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OPINION: COVID-19: I am still listening for that central, commanding, and coordinating voice

Last Updated on Sunday, 29 March 2020, 22:23 by Writer

By GHK Lall

Right upfront I say that the only thing that matters to me currently is our preparations, our readiness, and our precautions taken in response to the presence of COVID-19 in this country. There is nothing else to me that rises close to this interest and concern, and is born from recognition of what we have, and what we lack. The other things, from my perspective are a damn joke, a long running one. Now, I am still to detect the one leading voice and lead figure taking charge of the situation and pointing the way forward in a commanding manner; or, at least, that which could be summoned, present circumstances considered. It is not there.

I acknowledge the places and protections taken, both in public and private sectors by senior people. I commend the early constructive steps implemented. To name a few, there is the GRA, the Ministry of Education, the commercial banks, and others; again, I applaud. But I would like to see one—one very senior health—official be the constant presence: providing updates (even when there is nothing, which is good news, say something); expanding on available details about preparatory efforts; sharing information on resources in hand; and furnishing some more about what is on the way. Give the impression of being in charge and leading the way forward authoritatively. That single presence and voice is just not there. I open the papers and there is a hodgepodge of voices usually imparting the not far from vague, and what is less than reassuring.

Politics aside, I would prefer to hear and read of the responsible minister taking the helm and delivering accurate pictures of where things stand. Of course, the professional medical people should be at the side to assist, as required. What I have heard or read is nowhere near what should be. I learn that PAHO is rendering a hand with test kits, which is encouraging. But I believe that we have a sturdy commercial relationship with China. Why do we not have thousands of these things ordered two to three weeks ago and air dashed here? My understanding is that they cost a handful of US dollars. Let us move to get more of them here and now.

I also understand that neighboring Trinidad and Tobago placed an emergency order for the supply of test kits from China two Mondays ago, and had them in hand by the Friday of that same week. What about us here? What have we done along those lines? This is not hindsight or second guessing, but calling things as they are, and asking why? Let us put the relationship with China to the test: order test kits—and whatever else—and get them here on an express basis.

Further, I read late last week of two warnings from high-level political figures: one concerned bar closings, the other was in relation to a possible lockdown being considered. I shake my head vigorously and negatively: get with the program, folks. Get real! In the circumstances it is better to overact early than to react too late. Make a hard decision and save lives. Do the deed and do it now. I am unable to appreciate the sloth, almost casual reactions in some quarters and at very high levels. I believe that the politics take priority, as usual. The kindest thing that I can say about our official (state) reaction is that it has been sporadic, a day late, and not possessive of the confidence building.

The lesson of Italy reinforces this lethal lesson: too lackadaisical, too little, too late. In New Rochelle, New York, a swanky enclave in tiny Westchester, the draconian decision was made early to quarantine specific swaths of that village. Some citizens howled but settled down. Today, there is careful talking and guarded optimism that speak to “flattening of the curve.” That is, the peak may—may—have been reached and passed. Clearly, the most effective countermeasure is quarantine, and if that is too big and too foreign to comprehend, then I offer lockdown for concerning spots, be they bars, or Gecom, or the other places where Guyanese foolishness runs rampant in what is obviously a wayward and backward society.

As I write this, I am aware that in some states of the now hardest hit United States, the National Guard has been mobilized and dispatched. While that may be part of our deep contingency in a widening crisis, our nearest local equivalent, which is the GDF, will have to be put on the front lines of this effort, since the police is so worryingly strapped for manpower. Now this brings me to a rough place. I would hope that we have protective gear—something—to give to them, and not send them out unshielded into the fight.

Until this time, I have refrained from taking a sharp swing at the uncoordinated places where I sense we are positioned to partake in this war. And it is a war, one that is undeclared, operates in guerilla fashion, and doesn’t observe any conventions. Without going to the deep end of paranoia, our close circle could be the leading carriers of this plague. The antidote is distancing, which has been shown to work in other places. Despite a record of being the most slavish subjects of cultural imperialism, on this healthiest of recommendations we pass by distancing from it, even objecting to it.

In Italy, it was reported that the dead keep coming all day long. Our systems are fragile; our preparations and coordination and leadership beg many questions. We had better overcompensate and do so yesterday.

Mr GHK Lall is a Guyanese author, columnist and former financial analyst on Wall Street.