As Guyanese we often find reasons for conflict. Whether it is in the home with family, in our communities, organisations, with our neighbours, friends and colleagues. We fight with each other and amongst ourselves. We fight over politics and religion, race and class and every five years we fight over elections, for there is never a period that we are ever satisfied.
Sometimes our fights leave deep wounds and scars that remind us what it feels like to be in pain or to inflict pain. Either way, we as a people feel the hurt from fights, because these create tensions and divisions that weaken us when we should be strong.
Our divisiveness as a people leave us vulnerable to outside interference, those who stoke fire to keep us divided so as to benefit. We are stronger when we face forces within and without as a team, because we should remember as our motto reminds us – we are One People, One Nation, One Destiny, paying allegiance to the flag of Guyana, honouring common heroes, and sharing a history of displacement that binds us as one.
The things we fight over, though of various levels of significance, are comparatively small to the fight we are in now. The fight for the life of every Guyanese brother and sister, and for every human being now within the boundaries of our border.
Must we always fight even as COVID-19 threatens us all?
We currently battle a global pandemic. This is a battle for survival and what is most interesting is, the safety of all of us lies in the safety of each of us. COVID-19 does not discriminate by age, sex, class, gender, religion, politics, geographic region or by any of the things we often fight over. If anything, it gives Guyanese an opportunity to speak with a common voice, and to think how our actions can affect the health and life of others, even as they too can affect ours equally.
What better opportunity than COVID-19 for Guyanese to unite? Unfortunately, we see opportunities for political scores, for showmanship, to upstage, to criticise and even sabotage, as some have called for funds to assist Guyana in its fight to be withheld. How more divisive can we as a people become that we risk our own lives and those of our friends, family and loved ones in this silly season? We must learn the lessons afforded us from others who are tragically overwhelmed by the disease.
In the USA, the number of confirmed cases is almost 300,000. We see the devastation caused in Italy, Spain, France and China, and the effects on other countries forced to endure shutdowns of varying degrees in the hope to stop the spread. Not only is this virus causing death and suffering for many of those who succumb, it poses an acute demand on the delivery of health care services and exposes the weakness of our systems.
Do we have enough beds, ventilators, appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), adequately trained personnel? Do we have enough persons willing to make lifestyle adjustment catering to others’ feeling and being protected by the way we cough or sneeze, the frequency of our hand hygiene, and other safety and hygiene measures, our respect for social distance and isolation precautions to protect loved ones and each other? The Government of Guyana has its task cut out to secure this nation, even as the opposition organizes a joint task force.
For whatever reason we seem to be lacking a unified approach at a time when we are all facing the same threat that will not discriminate. It is sad to see Guyanese not coordinated as a unified force to face this common and potentially deadly threat; persons not wanting to adhere to quarantine measures, not complying to self-isolation and rejecting forced isolation. Those living alone must battle for themselves as no one dares to enter, and visitors bringing help leave whatever they bring at the door for it to be received the best way the sick person can.
We witness shoppers with no regard for social distance, religious bodies still holding services, minibuses packed over capacity with all age groups onboard, the ludicrous excuse to congregate nightly as guardians of democracy placing each other at unnecessary risk.
In this information age, are we not seeing what is happening in more powerful countries? Are we not seeing their various health care systems stretched beyond capacity? Doctors, nurses and other health care and frontline personnel challenged by the scourge of death, incapacity, and shortages, screaming for help as decisions are made as to who will live and who will die?
In hospitals, visitors are not allowed and those infected die a lonely death with nurses who are themselves scared, growing tired, and overwhelmed by the amounts of deaths and suffering.
We must stop to recognise in these times our brave healthcare warriors are heroes. They are placing their lives at risk for all of us, not just some of us. They need our support and understanding, particularly as our threat levels increase. But as a caution, nurses and health care workers may also want to exercise some sensitivity to the public fear permeating society when they enter social spaces still dressed in uniform. Regardless of whether they are in direct contact or not, the public only sees the risk of spreading infection.
There are sufficient pictures and stories circulating on social media to cause every Guyanese not to take the disease for granted. Doing so, they place not only their lives, but those of loved ones and friends, at risk. Meanwhile, Government has imposed a 12-hour curfew – from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. The wisdom of this limited shut down is questionable in some circles. PAHO/WHO has said, “if we don’t do a complete lockdown at some point…we will be in deep trouble.”
In this regard government is called upon to learn from other societies and revisit the effectiveness or inadequacy of its program, even with regards to providing some financial (cash transfer) and other support means for those who are our most vulnerable. Leaders should set the tone for social distancing as they appear in public space.
It is my fervent wish that every person stays safe, that our mortality figure remains low and when this would have subsided, it is hoped Guyanese would have learnt to cherish life and health more. That we recognise a threat to one is a threat to all; that our personal lifestyles and practices can have deadly consequences. That we have bigger battles to fight that threaten all of us.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper)
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