Where is promised consultation on COVID-19?

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In a 30th December 2020 Department of Public information’s release Minister of Health Dr. Frank Anthony was quoted saying “the Government will not force anyone to take the COVID-19 vaccine when it becomes available.” In August 2021, the situation changed. The government last week announced measures making it mandatory for persons to have vaccines and restricted entry to government agencies for those who are not vaccinated. Private businesses are also requested not to allow unvaccinated persons on their premises.

The new restrictions have created unease in society. Some, including trade unions and the opposition, A Partnership for National Unity and Alliance for Change (APNU+AFC), have come out against the mandatory rules, citing that such violate the law and transgress the right of persons to choose. The minibus and hire cars are also required under the new rule to be vaccinated.

There is no denying the new restrictions will cause more political angst and divisions in a society that can ill-afford more infighting. The government also has to take cognisance of the fact they could have handled the situation better. First, they promised that any change in immunization would have to follow law and “consultations will be held with the relevant stakeholders.”

Where is the promised consultation on COVID-19? The Main Opposition said they have not been involved in any consultation on COVID-19 nor are they part of the National Task Force. If it may have escaped the government’s attention the APNU+AFC has the support of half the electorate and should have been consulted. The trade union is also a major social force representing workers, who are part of families and could have played a role in any consultation process. This has evidently not happened.

The Guyana Trades Union Congress, the Guyana Teachers Union, and the Guyana Public Service Union have issued statements condemning the vaccination mandate on the grounds that it is unlawful and transgressing the right of workers to choose whether they would have the vaccine or not. The United Mini-bus Union (UMU) last Thursday took a unanimous decision to protest the imposition of the COVID-19 vaccine requirement on minibus operators.

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Courts has since issued a public notice that it will not prevent unvaccinated customers or potential buyers from visiting its stores but will continue to observe COVID-19 protocols. It would not be unusual if other businesses follow suit. Businesses are driven by money, and it would be interesting whether they will comply with the new measures, when many are operating at 40 or 50 percent capacity.

The other issue is vaccine hesitancy which has many layers to it. Some of this hesitancy could have been reduced or eliminated were consultation valued. Fear about potential side effects of the vaccine, the delayed second dose for Sputnik V which is yet to be approved by the World Health Organisation, and what some think is production has been fast tracked are real. These are concerns consultation would have been able to add different perspectives and help to address.

This publication has repeatedly called for a more inclusive approach in managing the pandemic. We still feel that consultation with stakeholders, including the political opposition trade union, religious society and others, would help to defuse the tension and concerns.  It is not too late for the government to rethink its go-it-alone strategy and the adverse impact it is having on society.



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