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Special supplement, one year since the first COVID-19 case in Guyana

COVID-19 allowed for ‘shake up’ of education system ‘Every time I see a mother die Business ‘grows’ for from corona, I think about mine’ farmers during pandemic -- son of Guyana’s first COVID-19 victim





ust over one year ago, Guyana was met with its very first case of the novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19). Up to that time, our country had observed, with much anxiety and concern, as the virus rapidly spread throughout other parts of the world, taking with it, hundreds of thousands- and what would later become millions- of lives. When our own country was hit with the stark reality of what would be our new norm, we had no choice but to adapt quickly to the astronomical changes that would follow. Swift action by our Government was required to implement stringent protocols and initiatives that would help to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. In August 2020, when our People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) Administration took office, no time was spared in tackling this deadly disease- as the health, wellbeing and survival of our Guyanese

people were paramount. A major focus was bringing relief to our people. COVID-19 had disrupted not only people’s health and well being, but also affected their economic and personal lives- jobs were lost, incomes were reduced and our people were left in a state of gross uncertainty as to how they would earn, and in many cases, what they would eat. Cognisant of the need for relief in these areas, our Government introduced a $25,000 cash grant intended to be distributed to every household in Guyana and aimed at supporting families to fill the gap of expenses that had been so suddenly created by the effects of the pandemic. This grant- which was widely applauded and well received by our citizens- was just one among several COVID-19 relief measures aimed at providing immediate relief. This cash grant went hand in hand with ongoing works by the Guyana Civil Defence Commission (CDC) to distribute relief hampers as part

of our Government’s efforts to tackle the Coronavirus by encouraging persons to stay at home. The hampers consisted of food and cleaning essentials and were distributed to vulnerable communities across the country. Our Government also launched ‘Operation CoviCurb’, a massive education campaign aimed at implementing strict adherence to COVID-19 preventative protocols, thereby encouraging the reduction of the spread of the disease through education, clear communication and moral suasion. Operation CoviCurb involved over 5,000 persons across multiple sectors and agencies including members of the joint services and volunteers. A hotline was established to encourage anonymous reporting of persons not adhering to protocols put in place. The Guyana Defence Force (GDF) also played its part in the initiative by ensuring the proper wearing of masks in public, the practice of social distancing, and the compliPrime Minister Brigadier (ret’d), Mark Phillips

ance of citizens with social restrictions and the curfew. In the bigger picture, we devised a two-phased approach in battling COVID-19. Phase One sought to build the capacity of health care facilities to deal with the spread, care and treatment of persons who contracted COVID-19. Phase Two looked at vaccination and that phase began in February 2021, following the arrival of COVID-19 vaccines through a generous donation from our CARICOM sister-state Barbados. Those vaccines were reserved for our frontline workers who face the brunt of the risk every day against the disease. Most recently, an additional 80,000 vaccines arrived in Guyana from India and once all frontline workers have been given the chance to receive these vaccines, the elderly, members of the Joint Services and teachers will be

next in line. Of course, we acknowledge that there remains wide skepticism about these vaccines; skepticism that goes far beyond the shores of Guyana. However, the fact remains that the threat posed by COVID-19 remains significant and very real, but as a country, we can take the necessary steps to protect our people by encouraging them to take the vaccines, which, according to global data, have proven to be effective against the dominant strains of the virus. Our Government remains committed to also working with the private sector to ensure that our people can resume working in a safe environment, and precautionary measures such as the vaccines can help us to get there. We hope that in time, with more persons vaccinated, that the restrictions cur-

rently imposed will gradually be lifted and we can move on to living lives that are as close to the normalcy that we remembered. To date, the measures implemented have all played an important role in ensuring that we protect our citizens. And while, despite our utmost effortsincluding amped up testing countrywide to ensure that we are aware of the true extent of the virus- we still lost over 200 lives to the disease. Our Government remains committed to continuing the implementation of rapid response and prevention measures countrywide, and encourages our citizens, to not only remain safe, but also to remain resilient and consider the best options that will guarantee them a long and healthy life in the future.

Government’s COVID-19 interventions in brief 1. $25,000 COVID-19 relief cash grant for each household 2. $750 million to support rolling out of COVID-19 vaccines 3. $51 million in grants from Small Business Bureau (SBB) 4. $20 billion in annualised benefits from 2020 Emergency Budget measures 5. $60 billion in annualised benefits from 2021 National Budget measures 6. $80 million in 2021 Budget for the training of women 7. Multimillion-dollar COVID-19 relief fund for Amerindian villages 8. Intensified procurement of Personal and Protective Equipment (PPEs) & COVID tests 9. Countrywide distribution of education booklets 10. Easing travel restrictions to ‘breathe life’ into tourism sector



‘Deep South’ Rupununi COVID-free

–– as local measures ‘mask’ communities from deadly virus By Vishani Ragobeer


T is just after the crack of dawn on Monday m o r n i n g . D o ro t h y James, an elderly guest house proprietor in the indigenous community of Aishalton, is busy preparing breakfast. For her guests, she prepares a jug of juice using fresh oranges that she grew in her garden. In the background, just before the six o’clock news airs, a radio drama on COVID-19 plays on James’ solar-powered radio. The drama encourages persons to wear their face masks, constantly wash their hands and maintain an appropriate social distance to safeguard against contracting the novel coronavirus. Aishalton is located in the ‘Deep South’ area of the Rupununi, located in Region Nine (Upper Takutu-Upper Essequibo). It is one of the 21 communities located in the Wapichan territory. And in Aishalton, and the Deep South Rupununi at large, the residents are cognisant of

to monitor and record travel into and out of Aishalton, allowing the village council to engage in its own contact

prohibited interaction between the miners and the villagers. Beyond just erecting the gate, though, Thomas and other

Renata James, a resident of Aishalton, who served as a monitor at the gate erected at the front of the community (Vishani Ragobeer photo)

Public Relations Officer (PRO) of the SRDC, Immaculata Casimero, shows some of the messages the Council crafted to distribute to the villages so that the villagers would be able to understand the dynamics of COVID-19 (Vishani Ragobeer photo)

A gate and COVID-19 checkpoint constructed at the front of the community of Saurab, which is the gateway to the ‘Deep South’ (Vishani Ragobeer photo)

the measures needed to safeguard against contracting the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes the disease, COVID-19. It is the adherence to these measures that, perhaps, prevented the area from recording a single case of COVID-19 in the year since the virus has spread to Guyana. “For us in the village we acted quickly when the pandemic first came to Guyana. What we did first, on the 28th of March, was that we erected a gate quickly,” Michael Thomas, the Toshao of Aishalton, told this publication in a recent interview. This gate was erected at the entrance to the community

Relations Officer (PRO) of the SRDC, Immaculata Casimero, told this newspaper.

