By Leonard Gildarie
From since Thursday, I have not been going in to work. The reasons are simple. I have been running the ‘Political Show’ and then ‘Elections Watch’ on Kaieteur Radio. It has been brutal on my body. There were guests who I believed could have been exposed to the Coronavirus (COVID-19). They are all high-profile. I could not take the chance of putting my colleagues at risk.
I have been working at home using Skype, Facebook, WhatsApp and emails. It has not been easy.
On Friday evening, the Ministry of Public Health, in a move that was not unexpected, announced emergency measures. It has effectively shut the country down for a month, keeping citizens indoors and only key services being run.
In all my years, the measures will be something I can’t even begin to project on. The country has never contemplated, in my years, its borders and airports being shut.
For an entire month, non-essential public servants will be asked to work from home. Persons are being told via the directives to stay at home and not visit parties, sporting events, weddings and other gatherings. The seawalls, rum-shops, pools, and even visits to patients in hospitals, are now restricted.
The utilities, Guyana Revenue Authority, Air Traffic Control, the Harbour and Berbice bridges, and manufacturers of drugs and medical supplies will continue to work. Supermarkets will continue to work, with restaurants only to do deliveries. Of course, gas stations and hotels will be allowed to operate.
Public transportation will continue to work, but can only carry less than half of the maximum passengers.
Even places of worships have been restricted, with the directives recommending live streaming of the activities.
The police will have the authority to stop vehicles and vessels, and enquire about reasons for movements and even makes arrests.
The country, in essence, will be in uncharted waters. I don’t envy President David Granger.
There is a political crisis in this country, brought on by Elections 2020. More than a month has passed without any end in sight to a naming a winner.
We don’t have a government in place and despite the pandemic on COVID-19 which has brought the world to a standstill, the criticisms have been coming fast and nasty.
Guyana simply does not have the money, resources, skills and fortitude to handle what is forecast as coming.
The Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) has elevated Guyana’s infected from a projected 1,400 to 20,000. Why did PAHO use to raise those figures? It had to be something they saw. We have 50 ventilators in the country with 250 beds at private hospitals. Not enough!
We have selected the East Demerara and West Demerara Regional Hospitals; National Gymnasium and Cliff Anderson Sports Hall; Ocean View International Hotel, among others, as quarantine sites.
At maximum, I believe we can see 2,000 beds. It will not be enough for the projected 20,000 cases. Even if we had, it would be a far stretch for our limited resources.
We don’t have the available money. Our oil proceeds are locked away, pending a government in place and except for gold and rice, the rest of the sectors have taken a battering.
We may barely have enough reserves in our foreign exchange account.
The fact is people are concerned about eking out a daily livelihood.
Talking to folks, especially those in the countryside, they are brushing off the COVID-19 threat as being in Georgetown…they refuse to believe there is a credible threat.
Many persons, including taxi drivers and minibus operators live from day to day. One month will be a killer, they say. However, we have no choice. The man or woman walking next to you could be infected. He or she may not necessarily know it.
Not doing anything is a huge mistake, and we may not have a country to run after this.
I remain deeply fearful about the vulnerable…the senior citizens, the single parents, the families which barely make it from month to month. There are thousands of them.
There are stories that tear my heart apart that are coming out now.
In New York, we have thousands of families from Guyana. That US state is the hardest hit, helping to propel the US to the country with the most infections.
In fact, official figures placed the total infected in the US at 272,000 cases yesterday with 7,000 deaths. Of this, a staggering 103,000 confirmed cases came from New York alone with 3,000 persons dead.
The state has 14,000 hospitalised with not enough morgues to store bodies. Refrigerated trucks parked in front of hospitals are being used.
In Ecuador, South America, it is being reported that bodies are being left in the streets.
The situation is even more alarming in Italy. There have been 15,000 deaths recorded there, forever changing the untarnished image of one of the most beloved tourist spots in the world.
Globally, there have been more than a million infections with almost 57,000 deaths recorded from 207 countries. Grim figures indeed.
In Guyana, a former media colleague was grieving. Her dad…I believe he is living in New York, died from Coronavirus.
A government official told me three cousins in New York died recently, one of them was two weeks away from his long-awaited retirement.
However, no story appeared more heartbreaking for me than a brother caught on video, grieving. He is married to Jennifer Ganesh, a former media worker now residing in New York.
His brother contracted the virus after, unsuspectingly, he had rushed a colleague who collapsed on the job to the hospital. His lungs eventually collapsed and eventually his kidneys went.
A healthy man leaving his family and loved ones. There will be thousands such stories.
In Guyana, the coming weeks and months will test us to the core. I could never have envisaged we would be hit by a double whammy – Elections 2020 and now COVID-19.
The economy, the least of our worries now, will be hard hit. It is the safety of the people which will be paramount. How we rise to the occasion; how we be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers; how we assist the less fortunate at the hour of need, will define who we are as a people.
It will not be that tough for state employees. The government will still be paying them.
It will be the private sector workers and businesses which will feel the brunt.
From restaurants to malls, bars, and movie theatres, the list will include taxi and minibus operators and even market vendors. Our way of life will be severely disrupted.
Throughout it all, the frontline healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses, will have to be lauded. They stood tall. We have to encourage them. We have to stand together as a people. Do our politicians possess the fortitude and the integrity to put country first?
I don’t have a clue what the coming days will be like.
What I do know is that we have to be united. The world is struggling. It is no longer about money and jobs. It is about survival. We all have to chip in.
(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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