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Last year on this day, March 11, news reached the public that Guyana has its first confirmed case of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, which was declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation in December 2019. The virus claimed the life of a 52-year-old woman who had travelled to Guyana from New York. Looking back, though there were the initial fears, given the unknown and what was happening to loved ones particularly in New York, strides were made.
The silly partisan politics aside, which sought to stymie progress and arguably contributed to more casualties in the process, cannot ignore the then A Partnership of National Unity + Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC) coalition government hit the ground running. Then Minister of Public Health Volda Lawrence buckled down to dealing with the health crisis. The coalition formed a National Coronavirus Disease Task Force (NCTF) where policy direction was spearheaded by then Prime Minister Moses Nagamootoo. Director General of the Ministry of the Presidency, Joseph Harmon, was appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Task Force Secretariat.
Daily updates were given by the Ministry of Public Health on infections, quarantine, hospitalisation, education and the importance of sticking to COVID-19 guidelines to mitigate spread. There were checkpoints across the country to monitor temperature which was a first indicator of infection with the virus. Minister Lawrence took a hands-on approach and pleas such as “My brothers and sisters, COVID-19 is real, and it’s a killer. The only way you can protect yourself and save your life is to stay home. Just stay home!” resonated.
Due to the ‘cavalier attitude’ by some the APNU+AFC government instituted a partial lock down in April with travel and social restrictions and curfew. The lockdown was extended as infections and deaths climbed, and Guyanese would have been at risk with arrivals from abroad, particularly from North America and Europe whose numbers were moving in the wrong direction. The travel lockdown was lifted in October, but some social restrictions and curfew are still in place.
The APNU+AFC government was successful in having the month-long Recount Exercise conducted by putting in place measures conforming to COVID-19 guidelines at the Arthur Chung Conference Centre, that hosted hundreds but resulted in no known infection or casualty. On July 31, a COVID-19 hospital was opened at a cost of $1.9 Billion. It was considered a major achievement and Minister Lawrence was reported to have said the new facility indicates a change in trajectory of how Guyana will address outbreaks, epidemics and pandemics.
On August 2, the government changed and the People’s Progressive Party/Civic (PPP/C) was sworn in. As at July 31 there were 413 cases and 40 deaths. The PPP/C took over the management of COVID-19 and instituted new policy, which included isolating others, particularly its political rival, in mitigating the spread. One year after (March 10) Guyana has recorded 8928 cases and 205 deaths!
Thankfully, last December news broke that the first COVID-19 vaccine was authorised for use by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the world rejoiced. Last month Guyana received its first batch, thanks to a donation from the Government of Barbados. Since then other sourcing has been had and the government has started vaccinating frontline workers and the elderly, with the next group being Members of the National Assembly.
COVID-19 is still present in Guyana and around the world. Whilst a vaccine could prevent contracting the virus and minimise symptoms should the virus be contracted; the vaccine is not a cure. Guyanese must still observe all the guidelines to prevent contracting and spreading the virus but there is no denying a vaccine allows for a sigh of relief and restoring life as once known.