tracing, if need be. They, gate monitors -- which are women from the village -- are tasked with recording the names and temperature of each person. According to Toshao Thomas, it was also important to institute such a system since there is frequent travel through the community, from local miners and those from nearby Brazil, heading into the gold mining area of Marudi. This would later present greater concerns. These miners would often stop in the village to purchase food or stay overnight at one of the guesthouses, but due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, the village council

Toshaos across the Wapichan territory decided that a coordinated approach to mitigating the effects of the pandemic was necessary. These toshaos form part of the South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), a body that aids in the management of the Wapichan territory. And in the wake of the emergent COVID-19 pandemic, the council, along with health officials in the communities, convened a meeting to chart a way forward. “SRDC visited all the communities right away to hold meetings to host awareness sessions, to demonstrate how to wash hands and so,” Public

LARGE GATHERINGS PROHIBITED Additionally, Casimero highlighted that all large gatherings were subsequently prohibited; gates similar to the one at Aishalton were erected at the entrance of all the communities. Travel to Lethem for goods and supplies was only permitted twice weekly. The

SRDC also organised sanitisation and food supplies for villagers. “We did a lot of awareness sessions,” the PRO said also. “We did videos… we even translated them from English into Wapichan so that our people could understand what this virus is about.” TURN TO PAGE 5 ►



COVID-19 allowed for ‘shake up’ of education system –– innovative approaches to delivering education adopted, says Education Minister

A teacher conducting her lesson in a smart classroom (Ministry of Education photo)

By Tamica Garnett


N Guyana, like across the world, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating effect on the education sector. School closures magnified deficiencies and disparities in the system, and the disadvantages of not integrating technology into education delivery were laid bare. According to UNICEF reports, by April 2020, approximately 91 per cent of learners across the world were affected by school closures. Navigating uncharted territory, a conversation on the learning loss and its effects has been ongoing. “We’ve been shocked into the position of having to close our school doors. This has never happened before, and we are yet to see the effects of that,” Minister of Education, Priya Manickchand, highlighted in a recent interview with the Guyana Chronicle. Minister Manickchand took up her ministerial portfolio in August 2020, following the conclusion of the 2020 elections here in Guyana. By then Guyana was already five months into its growing COVID-19 situation, making her job even harder as she faced the pressure of crafting a way forward. Notwithstanding the health crisis it effected, the COVID-19 situation has also pushed the education system to fast track several developments that have long since been needed, but saw delays in being implemented. “Guyana understands that this is going to have long-term effects.

We’re going to do a lot and work very hard and put strategies in place to try to stem this from becoming something. We’re trying to do some of that now,” she told the Guyana Chronicle. Today, teachers all across the country are delivering virtual classes to learners using electronic devices, a multi-million dollar programme to expand the Learning Channel is ongoing, complemented by a programme to create locally-produced content to air, and smart classrooms are being expediently rolled out to offer teaching to hinterland learners by proficient teachers on the coast. The infrastructure of all schools across the country is also being assessed and rehabilitated to provide better sanitary facilities. Additionally, thousands of structured worksheets have been printed and distributed to temporarily supplement the lack of teaching, particularly in hinterland regions, where Internet connectivity is less available. “COVID-19 presented us with opportunities to shake up the system a little bit. Opportunities to both teach and learn in different ways effectively,” minister noted. PLANNING NECESSARY It is uncertain, however, just how big an impact the implementation of the new technological measures will have, particularly given the learning loss that the ministry will have to address once schools reopen and return to normalcy. “Because we’ve had to do this in a rush without planning it properly and preparing activities to deter-

Education Minister, Priya Manickchand

mine its effectiveness, we were not able to roll out the kind of distance education that we could have, but what we saw were the great opportunities that distance education can provide,” the Education Minister said. One year after COVID-19, Guyana has come a far way in battling the virus, but it took the country some months to get here. When the first case of COVID-19 hit Guyana on March 11, 2020, the nation was caught unprepared.

Confining but necessary measures immediately began to be rolled out to curtail the spread of the virus and health and safety became the main focus. Almost abruptly, learning institutions, both public and private, were ordered to be closed. Following soon after was the postponing of critical national examinations such as the National Grade Six Assessment (NGSA) which was originally scheduled for April 8 – 9, 2020, the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) Examination and the Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination (CAPE) customarily held in May/June. The situation took a psychological toll on many learners who were gripped with the uncertainty of their academic future. The greatest concern was for hinterland learners, who were already at a disadvantage in education delivery when compared to their coastland counterparts. By May, some relief came. The Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) made the decision for the sitting of the CSEC examination and CAPE in July. The Ministry of Education (MoE) similarly decided to forge ahead with the sitting of the NGSA in July as well. Schools were temporarily reopened in June for the Grade Six and Grade 11 learners to have access to classes. FINANCIAL CONCERNS In addition to concerns of its effects on academics, the school closure also brought some financial unease for parents.

For the public schools, the Government was able to maintain payment of teachers, through the public coffers. At private schools, the business owners grappled with the challenge of figuring out how to continue to deliver their service while contending with parents calling for reduced fees, and teachers hoping to see their salaries maintained. Most of the private schools turned to technology to remain viable. Some of the schools began re-engaging learners virtually, as early as one month after the closure. At the public school level, some amount of limited unofficial learning began as public school teachers also began to voluntarily utilise technological means to connect with learners via the Internet. In September, the ministry did an official virtual reopening of schools. Money was budgeted for the rolling out of a multi-faceted blended approach that included several media including television, radio, Internet and the printed worksheets. “It has been extremely difficult. Partly because all we know in Guyana is face-to-face learning. We have no technology incorporated in any major way. E-learning or any form of distance learning was non-existent prior to this, which is unfortunate, but we have managed to do a few things that we should be proud of in terms of the effort to get there,” Manickchand commented.



‘Deep South’ Rupununi ...


