The total number of coronavirus cases in Guyana stood at 2, 535 on Wednesday of which there are almost more than 1,000 active cases nationwide. Region Four, the country’s largest Region, has the majority of cases which is believed to be more than 65 percent of the total active cases.
It is not a statistic which anyone, least of all the Minister of Health, should find comforting. Testing remains low and therefore the number of recorded active cases does not reflect the real level of infections in the society. Guyana is ranked 151 out of 215 countries in terms of per capita tests. The true number of infections can therefore be multiple times the present recorded levels.
A small country like Guyana having almost 1,000 active cases can overwhelm the public health system. Most countries have implemented some form of lockdown to prevent their public health systems from crashing.
The Minister of Health should be worried over the high number of active cases because the majority of these cases are concentrated in Region Four which has the largest number of persons and where the most businesses and government institutions are located.
Institutional spread is now adding to the spread of infections. The Lusignan Prison recorded 142 cases out of a total of 200 tests. This translates to more than seven out of every 10 persons testing positive for the COVID-19 coronavirus. A person from the Guyana Power and Light tested positive. A person from the Ministry of Public Health has tested positive. Others who have tested positive and whose identities are unknown may have been working at other places.
All of these factors point to the need for government to be taking the present situation far more serious than it is. If three percent of the active cases result in deaths, it means that of the almost 1,000 active cases more than 33 of these persons are going to die.
Yesterday there were two more deaths, bringing the total deaths to 71. And while the majority of those dying recently were over 60, the fact is that at least three persons in their 20s have succumbed and a few in their 50s. This alone should suggest to the Minister that there is a need to protect not just those over 45 years of age and those with underlying illnesses such as cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and hypertension. The vulnerable age group does not start at 60 years in Guyana. It starts at 45.
The government is increasing testing in order to get a fuller picture of the extent of the spread of the virus. Unfortunately testing does not provide any protection. Testing merely confirms the incidence of the disease.
Social restrictions are the principal means of limiting the spread of the virus. But social restrictions are not being properly implemented. The government does not appear keen, however, in tightening social restrictions.
Outside of this, there are a few things which can be done. The first is a more nuanced regional strategy. The government promised this but is yet to do so. A regional strategy is one in which social restrictions can be tapered to suit the situation in each region. Region Nine, for example, reports that there are only a few dozen active cases. This would hardly be the grounds for shutting down non-essential businesses in that Region. However, given its proximity to Brazil, there will be a need to ensure that cross-border travel is prohibited.
The second advantage of regional strategies is that it makes implementation more effective. The regional authorities can take better charge of the situation, ensuring that the regulations governing the social restrictions are not violated.
The Regional Democratic Councils, the Town Councils and the Neighbourhood Democratic Councils can work more effectively with the police to ensure that the regulations relating to the curfew, the opening of certain types of business such as bars and nightclubs and the mandatory wearing of face masks are enforced.
The third advantage of region-specific strategies is that it would allow the regions to check on the vulnerable persons within their area and to make timelier interventions to protect these persons, ensure testing and early treatment in the case of those infected. The Minister of Health has admitted that, in many cases, the vulnerable who died sought medical attention much too late.
At the national level, persons who can work at home, especially those above the age of 45, should be asked to do so. This is a far better strategy than staff rotation.
There are other measures which can be implemented in conformity with the law. The lawful business hours are 8am to 4pm from Monday to Thursday and from up to 6pm on Friday and half day on Saturday with no work on Sunday. This should be the new norm.
The people are getting scared. They are becoming restless and they will take action if the government continues to operate as if the situation is not dire.
Unless social restrictions are implemented, the death toll will continue to climb. It is now averaging two persons per day. If nothing is done, it will increases to seven per day which will mean almost 500 more deaths by Christmas.
It could be you or someone you know. Is this what we want?
(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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