If you want to see Guyana have a total shutdown, all that has to happen is for it to be announced that a certain political party will be having a protest march. The entire country will come to a standstill.
This is what used to happen in 1998 when that party was protesting the election of the president at that time. Once word went out that a protest was underway, shopkeepers would pull down their shutters and close their doors. Workers would scurry home; many of them being robbed at the car parks in their attempts to exit the city. Parents would rush to the schools to collect their children.
That went on not for days but for months. It reappeared in 1999 during the infamous 57-day strike launched by the Guyana Public Service Union. During that strike, dubious methods were employed to force the country to come to a halt. These events affected economic life. They impacted on people earning a living. Many persons did not leave their homes for months. People survived for months without working. They got by on what they had.
There was therefore no reason why a total lockdown, except for health care providers, law enforcement, the media, and those employed in the utilities, could not have implemented. ‘Shock treatment’ was what was needed, at least for one week, to drive home the seriousness of the coronavirus pandemic, and to try to make an immediate impact on the local spread of the virus.
This has not happened. There is an overnight curfew. This will not impact much, because more than 90% of the country are indoors at nights anyway. There is now the closure of businesses, except for essential services. That will help, but stronger action was needed for at least two weeks.
It will be difficult to convince persons that the politics did not take a front-seat to the country’s coronavirus response. It will be hard to convince them that the lockdown was not timed to coincide with GECOM’s decision for a recount.
Guyana lost a vital seven days in taking action. We will pay a huge price for that mistake.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York made an interesting point recently. He said that his State underestimated the COVID-19 threat and has paid dearly for that mistake.
Guyana is also going to pay dearly for using the COVID-19 threat as a political football. But it will not be those who did the mischief who will pay the price; it will be the innocent people who will end up in the hospitals with this illness.
There was no need for a learning curve. All the data was there already. The evidence suggested that the country’s borders should have been shut even before the first case was registered. This was not done until March 19th. By then at least three persons had already come with the virus into the country. There may have been more.
The ongoing and unnecessary controversy over the elections’ results distracted the nation from acting earlier and with greater urgency. Still, more should have been done. At a time when the total number of confirmed cases had risen from 5 to 8, this newspaper called for a total lockdown. It pointed to what other countries in the Region were doing. Those calls were ignored.
We are seeing the results of that failure. The daily numbers of coronavirus infections are rising. The mortality rate, even considering the low levels of testing, is frightening. We are sitting on the top of an active volcano.
Instead of slackening the restrictions, as is now evident in relation to markets and the productive sectors, these restrictions should be tightened. It will be tough for all Guyanese, but most persons are willing to make the sacrifices to reduce further infections and deaths.
Wearing face masks is a mitigating measure. By now every single Guyanese should have had in his or her possession at least two face masks. The PPPC is leading the way in getting thousands of face masks produced locally. But what about APNU and the AFC. Goat bite them? Guyanese like freeness. They are waiting for their free masks.
Let us not wait until the rainy weather comes and the inevitable panic which will result when people begin to confuse influenza symptoms with those associated with the coronavirus.
(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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