These messages were simple, condensing the scientific terms into easily understood messages. And they were aired on the radio. The SRDC also acquired loud speakers and played the audio in some communities, while flash drives were procured to distribute the messages to others. These helped to circumvent the challenges of getting reliable information due to limited, or sometimes non-existent, Internet connectivity and the absence of easily accessible health officials. Toshao Thomas was particularly pleased with the proactive measures instituted and how well the villagers adhered to those. “All other districts recorded cases but Deep South maintained a safe environment,” Toshao Thomas said, proudly. LOCAL LEADERSHIP Toshao Thomas also opined that the groundswell of support, across the Wapichan territory, for the measures was garnered because the sources of the measures were the local Council and community leaders. “I’ve been to Aishalton and I love the system. It’s all because of leadership,” Bertie Xavier, the Vice-Chairman of Region Nine, told this newspaper. Xavier highlighted that local leaders, across the region, strategically coordinated efforts to protect the people. In Rewa, a riverain community in the North Rupununi, the village council restricted unauthorised travel into the community by placing a rope -- with intermittent gas containers attached to it -- across the waterway. This stymied efforts to bypass the checkpoint and sneak into the community. And Rewa has not recorded any COVID-19 cases, either. “Every village had its own way of managing the situation,” Xavier contended. He, however, reasoned that the geography and location of the far-flung communities also contributed. While Deep South has not recorded any positive COVID-19 cases, there have been cases recorded in the South Central and North Rupununi areas. In Xavier’s village of Wowetta, in the north, for example, there was an outbreak of COVID-19 last August and Xavier was among one of the 70 persons infected with the coronavirus. This village is located on the public road, where vehicles making the 16-hour journey from Georgetown to Lethem, or vice-versa, traverse daily, several times a day. Since Wowetta is not as secluded as Aishalton, for example, the virus was easily spread by persons travelling along the Georgetown route. BRAZIL CONCERNS There is a wider concern over the spread of the coronavirus, also. The Deep South, and all of Region Nine, by extension,

Devin Sanasie, the Medex in the community of Aishalton, sits in his office at the Aishalton District Hospital (Vishani Ragobeer photo)

share an intimate relationship with the Roraima State of Brazil. There is an official border crossing between the two countries; this is the Takutu Bridge, which is located in Lethem, Region’s Nine capital town and the region’s commercial hub. Mayor of Lethem, John Macedo told this newspaper that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Lethem attracted about 20,000 persons from Brazil, daily. These were not all Brazilian nationals; many were Guyanese who have established themselves on both sides of the border. Still, considering that the population of Guyana is approximately 750,000 persons, that is a sizable quota of travellers. As the pandemic progressed, concerns over the number of travellers from Brazil increased due to the outbreak of COVID-19 in that country. The local authorities closed the Takutu Bridge and only permitted the trade of goods on Thursday. That provided limited relief, however. “The border is porous stretching from Karasabai all the way to Deep South. It’s just porous and we don’t have the capacity to control it. Even if you place soldiers at the border, they’d just be at one point. “It’s a very hard situation to deal with because every single day, even though the border is closed, you have these persons coming over very early in the morning… It’s almost every location you go to, there is a fine border crossing,” the Vice-Chairman said. Illegal crossings across the border occur on what has been termed “backtrack” routes. There is one such route close to Aishalton. Though Aishalton is nestled away in the Deep South area, taking the back track route from Brazil allows persons to come over with great ease and travel through Aishalton to get to the Marudi mines. “Marudi is not far from us (in Aishalton) and we’re very fearful of the mining because in the mining there’s no proper measures put in place in the mining areas and they don’t follow no (sic) national COVID-19 guidelines and if

they have a case they can spread it into our communities,” Casimero lamented. Beyond just the importation of the virus, there are now concerns over the importation of variants of the virus -- specifically the P1 and P2 variants that have emerged in Brazil. According to the Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, these variants of the coronavirus are more transmissible; this means that they can be transmitted from person-to-person more readily, potentially resulting in an overall increase of cases. According to Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Christine Carrington, the variants arose through accumulation of mutations (genetic changes) that can occur when viruses replicate within the cells of infected individuals. And, she told the Guyana Chronicle the vast majority of mutations are inconsequential but occasionally mutations arise that can give the virus a “fitness advantage”. These include increased transmissibility in the P1 Brazil variant and the B.1.1.7 United Kingdom variant, and in the case of B.1.351 South Africa variant and P1, ability to partially escape from protective immune responses produced by current COVID-19 vaccines. Although, thankfully, all of the vaccines can still prevent variants causing severe illness, hospitalisation and death. Research on whether these variants lead to more severe or life-threatening infections is ongoing. Professor Carrington explained, however, that the public health interventions adopted during the pandemic, that is, wearing masks, social distancing, border restrictions, inter alia, would help to prevent the importation and spread of variants. “There is also a growing body of evidence that (in addition to protecting against disease), COVID-19 vaccines reduce person-to-person transmission, so vaccines can also play an important role in this regard,” Professor Carrington highlighted.

EQUITABLE DISTRIBUTION? But the distribution of vaccines presents yet another cause for concern for persons in the Deep South. Given the geography of Region Nine and the far-flung locations of many communities, the COVID-19 vaccination rollout here is confronted by logistical challenges. On February 12, Guyana began its rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines following the donation of 3,000 doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vac-

cines from Barbados. As per the national vaccination schedule, frontline health workers have been given the vaccine first. Devin Sanasie, the Medex attached to the Aishalton District hospital, was one of four persons who received vaccines from that first tranche. He and his three colleagues, however, had to travel to Lethem to receive these vaccines. Leaving the safety of COVID-free Aishalton and travelling to the North, where there has been a majority of the region’s COVID-19 cases, raised concerns from the health workers in the Deep South community. Addressing these concerns, the Health Minister explained that since the country only had a small quantity of vaccines at the time, it was more feasible to ask the health workers to travel to the central distribution point (Lethem) instead of taking just four vaccines to Aishalton. He, however, assured that once Guyana secured more vaccines, there would be a broader distribution system. “In some cases we would be able to take the vaccines to the communities, in others we would advise them to come to a central point where they would be vaccinated. It depends on the strategy,” the Health Minister related. Though health centres and district hospitals across this region, and other hinterland regions, are not equipped with the cold storage requirements

for the COVID-19 vaccines, Dr. Anthony said that ice-boxes will be used to transport the vaccines into communities. The use of ice-boxes to transport vaccines is a common practice, according to Dr. Anthony, who also noted that this is done with the distribution of many of the childhood vaccines. Meanwhile, Toshao Thomas related that he and his villagers expect more information from the local health authorities on the COVID-19 vaccines before the mass rollout. Similarly, the SRDC PRO emphasised, “I would like to see more information filtered into the communities and not just kept on the coast and use our organisations.” “I would encourage the Government to use our local organisations and use our village councils to get these messages out to people. I think working together as partners, we can do more good work than just the Government doing its own work and communities doing its own work,” Casimero underscored. This story was written & produced as part of a media skills development programme delivered by Thomson Reuters Foundation and in partnership with the Sabin Vaccine Institute. The content is the sole responsibility of the author and the publisher.



