
Added to that, President, Dr. Irfaan Ali also announced separate cash grants for pensioners and other vulnerable persons, including those with disabilities; these totalled $2.6 billion. There is also the $19,000 education cash grants which aims to assist children within the public school system.