The Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown should be taking measures to enable social distancing, without threatening the food supply of the citizens of Georgetown, and the livelihoods of thousands of small farmers whose produce is sold at Georgetown’s markets.
Restricting vending of fresh produce in a City of more than 100,000 people to 6 hours per week along a strip of land less than 300 yards long, is not compatible with social distancing. These measures will disproportionately negatively impact lower income Guyanese, as consumers, as market vendors, and as producers.
Closing markets removes access to the most healthy and affordable sources of nutrition Georgetown’s citizens have; fresh fruit and vegetables.
In other parts of the world, farmers markets are deemed an essential service during the Covid-19 crisis (see for example: https://ecologycenter.org/berkeley-farmers-market-response-to-the-coronavirus-covid-19/); in Georgetown this should be no different.
Instead of closing municipal markets, the Mayor and Councillors of the City of Georgetown may wish to consider measures that reduce the likelihood that buying food increases the risk of contracting Covid-19. These could include:
• Increasing the space between vendors and reducing densities at markets, e.g. by temporarily increasing the space available for vending (along roadways, at D’Urban Park or the Merriman Mall for instance), and/or restricting vendors to alternate dates.
• Increasing the time that shopping is possible e.g. by permitting vending under floodlights on the Merriman Mall or at D’Urban Park.
• Improving sanitation for vendors and patrons, e.g. by providing hand sanitizer to vendors free or at a reduced cost, establishing convenient hand wash facilities within all areas of the market, and providing hand sanitizer to patrons of the markets.
• Reduce the number of patrons in the market at a given time e.g. by regulating traffic, or instituting a Kanban system.
• Providing public service announcements, and information at the market on best practices for minimizing the spread of Covid-19.
• Waiving market fees for vendors, so they can clear expenses faster and get back home sooner.
• Collaborating with the Ministry of Public Infrastructure and minibus associations to restrict the number of passengers in each bus at any one time.
Closing municipal markets without creating an alternative, risks compounding the impact of Covid-19, by adding a food supply issue to the growing shortfall in income facing many Guyanese. It risks increasing traffic and customer density in the established supermarkets, contrary to social distancing efforts, and will likely do the same in rural markets close to Georgetown.
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