Diversity key to resilience for businesses amid COVID-19

–– stakeholders anticipate better conditions for commerce by mid-year By Navendra Seoraj


OUNDED by the necessary restrictions in place to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), local businesses, like those the world over, have been faced with the options of either remaining “above water” through innovation and diversity or shuttering because of unmanageable liabilities, which were mounting due to dwindling revenue. Today, the suffocating effects of the pandemic are not as severe on the business community, since the Government has relaxed certain control measures to create space for commercial activities and employment. But, the

real challenge was in the early stages, particularly March 2020, to August, 2020, when the country was not only grappling with the effects of the pandemic, but those created by a protracted electoral process. Faced with an unstable political environment coupled with a deadly disease, players in the private sector had to make critical decisions to ensure that their business, which, in some cases, was their sole source of income, did not become a fatality of the turbulent times. The strain experienced by the private sector was felt in every sphere of society, since businesses, particularly medium, small, and micro, are often referred to as the lifeblood of any economy because they

give entrepreneurs the opportunity to create meaningful jobs and foster local economies, allowing money to stay closer to communities. Throughout the world, many persons have gone out of business because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been the case in developed nations, so the effects on Guyana — a nation with GDP of just about US$5 billion — are understandably harsh. The Small Business Bureau, in a bid to ascertain the full impact of the pandemic on small businesses, during the early days of the pandemic, had conducted an online survey which received 243 responses. And, of those responses, 63 per cent had indicated that they had to close completely because of Vice-President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Timothy Tucker

the pandemic. This was just the tip of the iceberg, as Guyana, aside from recording an estimated real Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth of 45.6 per cent at mid-2020, was faced with a contraction in the nonoil economy by 4.9 per cent due to significant declines recorded across many major industries. In reflecting on the economic conditions and the struggles faced by businesses during the early stages of the pandemic, Vice-President of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce and Industry (GCCI), Timothy Tucker, said: “A lot of businesses had to drop off and come out of business because the rental industry price [price for rental], especially in growing oil and gas economy, was climbing. Even today, some businesses literally cannot afford to maintain a rent without having an income. “A lot of businesses in the hospitality industry, bars and so forth, have been severely impacted. I would have loved to see a little more being done for those in the industry, but as a country we were barely even coping with the effects of COVID-19, so it is not the fault of anyone.” In providing one example of the struggles faced by

Deputy Toshao of Katoonarib, Floria Singh

businesses, Deputy Toshao of Katoonarib Village, Floria Singh, had told the Guyana Chronicle that a shop, managed by the village council, felt the brunt of the pandemic effects. “Since the COVID started last year with everything in lockdown, things were really hard especially where income was concerned, especially with our shop. There was no kind of investment and we had really lost a lot,” Singh said. She further lamented: “During the lockdown, people took items mostly on credit and the shop was left in a big expense.” Persons were only able to clear their debts when the Government introduced the COVID-19 cash grant of $25,000 per household. DIVERSIFY AND INNOVATE While some businesses could not navigate the “rough tides,” there were others which had to diversify and innovate in order to stay relevant and profitable. “When it comes to COVID-19, nobody was ready for it… and clearly we know that it is over 100 years since our last pandemic, so Guyana is a resilient country

and we have learnt to be able to adapt,” Tucker said during an exclusive interview with the Guyana Chronicle. Some sections of the private sector were more resilient than others because, according to Tucker, they experienced “electoral pandemics” over the years and those have helped them to develop strategies to remain viable and do business under trying conditions. Those very strategies and even new ones were and are being applied during the pandemic, he said, noting: “We have seen many businesses fight, struggle and found ways to find opportunities amid the pandemic.” Businesses, for instance, have embraced technology and recalibrated their operations to suit the times and ensure that customers are still able to access services, which are sometimes critical. “Businesses have embraced technology, and through this, they have updated themselves to have smart menus, to have delivery services, online businesses, and have even gone down the road with online banking, receiving payments, just fully adopting and diversifying themselves,” Tucker said. TURN TO PAGE 7 ►


‘Teacher Blackman’ navigates schooling amid the COVID-19 pandemic


H E N COVID-19 ‘arrived’ in Guyana in March 2020, everything changed for 42-year-old Primary School teacher, Abigail Blackman. Catapulted into an unfamiliar method of teaching, and suddenly finding herself teacher to her own two daughters was not easy for the 5th grade educator. “It’s been very difficult working during COVID-19. Working from home is hard, because I have to teach my

child, who is in another grade level, and I have to teach my pupils, who are in another grade level. I’m not able to reach all my pupils because of difficulties they might encounter, and different pupils learn differently, so sometimes the concepts are difficult for them to grasp,” Blackman explained, in an interview with this newspaper. The woman, who is mother to two, elaborated that although Ministry of Education worksheets are helpful to some pupils, there

are a few downsides to the learning assists. “The worksheets are sometimes limited in exercises, and on the other hand, contain too many concepts at one time. At some times, you don’t get the work back in a timely manner to be marked,” she added. As expected, teaching from home and helping her own school-aged children with their work soon proved tedious for Blackman. However, she soon learned to navigate those waters smoothly. “At first it was having a

Diversity key to resilience ...


With this being the case, it is clear that a foundation has been set to ensure that the local economy, particularly some aspects of the business community, is able to withstand possible disasters. Already, Tucker said, the private sector is looking to put COVID-19 behind and begin to accelerate economic growth. “I look forward to us putting COVID behind us and the country being able to accelerate in the way we all know and expect it to be, especially now that we have a Government that is business-focussed and development-driven. We expect by mid-year we should be in a much better place when it comes to COVID and we are looking forward to that,” the GCCI vice-president said. The Government had already started paving the way

for a recovery of the economy, firstly with Budget 2020. President, Dr. Irfaan Ali, in outlining measures included in Budget 2020, had said that the Government, after re-prioritising and re-programming fiscal measures, has managed to add $20 billion in relief to the “pockets” of Guyanese at a time when the nation is faced with the effects of COVID-19, and the recently-concluded protracted electoral process. The conduits of relief include revised tax measures and sweeping incentives. The broad objectives of those measures which featured in Government’s emergency budget are to stimulate economic activity; get persons back to work; increase Guyana’s productive capacity; reduce the cost of doing business; improve efficiency; and facilitate growth and

development of businesses. Similarly, while protecting the nation is the primary objective, Budget 2021 is also aimed at ensuring that there’s a diversified and resilient productive sector by facilitating large-scale private investment in both traditional and new and emerging sectors, creating 50,000 jobs in the next five years, and promoting entrepreneurship at the medium and small-business level. Budget 2021 will also initiate investments in catalytic and transformative infrastructure, including energy infrastructure to ensure adequate supply at a competitive cost, and transport infrastructure to improve international connectivity, and unleash domestic production and productivity.

Young persons wearing their masks and maintaining some distance as they shop on Regent Street, Georgetown (Delano Williams photo)

negative mental effect on me, but with time and availability of information, it eased the mental strain,” she stated. Asked about her thoughts on the COVID-19 vaccine, the woman said, “I’m skeptical about the vaccine, because it doesn’t protect against all the new variants that are emerging, and there are some vaccines that aren’t really seen as credible, or effective.” However, she and her family continue to observe the protocols of the gazetted COVID-19 Emergency Guidelines, which emphasise the need for correct and consistent use of a face mask when leaving home, the importance of maintaining the six feet physical distance from others, and the need for good hand hygiene to help reduce the spread of the disease, among other guidelines. Blackman’s experience is not an entirely unique one, however. There have been numerous challenges plaguing the local education sector, because of the disparities in education. And, teachers have to navigate these disparities in their bid to ensure that each child is adequately taught while simultaneously navigating the overarching COVID-19 pandemic. Recognising some of the challenges that exist, the Ministry of Education has made efforts to return learners and teachers to some semblance of normalcy. Though the older students have been allowed to return to schools, Miss Blackman and her pupils may have to wait some time longer. For now, they have to keep contending with ‘Zoom school’.




