The poor and vulnerable are being treated as expendables. Almost all of the country’s 58 persons who have succumbed to the coronavirus pandemic, thus far, are from the working class and this accounts for the lack of firm resolve in arresting the present run-away growth in positive cases and deaths.
Until such time as a rich or famous person succumbs, there is not going to be tightening of the social restrictions which have been implemented to contain the spread of the virus and reduce deaths. The poor are being treated like grass; their deaths have not sounded any orange alert.
Yesterday, two more persons died. They can both be considered elderly. But others have died, including persons in their late 20s and, just last week, someone in his early 30s died.
One week ago, the country had recorded 47 deaths. Out of those, 34 had succumbed at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation. The Director of Medical and Professional Services of the institution attributed the deaths to “the natural history in patients that are severely ill and have comorbidities that have caused the number of deaths.”
There were however some 29-year-olds and at least one person in his early 30s who died. It would be interesting to know whether those persons had underlying conditions.
The situation has now reached a tipping point. Since the 2nd August 2020, the number of confirmed positive cases has escalated from 474 to 1,958, a more than three-fold increase in just six weeks. If this is not reason enough to revert to some of the previous social restrictions which were in place in April, then at least the death rate should justify such action. The total number of deaths have increased from 21 to 58. And, in all probability, will increase past 60 by the end of this week, again a three-fold increase in just six weeks.
The government, however, is unconscionably more interested in the private sector than it is in protecting the poor. When the President announced his so-called holistic COVID-19 response plan his emphasis was unmistakably about reviving the sagging economy.
Lives should not be traded callously for business. The time has come for a tightening up of social restrictions so as to stem the increases in coronavirus cases and deaths that occurred over the past two weeks.
During that two-week period, there has been 585 new cases (585). This more than the aggregate number between March and August. And over the past two weeks, there have been more deaths than was registered between March and August.
Globally, one million persons have died as a result of the virus and 30 million persons have been infected, a global death rate of three percent. It means that of the almost 600 persons who tested positive in Guyana over the past 14 days, 20 are likely to die.
Is this what we want in Guyana? Is this the price which the country is prepared to pay just in order to keep businesses afloat? What more does Irfaan Ali and Frank Anthony need to hear before they decide to tighten up on the social restrictions?
What is happening in Guyana is not unique. When the Americans began opening up the economy, the number of cases and deaths began to increase. The same thing is happening now in Jamaica, Trinidad and Suriname. However, the situation is totally different in Barbados which began high levels of testing early and which so far has only recorded 183 cases and just seven deaths thus far.
Guyana has announced increased testing but there have been snags. We are still not up to 300 tests per day. The wait time has still not been reduced to the two hours promised by the President. We are now hearing about some new machine.
In the meantime, people are being exposed. In one instance a government employee tested positive but because of the limitations in testing, the dozens of other staff members could not be tested because of limited capacity.
Once the virus starts to get into the workplace, the country will face an uncontrollable calamity. Right now, the virus has been recorded at one prison.
And yet in spite of all this, the government is stubbornly refusing, at the minimum, to tighten social restrictions. The vulnerable age groups seem to be those over the age of 45. At the least, the government should be protecting these persons. It should urge both the public and private sectors to allow for vulnerable persons to work from home or work on rotation or if needs be pay them to not work at all.
Secondly, Parliament has been convened. A law should be immediately passed making the wearing of masks mandatory and imposing severe fines for those found to be not wearing masks in public, including in public transportation vehicles.
Thirdly, greater attention needs to be paid to the treatment. We keep hearing about various treatment protocols but we are not sure as yet whether the regional hospitals are equipped to administer some of these regimens, and indeed whether some of them are yet to be equipped with ventilators.
It is time for the public to press for stronger social restrictions. It is time for a partial lockdown of the country, the closure of non-essential businesses for two weeks, ramping up testing, reducing the turnaround time for results and for special roll-out of measures to protect the vulnerable.
(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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