The most striking thing about the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) is how quickly and comprehensively it has paralysed life around the world.
The universal response has been to lock-down the society and keep people away from each other.
For this reason, the emergency regulations issued Friday are justified in aiming to rely on vigorous social distancing measures to combat COVID-19.
This is according to the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA), which yesterday said that justification for the measures is rooted in the fact that there is no cure for COVID-19.
“…so the only absolutely sure way to stay safe is not to contract it. The medical community can only help the infected by testing early and assist them to recover. With respect to the emergency regulations, the GHRA would urge they be enforced in a sensible and humane manner. Hopefully, the insensitive manner in which arriving passengers were reportedly quarantined in the early stages of the emergency was due to nervous unfamiliarity and has been since corrected.”
With respect to the emergency regulations, the GHRA said it is concerned that no reference has been made to the situation in the country’s prisons.
“After health personnel and indigenous people, prisoners and prisons staff are the most exposed category of persons in the country. In particular, the Lusignan facility was never intended to be a prison and constitutes an ideal incubator for COVID-19. Hygiene, lack of fresh air and water, the grimy conditions inevitable with so many persons in a concentrated space, all point to the urgent need for reducing the numbers.”
The body said that those in society who view prisoners as social garbage might care to remember that prisoners can reach the end of their sentences and prison staffers go home every evening.
“The society is not quarantined against its prisons. The GHRA recommends that application of social distancing is especially critical in prisons and that several measures be considered to reduce over-crowding.”
GHRA recommended that all sentences for possession of marijuana or other secondary category drugs be commuted to time served.
“All remand prisoners for non-violent crimes be reviewed and bail reduced. All prisoners whose sentences are within three months of completion be released early. All women prisoners for non-violent offences be commuted.”
The body noted that these recommendations are also made in light of the very limited medical services currently available in the prisons, where not even the services of the medex are available full-time.
There were also concerns about the communities of the indigenous people and the risks.
“Considerable concern was expressed last week over the first case of COVID-19 being identified in an indigenous community in Brazil, in the region North of Manaus by the Colombian border. In light of the history of indigenous communities decimated out of existence by successive waves of epidemics, the concern is well-placed. Guyana’s indigenous communities are no exception in this regard.”
The GHRA pointed out that the border communities in Regions 1, 7, 8 and 9 are vulnerable.
“The influx of refugees is one source of worry. The more threatening one, however, is domestic. Miners and mining-related trucking to mine-sites and community shops are a particular source of concern. Movements of strangers into the villages need to be brought to a halt and indigenous leaving the communities reduced to essential travel. Gold-mining and other non-essential activities in the interior should cease for the period of the emergency.”
According to GHRA, while more vulnerable to the virus, however, the life-style renders indigenous communities capable of surviving catastrophes, lockdowns and shortages much more readily than their coastal counterparts.
The association noted that the social distancing strategy places the responsibility on staying safe squarely in the hands of individuals.
“Staying at a distance prevents our giving or receiving the virus physically to each other. Social distancing rules apply to everyone, not just strangers or sick people. In family situations this is best achieved when we come home by carefully wiping down bags or things we introduce into the home, including our shoes, personal belongings (cell phone) and other things that the virus might have settled on outside.”
The GHRA said that people in crowded communities under curfew and general lockdown spend their days living in yards with other people.
“These are the most challenging situations in which to practice social distancing. Success will be determined by the extent to which the community can devise imaginative ways of assisting themselves and everyone. The GHRA would recommend an approach to policing the curfew based on a progression from empathy, education, encouragement and finally to enforce.”
The body acknowledged that while a number of community-based organizations have lost their traditional vigour, enough religious and voluntary organizations still retain basic networks that can reinforce social distancing.
“They are better-placed to identify the kinds of people who need assistance. In addition to the obvious ones – the elderly and infirm – people who have lost their jobs and have no income, people who need help with children, medical personnel who may need support to enable them to be at work for long shifts. Additionally, community-level initiatives to disseminate information to keep people healthy, such as breathing and exercise techniques are also more effectively disseminated at community level.”
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