Business ‘grows’ for far

A vendor at the Stabroek Market (Delano Williams photo)

By Naomi Parris


HETHER feeding the nation or contributing to the country’s economy, farmers are always ready to deliver. When the global pandemic hit, farmers were faced with a monumental challenge to keep food supplies flowing, supermarket shelves full and a nation fed. Dubbed heroes, farmers were some of the key workers on the front line during the COVID-19 pandemic. Diana Persaud, a farmer, agro-processor and the founder and owner of Arya’s Fresh Cuts, a wholesome food supplier of organically grown vegetables, stated that, despite the challenges and uncertainty that came along with the pandemic, her ever growing company has neither waivered in its ability to offer well-packaged crops to markets and consumers. “The challenges led to positive outcomes. The period itself and the challenging times caused the business to change its outlook and it brought forth some positive changes,” Persaud said. Persaud noted that the pandemic, in some ways, saw the business being pushed to its limits to provide for the nation and maintain food security with the creation of Guyana’s first, and still operational, fresh and whole foods website. HOME DELIVERY “Persons were still looking for safe and high quality food; they knew exactly where to turn and where to go to. It allowed us to increase our capacity and production, then we introduced the home delivery service which still continues today and so we are facilitating home deliveries from Enmore all the way to Grove/Diamond.” Persaud noted that the company has been able to play

Some of Arya’s Fresh Cut products on the of one of Guyana’s supermarkets

its role in the country’s agriculture sector in ensuring that fresh produce is always on the shelves of supermarkets during the pandemic. “Our relationships with respect to outlets and super markets continued to be strong and we did our best, during the time and during the year, to ensure that their shelves were filled with wholesome fresh and high quality food.” Meanwhile, Jo-Ann Thompson, the founder of Kitchen Garden Organics, which is a local and fairly new kitchen garden business, has also been providing fresh home grown produce to the local markets in an effort to maintain food security during the pandemic. Thompson disclosed to this publication that her initial goal was to provide produce not only to the everyday consumers, but also for restaurants and a few supermarkets. “In terms of providing produce during the pandemic, it was a bit slow at first because I was trying to cater for restaurants but there were shut down too, so I started catering for one and two supermarkets.” Thompson revealed that the initiative of her growing kitchen garden business came about during a rough patch amid the pandemic


rmers during pandemic

e shelves s

when she was temporarily laid off from her day job. With being home and not much to do, the young woman started up a kitchen garden to provide for herself, fresh organic food. However considering the uncertainty of all that surrounded the pandemic, Thompson chose to share her produce with the nation. Currently, Thompson grows lettuce, pepper, kale, tomato and citrus fruits in a small garden. She sells her produce pre-packaged to a few local consumers, supermarkets and restaurants. MAINTAINING GUYANA’S FOOD SECURITY When news broke of the country’s first case of the coronavirus in March, last year, Guyanese flocked the markets, almost in panic for fresh fruits and vegetables since there was a widespread necessity for healthy foods and intake of vitamin C. During the time, the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) called for world leaders to take measures to keep global food systems working well amidst the pandemic. FAO Director-General, Qu Dongyu, in an online address from Rome to the G20 Extraordinary Virtual Leaders’ Summit on COVID-19 days ago, stated:

Cilantro available at Kitchen Garden Organics

“the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting food systems and all dimensions of food security across the world…” He posited that “no country is immune… we have to ensure that food value chains are not disrupted and continue to function well and promote the production and availability of diversified, safe and nutritious food for all.” RESILIENCE However, it was reported by the National Agricultural Research and Extension institute (NAREI) that the country has adequate supplies of fresh produce and meat stock including chicken, beef and pork. Aside from importation of hatching eggs for the production of chicken and table eggs, Guyana is self-sufficient in the production of beef and pork, despite restrictions on air transport and closure of ports. During the recently concluded debate on the 2021 National Budget, Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, said that Guyana will develop an even greater agriculture sector, with the country being an “agricultural powerhouse”, with a strong, sturdy farming and agro-processing industry that serves the purpose of providing Guyanese with food security at all times, even acting as a cushion for the nation against times of challenges, and that generates jobs across the country, especially in rural areas, and that helps the public with national nutritional requirements.




Life, death and recovery...

The heartaches

brought on by COVID-19 By Rehana Ahamad


N 2019, Guyanese celebrated Old Year’s Night with our usual extravagance, and whether we chose to party or pray, many of us entered 2020 sporting high hopes and sparing very little thought about the novel coronavirus which had started to emerge in Wuhan, China. I imagine that the lack of concern that permeated the local population had much to do with the fact that we, as a country, have become quite accustomed to being God’s favourite; in addition to being home to almost every enviable resource known to man, Guyana is also a cultural haven, often spared from various disasters and tragedies occurring globally. But soon enough, the respiratory disease, now referred to as COVID-19, would spread indiscriminately throughout the world, rendering the entire human race susceptible to infection. This time, ‘The Land of Many Waters’ was not spared, and from March 2020 to March 2021, thousands of Guyanese have contracted the deadly virus while more than 200 persons have succumbed to it. Stephon Hussain was among the thousands who fortunately recovered; however, his father, People’s Progressive Party Civic (PPP/C) stalwart Majeed Hussain was among those who lost their lives. The 22-year-old Diamond Housing Scheme, East Bank Demerara resident said that he was diagnosed with COVID-19 on December 29, 2020, shortly after his father’s condition was confirmed. The young student related that he experienced a series of the symptoms, including body pains and cough, as well as loss of appetite and smell. A young Hussain would soon go into home isolation where he remained confined to his bedroom, while subscribing to a strict diet of supplements to strengthen his immune system. “At the beginning, it was physically draining,” the young man posited. As he battled his own physical symptoms, Hussain

