LOCK-DOWN AND LICK-DOWN
During February, as we were winding down government business before the March 2 general and regional elections, President Granger invited the Minister of Public Health to brief Cabinet on preparations in place to deal with any outbreak in Guyana of the coronavirus disease.
The team of presenters included the indefatigable Dr. William Adu Krow, the PAHO/WHO representative in Guyana, and from whom we were for the first time being lectured on this new or novel coronavirus, styled COVID-19, which by then had claimed thousand of lives in Wuhan, China.
By then Guyana there was in place a Health Emergency Operation Centre (HEOC), a technical medical outfit that had designated a 14-bed building at the Georgetown Public Hospital for admission of Covid-19 cases.
(Later, when the Task Force was established a National Emergency Operation Centre (NEOC) was set up to, for example, to distribute sanitary, personal protection and relief packages).
Then came the tragic death on March 11 of a women from the coronavirus disease, and a red flag went up in Guyana that we have been added to the deadly danger zone.
Termed “ground zero”, that first casualty was an imported case from the United States where the Guyana-born woman and her family were living, and from where by then we had large numbers of Guyanese who returned for the Golden Republic anniversary celebrations and the follow-up General and Regional elections. There were also inflows of foreign nationals from Cuba, Brazil and Venezuela.
We had unwittingly imported many potential carriers who had come into contact with many home-based Guyanese nationals.
Within a week, Guyana closed her airspace and locked down her borders with neighbouring countries. The last international flights from North America and Europe arrived by mid-night on March 18.
The university campuses and schools were on a shut-down. Children were confined to the safety of their homes and within their yard. Government employees were placed on duty on a rotation basis, without loss of pay. Banks and other financial institutions restricted working hours, and businesses were given concessions to buy essential goods.
But life on the streets continued unabated. The markets, bus parks and bars remained crowded.
By then, we were witnessing the devastation in other countries. India imposed a lock-down and in an effort to enforce the curfew in crowded cities, police adopted an innovative campaign. They used bamboo sticks to lick down commuters on foot and on cycles who were on the streets after curfew hours.
Without having to over-populate already crowded prisons, the police gave curfew-breakers a sound trashing; held some by their ears and walked them across prohibited areas, and subjected other violators to squatting in circles and doing sit-ups.
Those measures had seemed harsh and cruel, but they worked in India. But at home, many of our people took a casual or cavalier view of the estimated 90 Advisories that were issued by both government and non-government organisations with simple and clear messages: stay at home; wash your hands!
Now, in order to deal with this “don’t-care-a-damn” attitude Volda Lawrence, the Minister of Public Health, has issued a menu of new measures – including a 6 pm to 6 am curfew – to keep people off the road.
These measures are driven primarily by concerns for public health and safety, and aim at curbing clustering of persons in all public places. They are not intended to curtail essential services or disrupt regular economic activities such as in the sugar, rice, bauxite, forestry, mining and petroleum sectors. They are not intended to restrict telecommunication, internet/telephone and media functions. These activities, including production and manufacturing enterprises, should conform to social distancing and personal protection requirements.
These measures, especially the curfew, have been applauded by the widest cross section of the Guyanese people. They would face hardships and even detriments, but they are determined to support these measures in the interest of protecting and saving lives.
These measures have been welcomed by Guyanese living in the United States of America, especially in the Borough of Queens, where the casualty rate is spinning out of control.
The fear is real, but the threat could be defeated if all of us cooperate for the safety of our Guyanese people.
It is for this reason that my column this week reproduces aspects of the COVID-19 Orders which took effect from yesterday and will remain in force until May 1.
Social activities that encourage clustering and attract person-to-person contact and possibly infection, are forbidden. These events include a private party; a recreational or competitive sporting event; a wedding, other than the bride, the bridegroom, official witnesses and the marriage officer; a banquet, ball or reception; a bar or rum shop; the seawall; a pool, creek or river; a wake or vigil; a gym; a beauty salon or spa; a club or discotheque; a meeting of a fraternal society, private or social club or civic association or organization.
Persons will not be allowed visits to –
(a) any place of quarantine or an isolation facility;
(b) a prison or correctional facility;
(c) a patient in a hospital, nursing home, senior citizens’ home or any other care facility.
All churches and places of religious worship including mosques and temples shall be closed.
CURFEW AND DAYTIME BUSINESS
A curfew is hereby imposed throughout Guyana from the 3rd April, 2020 to 3rd May, 2020 between the hours of 6:00pm and 6:00am.
However the following services may be open between 6:00 am to 5:00 pm-
(b) markets, supermarkets, fruits and vegetable stalls and neighbourhood shops;
(c) food services and restaurants only for delivery, drive thru and take away services;
(d) gas stations.
These include functions and services by journalists and the media, and telecommunication, internet, call centres and telephone agencies, though not listed as essential services but may be the subject of a variation of the Order.
Taxis, mini-buses, speedboats and aircraft are limited to one-half their authorised number of passengers. During any trip the operators and passengers have to wear masks.
These are not all the measures, but they suffice to show that stringent action is needed in this situation, and have been taken.