The COVID-19 dashboard yesterday recorded cases in each of the Administrative Regions. However, it is likely that the 497 tests done may have been done over a two-day period. With all the problems which the government is having with testing, it is not likely that it could have done 497 tests in any one day.
The results therefore may have represented tests done over a two-day period. Despite this, it is extremely alarming that 96 positive cases were recorded in Region Four, the Region with more than 40 percent of the country’s population and the Region which now dwarfs all other Regions in terms of active cases.
The increase in cases in Region Four can, by themselves, cause the entire health system to crash. It is now more than possible that within the next few weeks, an additional 45 persons are likely to die. This would represent five percent of the total cases.
The government seems unperturbed by the steep rise in cases or the staggering number of deaths. In fact, it seems so unbothered by the situation that it can announced the most inexplicable decision: that rotation of government workers will soon cease and that all government workers are required to report for work. In typical administrative confusion, along the trademark of administrations in which there is a dominant micro-manager, the announcement did not emanate from the Public Service Ministry but from a junior Minister in the Office of the President.
The person making the announcement said that the public was demanding services in the normal way. Well, he did not state what services the Office of the President provides to the public that would require them to demand these services in the normal way.
The end of staff rotation amounts to reckless endangerment. At a time of heightened institutional spread of the virus, to ask for a full complement of workers to be on the job, is to court further danger. Instead of being able to increase the services to the people, a situation is likely to arise in which government offices will have to be completely closed and their entire workforces quarantined because some infected person reported for work. This will defeat the very purpose of having all staff return to work in the public service.
The government lacks necessary appreciation of the benefits of virtual work. Long before the pandemic began, companies around the world had found that there was higher productivity and greater worker satisfaction when workers worked from home. Work- life balance was also improved since workers were able to spend more time at home. They were less stressed and therefore able to work more efficiently.
From the perspective of the employers, virtual work reduced administrative and overhead costs, including having to rent buildings. Employers no longer had to find office space, furniture or office supplies for staff. Savings in utilities and other costs, including reduced overtime, also were some of the additional benefits associated with virtual work.
The pandemic therefore allows for government to derive considerable savings by having persons work from home by providing more government services online. The world is moving in one direction, but the government of Guyana is moving in the opposite direction.
As the number of COVID-19 cases skyrockets, and as institutional spread of infections increases, the government should have been attempting to reduce the number of persons working at any one time in its workplaces. The private sector should have been doing the same. The first priority should have been to have the vulnerable persons – the elderly and those with underlying conditions – work from home.
But this is not happening. All staff who are capable of working from home should have been doing so. But this too has been prohibited by the existing regulations.
What we therefore have is a recipe for disaster. The government is somehow divorced from reality. It does not seem to realize that the longer it takes to contain the spread of infections, the more uncontrollable the situation will become.
The situation is already uncontrollable. And a vaccine is not likely now to reach Guyana until next March. This is another six months away. With the rising number of deaths, by the time March 2021 comes, Guyana is likely to have around 20,000 infections with more than 1,200 dead.
This at one time was predicted by one of the models which was developed. It was said if nothing was done, the country could have as many as 20,000 cases and 1,200 deaths. With these numbers now a real possibility, the inevitable conclusion to be drawn is that what the government is doing amounts to nothing.
(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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