said that he remained emotionally torn over the fact that his father had been placed into institutional isolation due to the severity of his condition. “The time whereby my father went into institutional isolation and my contracting the symptoms were almost identical, so we were dealing with [all of] it at the worst time,” Hussain told this publication. As the days went by, Majeed Hussain’s condition rapidly deteriorated, and he eventually succumbed to the virus, thereby increasing the total number of deaths on the Ministry of Health’s daily COVID-19 dashboard. BIG LOSS “He was always ever-present in my life and losing him is something that I will continue to feel every day,” his son said. Like Majeed, Mr. and Mrs. Rodrigues of Station Street, Kitty, Georgetown, were also above the age of 50, thereby being classified as being at high-risk. Mr. Rodrigues who worked as a Security Guard was the first to experience symptoms. “After he come home feeling sick, he went to do the test and they sent him back and told him to stay home,” Elizabeth Rodrigues related. The woman said that once her husband returned home with his positive results, she ensured that he was comfortably secured in his room, while she assumed the role of his nurse. It would take approximately one week for Mrs. Rodrigues to start displaying symptoms. Armed with her suspicion, the woman sought medical attention, and a COVID-19 test determined that she had become infected with the virus that had continued taking a significant toll on her husband. “I started to get short of breath, and when the results come back, right away they take me over to the [Infectious Diseases] hospital; I told the doctor right there that my husband had the virus too and that he was in a more bad condition than me,” Mrs. Rodrigues noted. She said that a team of COVID-19 responders were immediately dispatched to the couple’s home, and that

ara facility, ‘Liz’ would be confined to a room in the hospital’s upper floor while her husband continued battling for his life just below. In the days that would follow, Mr. Rodrigues would be miraculously nursed back to health, and Mrs. Rodrigues would develop a deep admiration and appreciation for staff at the Infectious Diseases Hospital where she spent 14 days. “I was really scared, because you always hearing people say things, but I was really surprised by how nice the doctors and nurses were and how much they went out of their way to treat you like family. From the first time I reach there, they were there for me,” Mrs. Rodrigues related. Describing frontline medical workers as being ‘true heroes’, Mrs. Rodrigues joined many others in advocating for salary increases for medical workers who have been risking their lives to provide care to persons infected with infectious diseases such as COVID-19.

Elizabeth Rodrigues

Mahendra Budhram

Mr. Rodrigues was transported to the specialty hospital where he had to have been admitted to the Intensive Care Unit. “He was

on the life machine,” Mrs. Rodrigues confirmed. The woman said that she burst into tears on her way to the hospital, out of fear that

Stephon Hussain

she would not survive the inhumane treatment that she heard was being ‘served’ at the medical facility. Upon arrival at the Liliendaal, East Coast Demer-

THE STIGMA Meanwhile, Mahendra Budhram, a Project Manager attached to the Ministry of Human Services and Social Security expressed concerns relating to the stigma that has become attached to the coronavirus. “It is a fear that people will have, so I can understand it,” Budhram said. He believes that even with the fears, it’s nonsensical to discriminate against persons who have had COVID-19 and recovered, since those are the persons who are more likely to take stricter precautions. “You have a section of the population who really believe that COVID-19 does not exist, and they don’t take any precautions or anything, so I can understand where some of the fears come from,” Budhram said.



Duty-bound: essential workers COVID-19… one year on in service to the nation

By Mesha Sealey

serious,” she said.


HROUGHOUT Guyana and across the world, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to discompose households and lives in ways never imagined before. Members of society have had to adapt to life with the deadly virus, and come to terms with the knowledge that its eradication may not be soon. Among these are those workers providing their services on the ‘frontlines’; they are supermarket workers, police officers, and vehicle drivers, who

UNNERVING Although not recognised as frontline workers, taxi and minibus drivers have worked through the lockdown, a feat which one taxi driver, who declined to give his name, described as ‘unnerving’. “I was afraid of people; coming into contact with them particularly. Because of COVID, you don’t know who got what, so you can’t take a chance out here, you don’t know who’s infected, who might be sick. People are refusing to sanitise their hands; you have to remind them. To be interacting with people day

A health worker being vaccinated with an Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine at the National Infectious Disease Hospital, Liliendaal Georgetown

B Shane Charles, 19, a staff member of Andrew’s Supermarket

have all given their accounts of adapting to life with COVID-19. “We were always protected, wearing masks, sanitising regularly, and so on. Every day I come to work, I know people are infected, but we are protected. We use our masks, hand sanitiser and stuff like that. I wasn’t worried about contracting the virus,” Shane Charles, a member of staff of Andrew’s Supermarket recalled. “I knew I was protected, using my mask and sanitising and keeping my distance. For the past few days, there were a lot of customers, but last year there was only a little bit, because people were scared to pick up the virus,” the 19-year-old concluded. Tisha Harry, 22, of the same establishment, detailed difficulty in restocking, due to delays in the shipment of goods; delays she said were increased with the advent of COVID-19. “It’s been really difficult, because sometimes we’re out of stock, and customers want certain things. When they have to get these things, sometimes because of COVID our shipments are delayed, and we have to wait long periods of time before we get goods.” The young woman expressed an initial fear for her life, after a distant family member contracted the virus and subsequently succumbed. “I was very afraid to come to work, because one of my relatives contracted COVID-19, and she died, so me coming out my comfort zone to come to work has really been a struggle. Sometimes, I don’t even want to get up to come to work,” Harry said. Although she was worried about her wellbeing, and that of her family, her concern did not seem to be a popular sentiment, which was particularly distressing for her. “Guyana didn’t seem to be on lockdown, because everything was running like normal, and you know, cases would keep climbing despite restrictions and curfews and so on. People would still keep parties, still keep liming and going on as usual. A lot of people don’t seem to care about the virus, some people don’t believe the virus is real, and all of that. But it’s really

to day and then go home to my family was stressful, because I didn’t want to be putting them in danger,” the driver related. Going about business day to day, the driver detailed, helped him to feel more at ease despite the obvious concern of contracting the virus, adding that the ease of COVID-19 restrictions has helped him to earn more per day. “Right now, I think business is good. With more people coming out to work and school and so, they travelling in taxis, because the risk of getting the virus in public transportation—buses and so—is very great.” While these persons were in constant contact with members of the public, and expressed fear of contracting the virus, as well as impact on business activity, vendors in the vicinity of Stabroek market did not echo this sentiment. NORMAL “Business went on like normal,” expressed one of the elderly vendors, who sells fruits and vegetables near the Route 50 bus park. “A lot of we didn’t really feel the effects of the virus like people said. People come and they buy and they go. Couple times you had people that didn’t want certain vegetables and so but that’s it. We didn’t have no difficulty.” “Me, personally, I didn’t went touching-touching nobody. As long as they didn’t touch me and they wear their mask I good,” another vendor said. Although some members of the Guyana Police Force were hesitant to speak, one member expressed her confidence that as long as persons abided by the gazetted COVID-19 guidelines, she would be safe, and therefore there was no significant reason for her to worry. “I travel from Parfaite Harmonie to work every day, and often I have to take public transportation. Initially, I was scared of the idea of being around people, because of COVID and so, but I know that once I sanitise and wear my mask and social distance when I can, I should be okay,” the sprightly young woman asserted.

