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The COVID-19 pandemic is devastating in the context of negatively disrupting economic progress, obstructing socializing, sporting, recreational, educational, vacations, the functioning of the judiciary and many other activities and interactions. It is also negatively impacting on the mental health capacity of many persons and has resulted in resistance to confinement instituted to impact the spread of the virus. The prevailing pandemic environment is also being capitalised on as an obstacle to improving workers deserving conditions of service and remunerations and has seriously contributed to increases in the cost of living.
Here in Guyana, the overwhelming infectious and deadly environment has been compounded with the obvious effects of climate change in the form of excessive rainfall and massive flooding and various forms of devastations to many communities. With respect to the virus, in the main we have had to adopt the practices and precautions implemented by the developed countries, obviously because of our scientific limitations. Similarly, in terms of treatment, we have had to await the advancement of scientific processes of the develop countries for the discovery of some laboratory development to contain the spread of this virus from engulfing the nation and hopefully eventually to achieve herd immunity, ideally, to the ultimate resistance to the spread and containment of COVID 19.
From the inception of our awareness of this pandemic the GPSU was extremely active in sensitising its members about the seriousness of this development; enhancing its engagement with the administration for the protection and enlightenment of all frontline workers, making every effort to ensure their safety; being provided with PPEs and all other available means of protection so that they would be properly equipped to discharge their responsibilities in this campaign to reverse the devastation that was occurring by the pandemic.
Undoubtedly, a much more demanding contribution was required by these frontline workers who also had mental and economic consequences for them. Promises that were made and which created legitimate expectations of these most valuable resources to-date have not been fulfilled, but daily more demands are placed on them. As is easily recognizable, the infection rate and the death rate of COVID infected persons have constantly been increasing notwithstanding the administering or the inoculation of persons with vaccines that have been acquired. There is evidence that even persons who were administered both doses of those vaccines, that required you to have two doses subsequently contracted COVID-19 several of them died.
GPSU had communicated to the Government of Guyana, through Prime Minister (PM) Mark Phillips, who is the Head of the COVID Task Force, that since the escalation was ongoing that there was need for stricter measures and even suggested resuming the rotation and reviewing the curfew hours as aspects that could be considered warranted in implementing stricter measures.
The GPSU received an acknowledgement of its correspondence from the PM but no mention was made of the concerns expressed by the Union. A second correspondence was sent a reminder reiterating our concerns and urging that the Government’s approach be revisited. The response received from the PM was to request that the Union encourage all public servants to take the vaccine at the earliest opportunity. Again, there was no mention about the additional restrictive measures referred to by the Union.
However, there was an article in the Guyana Chronicle on the 22nd May, 2021 with the heading “No lockdown” and in the commencing statement “take the vaccine now or risk having to pay later” which the Union interrupted as a subtle form of response to the genuine and sincere concerns expressed about the safety of the Guyanese citizenry. We found the comments repulsive, irresponsible and an obvious absence of recognition of the Constitutional Rights of every citizen to be privileged to have equal treatment in the utilization of public funds.
Instructions were given to relevant union membership and personnel to comply and bring up to date certain data with respect to the impact of the COVID-19 in Guyana. This being done and taking into consideration other developments the Union decided to issue a press statement on this matter and to respond directly to the Prime Minister’s letter. The press statement was circulated, and I would just merely mention three aspects of it:
Guyana now holds a seat at the executive board at the World Health Organisation (WHO), this Executive Board comprise of 34 persons of which six seats are allocated to the Americas which includes Guyana and the Guyana representative on that board is the current Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, M.P.
2. That Guyana Public Service Union fully supports the procurement and distribution of WHO’s approved vaccines to the Guyanese public.
3. The GPSU supports the individual rights of Guyanese citizens to refuse medical treatment, including vaccines after making informed decisions.
A reply was also sent to the Prime Minister, expressing similar sentiments.