POLITICISING THE PANDEMIC
From the outset, I had urged that there should be no politicising of the coronavirus pandemic in Guyana, at least not from me and the ministerial group that form the nucleus of a national task force.
The task force initially crafted policy guidelines and a national response plan following the death of the first confirmed case last month. What followed has altered the customary way of life of our people, who now have to live with a bundle of restrictions.
These measures were codified in Orders that have been authorised by the President, and under which extraordinary powers have been assigned to frontline ministers with responsibility mainly for finance, public health and public security.
The National Coronavirus Task Force (NCTF), of which I am the Chairman, has an over-riding supervisory role to oversee compliance, implement and, as the case may be, to alter these measures.
The fight against the virus is an all-of-government, all-of-society task. Unfortunately, this has to happen within the context of a charged political environment.
I am fully aware of the decisions of Guyana’s courts of law regarding a national recount of all ballots cast in the March 2 elections. I am aware also, of the constitutional role of the Guyana Elections Commission (GECOM) to supervise and control all processes of these elections.
But the recount will take place during a pandemic when there are in effect restrictive emergency measures, similar to those in all other countries that are battling Covid-19.
MENU OF MEASURES
Among the gazette menu of measures, we have in place a closure of our air space to incoming international flights, shut-down of our borders, a dusk to dawn curfew, protocols for quarantining of persons, guidelines for clustering and social distancing.
Having made a decision that the recount would be done at a public venue, to wit, the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, it should be common sense that, as a constitutional agency, GECOM would ascertain whether arrangements for the recount would conform to the Executive Orders.
We may have our diverse and differing political views on the no-confidence motion, the incomplete electoral processes and, even, our preferences as to the outcomes. But one thing ought to be absolutely clear: there is established under our Constitution a President of the Co-operative Republic of Guyana, “who shall be Head of State, the supreme executive authority, and Commander-in-Chief of the armed forces of the Republic”. In the present circumstances where the Constitution is the supreme law, this dispensation remains immutable and non-negotiable.
So, it should surprise no law-abiding citizen that GECOM’S Chairman, Madam Claudette Singh, a retired Justice of Appeal, should request the NCTF to seek guidance regarding:-
(a) time at which the daily recount exercise should end;
(b) number of persons who should be safely accommodated at the recount venue at the same time; and
(c) required protocols for quarantining persons coming from abroad, and who were invited to be part of the recount process.
Yesterday, I provided the Chairman of GECOM with the advice of the task force, as follows:-
- That GECOM adjusts its desired 10-hour work schedule within the daily 6am to 5pm (06:00hr to 17:00hrs) time-frame, and does not extend it into the curfew period (18:00hrs to 06:00hrs).
- That all persons who are permitted special entry into Guyana during this period when our air space is closed to in-bound passengers, must submit themselves to being quarantined at a government institution for a period of 14 days.
- That GECOM allows four technical experts of the Public Health Emergency Operations Centre (PHEOC) to conduct a site visit to assess whether distancing arrangements conform to the pandemic guidelines and the published Order.
Without seeking to grab the limelight as some opportunistic politicians have been doing by handing out face masks as cheap publicity stunts, the task force has been daily dealing simultaneously with a wide range of issues. It monitors the efforts at the critical medical-technical front; follows security enforcement of traffic, curfew and other containment measures; coordinates mobilisation for and distribution of social care assistance; consolidates recommendations for fiscal or social impact measures, processes requests for non-commercial repatriation flights, etc..
We have kept our hands on the pulse of what’s happening in the society to ensure that there is a balance between social restrictions and the need to keep the economy open. This requires a constant review of measures to give space for continuation of production and distribution of supplies, and to facilitate the uninterrupted delivery of a wider range of essential services.
The latest addition to the list of essential service providers are Attorneys-at-Law, my erstwhile colleagues, who invariably venture out late at night to road-blocks, lock-ups and even quarantine centres in dedicated furtherance of the Rule of Law.
SPIKE IN CASES
This pandemic will be with us, whether we like it or not, for quite a while longer. We are experiencing a spike in the confirmed cases, the epi-centre being Georgetown. The efforts must continue to restrict clusters at the markets and in shops, in lines at banks and money transfer branches, and inside road and river transport facilities. Social distancing must be translated to mean physical distancing.
We are witnessing the death toll around us, close to 160,000; with over 2,300,000 confirmed cases worldwide. Life is complicated as it is, as almost daily we extend compassion to those who are infected and to those who have lost loved ones, especially in the diaspora.
It would be cruel, on top of this, for us to spin dirty politics around pandemic issues in selfish pursuit of narrow partisan ends.