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Guyana shortens COVID-19 curfew to revive business activity, authorities to enforce measures

Left to right: Prime Minister Mark Phillips, Health Minister Dr. Frank Anthony, Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force Brigadier Gary Bess, Police Commissioner Hoppie, Director-General of the Civil Defence Commission Col. Kester Craig and Advisor to the Health Minister Dr. Leslie Ramsammy.

Prime Minister Mark Phillips on Thursday said government decided to reduce the curfew hours to help revive flagging business activity, even as he insisted that Operation COVICURB that will include the closure of businesses that breach the 9 PM curfew start.

“We want to achieve a curb in the spread of COVID-19. The reality people have to live. They have to get food, they have to get water, people want to go to work and we have to find the right balance. You’re aware because of COVID-19 a lot of people would have lost their jobs so people still have to have some form of economic activity going for them,” he told a news conference.

From October 1, the curfew will last from 9 PM to 4 AM instead of 6 PM to 6 AM. He stressed the importance of interaction with a mask as well as other measures would help to curb the spread of the virus.

Latest figures show that 82 of the 2,929 confirmed cases have died and 1,760 have recovered from the disease since the first case was detected in March. So far, 14,301 persons have been tested. Currently , 142 persons , including 14 in the Intensive Care Unit, are hospitalised and 931 are isolated at home.

Mr. Phillips noted that it was risky keeping Guyanese “hemmed in” from conducting business as that could result in “some form of protest, some form of rebellion against what we want to achieve.”

Health  Minister Dr. Frank Anthony added that a recent United Nations (UN) survey on Caribbean Food Security and Livelihoods Impact shows that COVID-19 has been hitting the economy and livelihoods hard. The figures show that six out of 10 persons experienced job loss or a decline in earnings by 65 percent. Almost two in three respondents reportedly said their livelihoods were impacted by movement restrictions and others said they did not eat for the day. “What we are trying to do is to have a balance between protecting lives and also livelihoods and that balance, we feel, that if we reduce the hours of curfew that people can be allowed to carry on with their economic activities but under the rules,” said Dr. Anthony.

No evidence was provided to show that reducing the duration of the curfew would not result in a further increase in the number of positive cases and deaths.

The Prime Minister appealed to Guyanese not to regard the new curfew hours as an opportunity to party because the coronavirus is deadly. “We have not reduced or relax the measures for anyone to go out and there and party and socialise and feel more relaxed. There is a simple reason why we did it – so people could conduct their activities whether it be work, the place of business, farming and get home to their families and get up early in the morning to start their activities again,” he said. He referred to fisherfolk and market vendors as examples of intended beneficiaries.

In  a stirring appeal to Guyana to observe measures such as social distancing, sanitising and wearing of face masks, he warned “if you want to stay alive now is the time to stop partying.”

The Health Minister said evidence shows that younger people, who are showing no symptoms of the disease, are taking home the virus  to their homes where older people are being infected and eventually die.

Chief-of-Staff of the Guyana Defence Force (GDF), Brigadier Godfrey Bess announced that 500 soldiers would be deployed to engage in moral suasion and soft communication strategies as part of a public education and awareness campaign to get people to comply with the measures.

On the hard side of enforcement, the Prime Minister cautioned business owners that they could face closure if they are warned a first time and caught a second time. “If there is a breach of the regulations by business places, they will be given a warning in the first instance. A second breach will result in closure of their businesses,” he said.  To back up government’s disease prevention efforts, he said Demerara Distillers Limited and the Doobay Medical Centre have procured one  million N95 masks.

The Health Minister said the National Public Health Reference Laboratory would soon get two PCR testing machines in addition to the receipt of a special piece of equipment on Thursday to help fast-track testing. He said the Georgetown Public Hospital now has a special infectious disease Intensive Care Unit has been established and was being equipped with more ventilators and machines to help critically ill persons.  Another 21 ventilators are expected later this month to be distributed to regional hospitals, in addition to the procurement of Ivermectin and 2,000 doses of Remdesivir for “more severe patients”.