y now, you must have been inundated with information on the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s been a year since the virus spread to Guyana and brought with it restrictions, disruptions and allround inconveniences. And, since then, it has infected thousands of Guyanese and claimed the lives of 205 persons. Still, we contended with the challenges presented and strived to innovate, adapt and overcome -- at least, as much as has been reasonably possible. Now, in a bid to exit the pandemic, there has been a rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines. This rollout has not been entirely welcomed with open arms, as there are many concerns, understandably so. As such, we have endeavoured to provide some amount of clarity, as we navigate this phase of the pandemic together. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQS) ON VACCINES: What are the symptoms of COVID-19? COVID-19 symptoms include: Cough, fever or chills, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, muscle or body aches, sore throat, new loss of taste or smell, diarrhea, headache, fatigue, nausea or vomiting and congestion or runny nose. Symptoms and risk factors may vary in different people (John Hopkins medical) Why do we need a vaccine against COVID-19? COVID-19 is easily transmitted and can lead to long-term serious illness and death, even for people who are young and healthy. An effective COVID-19 vaccine is going to be one important way to protect people from this disease (PAHO) If I have already had COVID-19 and recovered, do I still need to get vaccinated with a COVID-19 vaccine? Yes, you should be vaccinated regardless of whether you already had COVID-19. That’s because

experts do not yet know how long you are protected from getting sick again after recovering from COVID-19 (CDC) Will a COVID-19 vaccination protect me from getting sick with COVID-19? Yes. COVID-19 vaccination works by teaching your immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19, and this protects you from getting sick with COVID-19. Being protected from getting sick is important because even though many people with COVID-19 have only a mild illness, others may get a severe illness, have long-term health effects, or even die. (CDC) How do we know COVID-19 vaccines were developed in a safe and effective manner? Vaccine safety is always a top priority. All vaccines go through different trial phases before they can be approved for use in the population. The trial phases aim to ensure the safety of the vaccine, if and how well it can protect against disease, and other aspects like the number of doses and who could be vaccinated. The vaccines that are being developed against COVID-19 are following these same trial phases, but in some cases the phases might overlap or be sped up when enough data is available. The trials are progressing at the fastest pace we’ve seen for any vaccine, while still following all safety guidelines. This is for many reasons, including unprecedented united global efforts around vaccine development, building on mRNA technology that's been in development for years, and research from previous coronaviruses like MERS and SARS1. Once COVID-19 vaccines are approved for their broad use in the population, they will continue to be monitored to identify any unexpected adverse effects to ensure the safety of the vaccines. This monitoring is a routine part of immunization programmes (PAHO)



Tourism sector loses 42 per cent of revenue to COVID-19

–– but recovery underway with focus on re-tooling and technological improvement By Navendra Seoraj


RAVEL bans, quarantine measures and border closures instituted to mitigate the impact of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) were like a double-edged sword, protecting the people but killing the tourism and hospitality sector — key economic sectors --- which lost 42 per cent of its revenue in 2020. Guyana’s case, however, was not unique as the World Travel and Tourism Council had reported that the tourism industry’s contribution to the world economy’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was cut by US$1.2 trillion in 2020. The council reported that the tourism sector, globally, is undoubtedly one of the hardest-hit sectors due to the impact of COVID-19 on both travel supply and demand. Locally, according to a report from the Guyana Tourism Authority (GTA), which was shared with the Guyana Chronicle, the local tourism sector lost an estimated 42 per cent of its total revenue between March 2020 and September 2020. This period was the height of the pandemic.

Additionally, in terms of employment, an estimated 29 per cent of the persons working in the tourism sector lost their jobs and an additional 51 per cent have been furloughed or placed on unpaid leave. This impact is especially damning because the sector, prior to the pandemic, had been noted as one of the fastest growing sectors in the world, contributing significantly towards sustainable development in areas of job and wealth creation, environmental protection, cultural preservation and poverty alleviation. It is estimated that travel and tourism injected approximately $62.6 billion directly into Guyana’s economy in 2018 and $69.9 billion in 2019, which reflects an estimated increase of $7.2 billion over 2018. This, according to the GTA report, makes the tourism sector the third largest export sector after oil and gas, and gold. The estimated loss in export earnings was $50.7 billion, in 2020. This excludes travel-related taxes from international arrivals and departures (travel and departure taxes). It is for this reason that the Government has identified the tourism sector as a “high priority investment

sector”. Through resiliency planning, hygiene and sanitation training, assessments, support packages and increased marketing by the GTA, supplemented by other support measures such as tax incentives for new investments, low interest loans for re-tooling and technological improvement, businesses and the sector are expected to rebound stronger than ever before, to make Guyana a top sustainable tourism destination.

The sign indicating approval for indoor dining (Guyana Tourism Authority photo)

UNIQUE ASSETS The GTA believes that Guyana’s assets are unique and can easily be transformed into world-class tourism products. The Government has committed to supporting the development of tourism products, thematic heritage routes and niche products based on Guyana’s strengths. Renowned for being a leader in community-led and owned tourism, “Destination Guyana” will reaffirm its position by scaling up community tourism development and increase the number of market-ready community tourism enterprises in country, the GTA report outlined. TURN TO PAGE 16 ►



Outdated public health legislation to ‘recover’ amid pandemic T By Richard Bhainie

HERE is no doubt that laws must evolve with society to reflect the present day circumstances which they govern. However, in Guyana this has not always been the case as there is a plethora of archaic legislation still on the country’s law books. At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was no Parliament to promulgate any laws as Guyanese had recently voted and were still patiently awaiting the results of the March 2, 2020 General and Regional Election, and, as such, Parliament was dissolved. With no treatment for the COVID-19 virus, the internationally recommended measures to curb the spread were the implementation of curfews and the restriction of social activities, which required legislation to be executed and to stipulate penalties for breaches of any offences. At that time a significant piece of legislation which governs the country’s public health sector became relevant and it was highlighted that to date the public health sector has been governed by the Public Health Ordinance, enacted since in 1934. Attorney-General and Minister of Legal Affairs, Anil Nandlall, S.C, during an interview with the Guyana Chronicle, explained that the archaic piece of legislation is outmoded and unfitting to reflect the current realities of society, and as such a new Public Health Act is being formulated. “Guyana’s public health infrastructure is radically different from what it was in 1934, and the COVID-19 pandemic has graphically revealed how almost dysfunctional the law is,” Nandlall said. The COVID-19 Emergency Measures were crafted and gazetted to publish the guidelines which set the law pertaining to, and governs, the COVID-19 pandemic and to which citizens are to adhere. It is elementary knowledge that, in law, one of the aims of ‘sentencing’ is deterrence. In the particular circumstances that aim is of importance to achieve the objectives of the gazetted COVID-19 Emergency Measures. If the penalty has a deterrent effect, when it is imposed on someone, others would be wary to commit the same offence.

