It will be a fatal mistake if the authorities go ahead and reopen Guyana’s airspace to international traffic at this time. Any such decision should be immediately reversed.
First, the situation in Guyana with the coronavirus is grim. As at yesterday, June 30, Guyana had recorded a total of 245 cases of the virus. This means that in less than six weeks, the total number of cases has doubled. And this is after a full 11 weeks of social restrictions, including a 6am to 6pm curfew.
The number of active cases has also skyrocketed in recent days. As at yesterday, the total number of active cases was 119. It has almost tripled in a mere two weeks, suggesting that if the number of active cases continues to increase, the country’s health system is going to be overwhelmed.
The second reason why the government should hold its hand in reopening the country’s airports relates to the global increase in cases. In recent weeks, there has been a tremendous spike in global cases. Over the past three weeks, almost three million new infections have been confirmed and, considering that a large number of persons are asymptomatic, the actual numbers may be much higher. As at yesterday, there were 10.5 million cases recorded since the pandemic started, more than half of a million of whom have died. During the past week, 54,000 persons died. This is about half of the population of Georgetown. Can you imagine half of the population of the capital city being wiped out in just one week?
Guyana cannot afford to be opening its borders to air traffic when the virus is making a resurgence. Already community spread in Region One and in Region Seven has gotten out of control. The situation will become graver if new cases are imported.
Guyana is surrounded by countries with far higher levels of infections and deaths. Brazil has more than 1.3 million cases, the second highest in the world. So far, there have been almost 60,000 deaths in that country, also the second highest in the world. The low rate of testing in Brazil suggests that the situation there may be far worse than these numbers tell. Two weeks ago, Boa Vista, which is about one and a half hour drive from Lethem, had the highest new infection rate in the country.
Venezuela, which has conducted three times as many tests per capita than Brazil, has 5,530 cases and 48 deaths. It is doing much better than people believe and that is because it has the support of Cuban medical personnel, unlike Brazil which expelled Cuban doctors.
Opening Guyana’s airport may be a threat not only to Guyanese. It can also be a threat to those persons coming here, especially considering the country’s porous borders and close proximity to one of the world epicenters of the virus.
A third reason for not opening our airports has to do with the visitor arrival trends. Arrivals from the Caribbean amount to an estimated 40% of total visitor arrivals. The pandemic is not at a worrying level in the Caribbean but it is extremely grave in the United States, which accounts for about 31% of total arrivals to Guyana.
Guyana therefore has to be watchful before reopening its airspace to flights from the United States. In recent days, there has been tremendous surge in new cases in that country. Yesterday, the USA recorded more than 36,000 new cases, which is above the average over the previous month when new cases were around 20,000 average per day.
The epicenter of the epidemic in the United States is no longer New York and New Jersey. The new hot-spot states are California, Florida and Texas. The latter two should be of concern to local aviation authorities who have to approve flights.
Many of the workers on the oil-rig are believed to be travelling from Texas where there has been a sharp rise in infections. Recently, also, the local authorities allowed stranded Guyanese to return home en route through Miami, which is in the state of Florida. It means that Guyanese are returning hope via a state, which is now emerging as a flashpoint of the epidemic in the United States.
Europe has indicated the possibility of a temporary prohibition of passengers from the USA given the steep rise recently in cases there. If Europe is taking precautions, there is no reason why Guyana should not be doing the same.
The authorities should seriously reconsider the decision to reopen Guyana’s airspace to international travel. The country is not yet on top of the local outbreak – if anything, community spread in Regions One and Seven is getting out of control. And on top of that, the coronavirus is far from under control in some of countries of origin of arrivals to Guyana.
(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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