Fourteen staff members of the National Assembly have tested positive for COVID-19. Two inmates of the Lusignan Prison have also tested positive. A staff member of the Guyana Power and Light Inc. also got a positive COVID-19 test result. A member of staff of a hire-purchase chain of stores also tested positive a few weeks ago.
Institutional spread of the virus is now occurring. Once the virus gets into the workplaces and other institutions, the situation will become uncontrollable. Workplace spread is usually rapid and will lead to an uncontrollable situation.
This is why the public has to demand that the Irfaan Ali administration shut the country down for at least two weeks to bring about some easing of the spread of the virus. Unless this is done, increased testing will only end up confirming the exponential spread of the disease. It will not help in any other way.
Yesterday, Guyana recorded its 59th victim of the virus. It was an elderly patient from Region One. It is not known as yet whether the health facilities in that Region has been boosted with ventilators and isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients. But persons are dying in that Region, as they are in other regions.
The government will face resistance to any attempt to close down non-essential businesses at this time. But lives have to be accorded greater priority over money and the government cannot allow the business community to force it not to close the country down at this time.
The number of confirmed cases remains high relative to the tests which are being conducted. And this suggests strongly that community spread is now widespread. Also, when the pandemic first started, the Ministry of Public Health was lecturing men about their habits, pointing out that far more men than women were becoming infected. This column had indicated that the then officials were misguided because the data did not suggest infections were being biased in favour of men.
The numbers now indicate that more women are now infected than men. And of recent days, women have been dying because of complications of the virus. Given that many households consists of non-working women, the increase in female infections may be pointing to the fact that household infections are increasing.
Dr. Frank Anthony needs an epidemiologist to help him make sense of the numbers. There are overseas-based Guyanese who can be of assistance to him. He should be careful about relying on some of those persons whom the PPP/C has put in his Ministry to assist him. Decisions have to be made based on evidence.
The evidence right now is that the case load is much too high and that the vulnerable needs to be protected. This is no laughing matter. Regardless of if the government decides on a lockdown, the fact remains that there is a need to protect those who are mostly likely to die from the infection.
The most vulnerable persons are those over 45 years of age, persons living in care homes and persons with underlying conditions. The government has an obligation to protect these persons. And the only way it can do this is to ensure that these persons are not exposed. This means that they should be encouraged and supported to stay at home.
Instead of the $25,000 grant being shared out per household, it is now best that it be given to those vulnerable persons who are certified to remain in their homes.
Right now most of the economy is open. It is only entertainment places that are not open. Some of course are breaking the rules and opening but the majority cannot open. Almost all the businesses had begun to open even before the former government began its six-phase reopening. And this was because they could no longer afford to stay close. So those affected would most likely have already been open and earning some money.
It is best therefore to use the money, which has been set aside for household relief to protect the vulnerable segments of the population. With institutional spread now taking root, the business community should ask the vulnerable members of their workforce to either work from home or to be furloughed. Pensioners should be paid the $25,000 cash grant on condition that they isolate at home.
In this way, a strategy can be developed to help protect those who are most likely to die from any infection. Eighty percent of those infected are going to live. Therefore, once we can identify the vulnerable 20 percent, they can be supported in order to save their lives and reduce the runaway death rate.
(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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