By Pat Dial
Kaieteur News – It has become necessary for us to revisit the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic in Guyana. The pandemic first attacked Guyana over a year ago and the country was fortunate to have had Dr. Frank Anthony, the Honourable Minister of Health, personally taking charge of operations against it. Dr. Anthony immediately began to establish the infrastructure necessary to meet the pandemic on its march. These included, equipping a special hospital to treat Covid patients; increasing the number of hospital beds for Covid patients; ensuring oxygen supplies; testing kits; educating the public about the pandemic and the precautions to be taken against the virus; fully extending the same quality of service provided by the best institutions on the coastal to the interior regions; establishing farsighted bilateral and multilateral contacts so as to facilitate the exchange of information and to secure the adequate supply of vaccines; the establishment of a countrywide vaccination regime which has, at the time of writing this article, administered 70,000 vaccinations and will be moving in an increasing crescendo as vaccines are procured from abroad and of course, the tightrope walking process of imposing the lockdown. Dr. Anthony and his team’s management of the pandemic compares with the best worldwide and has been so successful that the population tended to become relaxed and drop their guard and began to behave as if normality was about to return.
This attitude of confident complacency was at variance with the warnings and advice constantly being issued by the Covid Taskforce. The realism of the advice became apparent when at the beginning of March, there was a spike in the pandemic and the infection and the death rates rose to very uncomfortable levels. The leaders of the society including President, Irfaan Ali, himself appealed to the population to take safety measures to protect themselves and pointed out the seriousness of the situation and the immanency of the infection and the suddenness with which death could strike. This message, which had now been internalised in developed countries, has now resulted in citizens being more careful to protect themselves and the curve very gradually is beginning to flatten.
In Guyana, the message is gradually beginning to be internalised and the police have begun to take action against persons infringing the safety precautions, such as ignoring the curfew or not maintaining social distancing. The understanding that death could strike anyone at any time irrespective of age, social standing, race, religion or profession is a sobering realisation. Dr. Anthony and his team are doing their part; if the public does its part, Guyana would be able to tame the pandemic, achieve normalcy and enter into the realm of quick social and economic development, which the oil revenues promise.
Among the measures taken in all countries to curb the pandemic is the lockdown of economic life to prevent the conglomeration of large numbers of people where the virus could be transmitted with great ease. The lockdowns have devastated all economies and have resulted in much poverty and suffering though they have saved millions of lives. As against the lockdowns, there is a body of opinion, which advocates that economies be allowed to function and that the pandemic should be allowed to run its course though it may be responsible for much loss of life. They point out to the experience of past pandemics where society was able to recover after the frightening loss of life. The ‘Spanish Flu,’ for example, killed at least 10 million persons worldwide but economies slowly began to recover after it had receded. Fortunately, governments worldwide have chosen the way of the lockdowns since no one knows for how long the pandemic will persist, or the devastation it would cause to humans. In the Middle Ages, the Black Death or Bubonic Plague, persisted for several years and killed at least half of the population of Western Europe.
Another issue, which has arisen because of the pandemic, is the production of effective vaccines. The normal vaccine takes about five to 10 years of research and trials before Regulators would give it a full clearance to be placed on the market. Now, driven by the urgency of the situation, they have been giving temporary clearances, which have caused some uncertainty in the public. Scientists in several countries have been feverishly working on the production of vaccines. After a year, China has come up with four, United States with three, Europe with three, Russia with two and India with one. These vaccines have been evaluated at various levels of efficacy but they all could be used with some positive effect. Vaccine production is multinational business and though a vaccine may have been formulated in one country, its main production line may be in another country. Astra Zeneca, for example, is an English made vaccine but India produces a large part of its total production. There is a worldwide shortage of vaccines and richer countries have been buying up available supplies leaving poorer countries on the waiting list. In Guyana, Dr. Anthony’s Covid Unit has been able to secure Astra Zeneca produced in India, Sputnik V from Russia and Sino harm from China.
Before we end this offering, it is apposite that we reiterate the basic safety measures which citizens must take to protect themselves: Masks must cover nostrils, mouth and chin and must be worn everywhere; hands must be frequently washed and sterilised with alcohol or an alcohol based steriliser; social distancing of at least 6 feet between persons; greetings done by touching elbows and never hand shaking; avoidance of places where there may be large congregations of people such as bars, funerals and political party gatherings.
If persons strictly conform to the safety prescriptions and seek immediate medical help if affected by any of the suspected symptoms of Covid, they would be able to protect their health and lives and the country would emerge from the pandemic and embark upon the social and economic development, which the new oil revenues offer. Guyana is one of the few countries in the world, which would be quickly recovering economic wellbeing largely owing to the flow of oil revenues.
(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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