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Lack of manpower, difficult terrain pose challenge to Region 9’s COVID-19 fight

by Samuel Sukhnandan

Lethem Hospital

A lack of manpower and the difficult terrain in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo) is posing a major challenge for regional officials to fight the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

This is according to Regional Executive Officer (REO) Carl Parker who heads the COVID-19 Task Force in that region.

Mr. Parker told News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online on Thursday that a plan is now being drafted that will take into consideration several of these challenges with the aim of addressing them headon.

“Everyday you’re telling people about COVID-19 and what they have to do, but still the cases are increasing…so something is not meshing,” he explained.

Region Nine, which shares a border with neighbouring Brazil, currently has 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

With no mass testing yet in that region, Parker said this is limited to persons who have shown signs and symptoms related to COVID-19, and persons who may have come into contact with an infected individual.

“If you come into contact, we test you. And if you are negative, you get to go home and if not, you are quarantined. We just can’t test everybody here.”

Regional Executive Officer of Region Nine, Karl Parker

At present, the regional task force is being fed “general” information about possible infections, large gatherings and other challenges. However, the new plan being drafted will look at developing a more robust approach to information gathering in specific villages.

That, he said, will inform the regional administration of areas that need more attention and they can therefore act to have cases contained.

The REO firmly believes that there is also a dire need for a public education awareness campaign, that could reach residents and toashaos in far-flung villages aside from the mining town of Lethem.

“We have to examine everything and come up with an action plan early next week and submit that to the National Task Force for approval and guidance,” he added. A timeline for the implementation was not given.

Meanwhile, in admitting that there is need for more manpower to enforce the restrictions placed on villagers as a result of the nationwide curfew, Parker said this could only happen through a coordinated approach where everybody gets on board.

With the escalating number of COVID-19 cases in the neighbouring country, Parker said some villagers are “deeply afraid” but then there are others who continue to gather in large groups at creeks and rivers, and in other cases some host parties.

Asked if the border patrol has increased at the Guyana border since COVID-19, Parker noted that while there is a more visible presence of security officials, this is never enough because the borders separating the two countries remain porous to date.

“There is police, army and even village presence, but you have to understand that it is a very large border and it’s impossible to police it…People are still crossing,” he added.

While a majority of the focus is being placed on the town, the REO said the regional administration has little information on what’s taking place in other areas, especially in the Rupununi.

“We don’t have the manpower to monitor the situation in those areas as much as we do Lethem…It could be frustrating at times that is why we want to ensure that the correct information gets out there.”

The region has adopted the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols set out by the National Task Force, and plans to ensure that these measures are being enforced in every village.

The Iwokrama International Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development recently warned that vehicles caught moving illegal persons through the concession would be banned for three months and permanently if they repeat the offence.

Reports are that the Lethem Hospital has only one ventilator.