When this newspaper first made the call for a lockdown of the country there were 8 confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases and 1 death. Within one week, the number of cases skyrocketed to 18. It took a few more days before a partial lockdown was announced. By that time, the total number of confirmed cases had reached 23 with four dead.
In that one week, the virus had spread rapidly throughout the country. It is now reaping its harvest. Three weeks into the lockdown, the country now has 78 cases and 9 deaths. Can we truly say that the lockdown has been effective? It has not.
The first confirmed case of the coronavirus was recorded on the 10th March 2020. The patient died the following day. Three weeks later – on the 31st March – there were only 12 cases and 2 deaths. Compare that with what has happened in the 3 weeks since the lockdown. The total number of cases has increased by 60 and the total deaths by 7.
One expects, of course, for the number of cases to increase over time. But to have the total deaths doubled and the total confirmed cases tripled in three weeks leaves little doubt as to the abysmal failure of the lockdown.
This column had warned that the lockdown had commenced one week too late, and that there would be dire implications. It also has been pointing out that the curfew is during a period when 90% of persons are at home and asleep. It cannot therefore be expected to be effective, especially when the daytime social restrictions are not being stringently enforced.
By now, the local coronavirus outbreak should have been smothered. It has not. The country should have been preparing to reopen those sections of the economy which were closed. Guyana will most likely have to continue with its social restrictions for at least another 6 weeks.
The Cayman Islands, on the other hand, is preparing to have a phased reopening of its economy. They have a population of 64,000 and they have tested more than 1,500 persons to date. Guyana with a population nearing 750,000 has undertaken just around 500 persons to date.
Former West Indian fast bowler Michael Holding did an interview recently, in which he related the social restrictions in place in the Cayman Islands, including a night to morning curfew. He observed that entertainment places are closed, but that essential services such as supermarkets, petrol stations, pharmacies and banks are open.
He however intimated that persons cannot move about as they please. To access the services provided by essential businesses, an alphabetical system is being used. Each person is only allowed to make purchases on select days of the weeks. If you are caught violating the restrictions, you will be subject to harsh fines and penalties. According to Holding, the restrictions are working.
Guyana has made some tragic mistakes with this pandemic. For the past weeks, economic activity has slowed down and we have nothing to show for it. They imposed a partial lockdown, like the Cayman Islands, but with little enforcement.
Lockdowns have to be measured in relation to certain metrics – to what extent has the number of confirmed cases grown, how much has the virus reproduction rate been reduced, to what extent have new cases, hospital admissions and serious and critical cases been reduced. If no targets were set, and if the data which is being provided to the public is sparse, then no proper evaluation can take place.
The data which is being provided to the public is not helpful in decision-making. It is merely a scorecard of cases, deaths and total tests.
The health, economic and social response to the pandemic need to be put on a different footing. What is in place is not working and will not provide the solutions that are needed. Guyana, after 3 weeks, is no closer to ending or reducing the social restrictions in place or reducing the growth of new cases.
Dozens of Guyanese are stranded overseas. They cannot come home because the airspace and borders are closed. They are not likely to open anytime soon. Most of the arrivals originate in the Caribbean and New York. The latter is now the epicentre of the virus.
Brazil, which is right next door, is positioning itself to take over that position after the US passes its peak. More than 80,000 Brazilians have tested positive for the coronavirus. Deaths in Brazil have already surpassed that of China where the pandemic started. Manaus, which is less than an 18-hour drive by bus from Lethem, is a hotspot for the virus. A mass grave had to be dug this week to deal with the number of deaths in that part of the country. People want to escape the city. Remember, they are only 18 hours away from the Guyana border
Guyana needs to relook at its strategy for this virus. Right now the country appears clueless. Those in charge are playing a game of luck and chance. They are “trying a thing” and hoping that it works.
(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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