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Government to dole out COVID-19 relief to households, put “people back to work”

President Dr. Irfaan Ali

President Dr. Irfaan Ali on Saturday announced a GYD$4.5 billion COVID-19 household relief programme and high-tech laboratory equipment to increase testing of people for the coronavirus that has already killed more 20 people in Guyana.

“We have commenced work on securing immediately an initial sum of $4.5 billion as emergency response to help at the household level,” he told a packed National Cultural Centre in his inauguration address.

No details were provided about the household programme, but the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) had largely depended on the private sector and international assistance to provide some emergency relief. The 2020 National Budget has not been tabled in the House because of the prolonged political crisis that had stemmed from the March 2, 2020 general and regional elections.

He said government has “directed” the Governor of the Bank of Guyana to extend regulatory permission so as to allow for bankers to continue extending moratoriums. Earlier this year, the Central Bank had authorised delays in loans, including mortgages, and credit card repayments by individuals and small businesses. Government, he said, has also looked at adjusting the Reserve Requirement to allow the commercial banks to have more money and tying that adjustment with lower interest rates.

The President also announced that government was exploring ways of assisting the private sector to kick-start the economy and returning people to work.  “We have started to examine from a fiscal perspective what support we can give to the private sector and other groups all with the view of supporting a resumption of the economic activities and putting people back to work,” he said.

On where the money would come from to fund those COVID-19  operations,  the President indicated that government has already asked international agencies for funding. “We have reached out to several multilateral and bilateral sources with a view to urgently mobilise financial resources of the magnitude that is necessary to overcome the effects of this pandemic. I must say the response has been encouraging,” he said.

President Ali also announced that government would be acquiring several Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) machines to increase the number of daily tests. “We have accessed three PCR testing machines with two more being sourced, and plans are in motion to train persons, including persons from the hinterland areas, in the use of the PCR machines and rapid test kits,” he said.

He also announced that the Prime Minister of Barbados Mia Mottley, is sending us an additional 15,000 PCR test kits which are even now en route to Guyana, with another 10,000 PCR kits from PAHO and a commitment to supply an additional 40,000 PCR kits

The President said since taking office in just one week, we have mobilized and received 46,000 rapid antibody-test kits, Personal Protection Equipment, approximately 240,000 surgical masks, and face shields, gowns and other urgently needed supplies.

“That is why, as President, I will personally and urgently participate in my Government’s programme to stop infection by the coronavirus, curb its spread, and safeguard the health of our nation,” he said.

Health Minister, Dr. Frank Anthony recently said the aim is to get the National Reference Laboratory to increasing its testing capacity from 50 to 60 tests in 24 hours to 300 tests in 24 hours.

Based on a rapid assessment, Dr. Ali said a structure named the COVID-19 Response Unit would be established to “tackle the virus as effectively as possible.” He said the unit would include government policymakers, represented by the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, and regional and international partners such as the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). “The Unit will be guided by a collaborative policy to address medical responses and to create a COVID-19 impact socio-economic plan for our people,” he said.