The COVID-19 epidemic is becoming increasingly unmanageable. The virus is no longer isolated to any one Region; it is spreading nationally at a rapid rate.
Active cases are now dispersed across eight of the country’s 10 Regions. Between Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, there were 21 new confirmed cases nationally. Region One accounted for four of these; Regions Two, Five, Six and Eight had no new confirmed cases. Region Three had one; Region Four registered five new confirmed cases; Region Seven had six cases, Region Nine had five and Region 10 recorded one.
The monthly increase in cases tells the tale of the rapid spread. In March, the month in which the first case was registered, there were 27 confirmed cases; in April 70 and in May 71. Since June, the numbers have surged. In that month, 92 new cases were confirmed and this spiked to 168 last month. August is not yet halfway and already 210 new cases have been recorded.
Since the PPP/C assumed office, 12 days ago, the situation has deteriorated rapidly. On August 1, there were 430 confirmed cases. In the 12 days since the PPP/C assumed office, there have been 193 new cases, an increase of almost 45 percent and far more than the combined confirmed cases for March, April and May.
While it is true that the PPP/C inherited a mismanaged response, they have not gotten a grip of the situation. The PPP/C had four months to develop a plan. But it seems as if the elections crisis occupied their total attention, without much consideration to developing a plan to combat this deadly epidemic.
The President’s promised comprehensive response is yet to be unveiled. The Minister of Health still seems to be getting his act together. A COVID-19 response team has reportedly been established. No one seems to know what he or she is doing.
The daily COVID-19 bulletins, as at Tuesday, are still sparse on details and exasperating in its failure to provide daily regional breakdown of the new cases. This is inexcusable given the President’s own stated commitment to a transparent response.
The public is still awaiting the rolling-out of the Master Plan to combat the COVID-19 epidemic. But given the number of political juggernauts now within the Ministry of Health, you do not know who is responsible for what.
Regions One, Seven and Nine should have long been placed on a total lockdown. The situation in those Regions is grave. Four out of every 1,000 persons are infected in Region One. Seven out of every 1,000 persons are infected in Region Seven, and five out of every 1,000 persons in Region Nine.
The infection rate per capita in Region Nine is 10 times that of the most populous Region in the country, Region Four. If Region Four was to attain the same per capita rate of infection as that of Region Nine, more than 1,600 persons in that region would test positive for the virus. This is how dreadful the situation is in the Indigenous Regions and the situation there is going to be exacerbated by pervasive and deep-seated poverty.
The situation was already dire when the PPP/C took power. The recent spike in cases commenced about one week prior to the PPP/C getting into office. The total number of confirmed cases as at 26th July was 370. One week later, it has skyrocketed with an addition of 60 new cases.
The massive increase in cases just prior to the PPP/C assumption to office should have triggered an immediate investigation as to whether numbers were being suppressed. That investigation has not been launched.
Also, in situations like these, there is supposed to be sample reference testing to validate the tests which were done locally. There has been no word as to whether or why reference testing is being done on local samples by the Caribbean Public Health Agency.
Instead, the PPP/C has behaved cavalierly. It has been oblivious to restrictions on social gatherings that are still in place. Given the steep increase in cases just one week before it assumed office, there was a need to exercise greater precautions.
The PPP/C behaved like a wild cat. While some social distancing was maintained during the swearing-in ceremony, afterwards the President was seen posing for photographs with a range of persons. Social distancing was ignored.
Cabinet met physically rather than virtually, with Ministers sitting less than six feet apart. This was totally unnecessary since the technology exists for a virtual meeting of the Cabinet. When Ministers went back to their offices, they were photographed meeting with staff, most of whom were not social distanced.
The decision to host a Presidential Inauguration Ceremony was reckless. This was an unnecessary act of vanity. At the end of the ceremony, social distancing went into remission. Hundreds of persons huddled in the lobby exchanging pleasantries and chit-chatting. It was a wild affair.
The recklessness continues. Yesterday, the Everest Sports Club was supposed to have a special congratulatory event for one of the Ministers last evening. The Club said that COVID-19 rules would be in effect. But we know in that as much as the organizers tried their best to keep within the guidelines, these rules end up being observed mainly in the breach.
The PPP/C must now place Regions One, Seven and Nine under a total lockdown. It has to take steps to address the community spread in those Regions and it has to prevent cross-regional infections due to the movement of persons in and out of those Regions. It has to use the G$4.5B to provide relief to the people of those Regions during the lockdown.
Mass facemask distribution in those Regions should have been implemented. Testing is being increased, and that is a good sign but each of those regions will need additional isolation facilities since community spread has increased exponentially.
As for the rest of the country, the government needs to return to the policy of work-from-home for non-essential workers. Schools should remain suspended until the new academic year.
Unless these things are done and done immediately, Guyana will be headed for its worst human disaster. Guyana will become a mass cemetery. Sandy’s, Lyken’s, Merriman’s, Jerricks, Persaud’s, Ezekiel’s and Memorial Gardens are not going to be able to handle the body count of coronavirus deaths.
(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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