Let us be frank! Dr. Frank Anthony cannot solve the high incidence of coronavirus cases and deaths. But the problem is not about his ability.
The problem is ideological. He is part of a government which is committed to the neo-liberal economic model. Donald Trump of the United States and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil are no different. They were keen to reopen their economies because their ideological stance led them to conclude that the cure for the pandemic would be worse than the cost of keeping the economy closed.
America as a result has lost 200,000 persons and Brazil is 135,000 so far. All these deaths resulted because the economy was considered more important than human lives.
Guyana must not commit the same cardinal error. It must not place the economy above that of the health of the people. The life of a person cannot be compared to economic indicators.
People will suffer during a pandemic. And businesses will go bust and thousands of jobs will be lost. But lives will be saved. And it is better to pay the price of failed businesses and jobs than lost lives.
A great many people punished during the first five months of the pandemic in Guyana. Not only were non-essential businesses asked to remain closed for almost three months but monies were not available to provide relief to those affected.
Those who wish to dispute the fact that some Guyanese went hungry during the pandemic should have a chat with Bryan Max who was part of a group which distributed cooked meals to the needy.
The rich and well-off managed to survive without much trouble but the majority of the workers in Guyana live week-to-week, month-to-month and day-to-day. For these persons, it means if you are not working, you cannot put food on the table.
This column has on two occasions related the story of a young man who went walking around begging for work. He was so desperate that he was willing to take any job because, as he explained, he had no means to feed his family.
One kind man gave him a job even though he had no need for an additional worker. This kind man was moved by the man’s plight. That same man distributed more hampers than the Civil Defence Commission (CDC). That man is Glenn Lall, the publisher of this newspaper.
A woman from the East Coast who “walks and sells” snacks related how difficult it was for her. She was not doing any business during the period when non-essential businesses were closed. People were not buying because they were not working.
The PPP/C, then having to wait five months for the APNU+AFC to concede defeat in the elections, had been doing what the then government had failed to do. It had established a national task force which was making and distributing face masks and relief hampers to thousands of Guyanese. Glenn Lall was sharing out his hampers without seeking publicity even though he owns a newspaper, and Bryan Max and his group were cooking meals and distributing daily, including to the orphanages.
A total lockdown of the country will lead to hardships and economic losses. But people will not die of starvation. The government may not even need to give out any household grant or food hampers. Private individuals, including persons from overseas, will come forward to offer assistance.
We are not a totally cold and uncaring society even though we seem to be getting there. But we must to ask ourselves an important question: “Are people more important than businesses?” Most of our leaders will answer in the affirmative.
Each day for the past week, we have had persons dying as a result of the coronavirus infections. We are heading for a tsunami of deaths. Yet the government refuses to revert to the situation in April where only essential businesses were supposed to be open. And the reason why the government is not reverting to tighter social restrictions is because the government feels the economy will flatline.
Based on the present scenario, hundreds of persons are going to die unless the exponential spread of the virus is halted. If, as was once projected, Guyana attains as many as 20,000 cases – which is not inconceivable – more than 1,000 are going to die from complications of the virus. The country’s health system is going to be overwhelmed and it will mean that thousands more will die because they will be unable to source the type of medical treatment which is needed to treat other diseases and ailments.
The government, therefore, should shut the country down, establish a national task force and leave this body to mobilize relief through the many kind souls who stepped forward to assist between March and August.
The government cannot be speaking about people-centered development when it refuses to place lives above profits. Twice as many persons have died from complications of the virus over the past six weeks than the preceding 20 weeks. This is already a monumental tragedy.
The government is failing the people. And it is doing so because its ideology is no different from Trump or Bolsonaro.
(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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