OUT OF SYNC WITH REALITY “Penalties for offences under the ordinance are all out of sync with reality and there are other components of the law which are of historical value and of no practical relevance,” the Attorney-General noted. Under the emergency measures, any person who fails to comply with the measures commits an offence under Section 152 of the Public Health Ordinance and is liable on summary conviction to the penalty provided under that section. Any person found guilty of an offence, under Section 152, shall, unless some other penalty is provided thereof, be liable to a penalty not exceeding $50, or, in default of payment thereof, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding two months. In the event that it is a continuing offence, Section 152(2) of the Ordinance provides that the offender shall be liable to a further penalty not exceeding $10 for everyday which the offence continues, and in default of payment, to imprisonment, for any period not exceeding six months. This has evidently been a significant flaw of the legislation, since it imposes no deterring effect. Persons were quick to recognise this gap in the law and as has been evident – display no remorse towards adhering to the guidelines. Further, Director General of the COVID-19 Task Force, Colonel Hussain, told this publication that the legislation governing the COVID-19 pandemic does not allow the taskforce to execute full enforcement in the manner required. “The measures and our legal system do not support the enforcement [of the Covid-19 Guidelines]. Recognising the challenges that exist, we’ve taken both a ‘hard and soft’ approach and we have been allowing the reopening of activities in a gradual manner.... But the

The 1934 Public Health Ordinance

ordinance, for example, is outdated,” Hussain said. The Attorney-General noted that the flaws within the Ordinance highlighted the need to introduce new public health legislation to reflect the current realties of Guyana and the region and the world. Nandlall, in his budget debate presentation, told the National Assembly that some 25 pieces of legislation have been identified for work to begin on, namely a new Public Health Act, a new Mental Health Act, Tissue Transplant legislation, and a Food and Drug Act.

He had previously told this publication that updated public health legislation was imperative for Guyana at this crucial time of development of the country. “No one will want to come and invest unless they feel safe health-wise, so we have to revamp the entire public health sector, and progress has begun with a menu of legislation that is under review,” Nandlall had said. The Attorney-General noted that the new legislation would be crafted to reflect the modern reality of not only Guyana, but the world at large.



Disaster management unit under consideration By Vishani Ragobeer


HILE navigating the COVID-19 pandemic is a feat that requires the concerted efforts of health authorities around the globe, Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, contended that the local health sector requires a disaster management unit that could streamline the response to future outbreaks and crises. In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle ahead of Guyana’s first ‘COVID-19 Anniversary’, the Health Minister highlighted that the pandemic, as disruptive as it is, had resulted in the local health authorities learning several key lessons. “From the health system point of view, we have learnt a lot of lessons and taking those forward, we would have to get a unit within the ministry to be able to constantly do epidemic management... a disaster management if you like,” the Health Minister underscored. In an interview with the Guyana Chronicle last October, former Chief Medical

Officer, Dr. Shamdeo Persaud, noted that Guyana faced numerous health crises over the years. During Dr. Persaud’s years of service before his retirement in 2020, there was a cholera outbreak in Region One (1992), a surge in tuberculosis and an HIV epidemic (early 1990s), the 2005 ‘Great Flood’ and the associated outbreak of leptospirosis, and, in more recent times, Guyana’s experience with Chikungunya. Dr. Anthony explained that the earth is going to face a constant battle with microbes -- the tiny living organisms found all over, some of which may be harmful to humans, and, as such, pandemics may appear from time to time. “We have to be able to learn how to live with them and detect them early so that we can prevent (crises) from happening and prevent a lot of deaths and illnesses from happening,” the minister emphasised. “The lessons we have learnt would be that we have to be prepared and we have to get our workforce trained to implement programmes very quickly and rapidly,” Dr. Anthony posited, further add-

An ambulance arrives with a patient at the Accident and Emergency section of the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC) (Vishani Ragobeer photo)

ing to the need for a disaster management unit. Dr. Anthony took over the helm of the Health Ministry in August, 2020, five months after the first case of the novel coronavirus struck Guyana. Since then, he affirmed that Guyana has been able to strengthen the local health

system by upgrading laboratories and regional hospitals, strengthen the procurement and distribution systems and enhance the capacity of doctors, particularly in the area of comorbidity management. Comorbidities are of particular concern since persons with comorbidities are at a

greater risk of becoming infected with COVID-19. Comorbidities are underlying and often undetected health issues such as cardiovascular diseases, respiratory illnesses and other Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes and cancers. As Guyana contended

with the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year, the health response has been guided by the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF), a body that was created in April 2020 and evolved over the subsequent months.



Access to justice did not disappear during crisis –– innovative solutions crafted to mitigate impact of COVID-19 pandemic

By Richard Bhainie


N any society, there is an onus on the Judiciary to ensure swift and efficient access to justice. In times of crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, this obligation does not erode, but rather becomes even more indispensable. In Guyana, the antiquated legal system is often a deterrent to pursuing litigation, as it is culturally characterised by delays, backlogs and unsatisfactory results. Delivering justice in a pandemic prima facie presented a trial to the fortitude of the legal system. On March 11, 2020, when the COVID-19 was officially detected on the shores of Guyana, the country was already plagued with a crisis of its own – the pandemonium that followed the March 2, 2020 Regional and General Elections. The symptoms which accompanied this elections predicament were a series of litigation which put a strain on the Judiciary. While ‘access to justice’ is a multifaceted undertaking, President of the Guyana Bar Association and prominent attorney-at-law, Teni Housty, during an interview with the Guyana Chronicle, shared a glimpse of the experience of the Bar pertaining to access to justice during the pandemic. Housty explained, “The immediate effect [of the COVID-19 pandemic] was to slow the turning of the wheels of justice; it could have ground the wheels to a halt, but it did not.” RESILIENT In making his point, he noted that the swift and efficient manner in which the courts dealt with the election-related litigation is a testimony to the fact that the system of justice is “resilient”. In those matters, lawyers prepared thorough submissions which judges were required to assiduously peruse before delivering comprehensive judgements in a swift manner, a colossus task which would usually take months, was done in days. Undoubtedly, every sector of society was affected by the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and the justice sector was not exempted. Housty, however, highlighted that there was a silver lining which result-

ed as a consequence of the pandemic pertaining to the justice system. With the COVID-19 Guidelines restricting face to face interactions, the Courts had to adapt to, and incorporate, the electronic environment into its modus operandi, a somewhat foreign concept to the usual ‘bricks and mortar’ system it operated under. Housty explained that, at the beginning of the pandemic, the Bar held a webinar which was conducted by Attorney-at-law Stephen Fraser, S.C to highlight the importance of adapting to the electronic environment and ensure lawyers are on the same page. Judges also played their part in these efforts, with one particular judge reminding attorneys of some core components required to access and deliver justice through the electronic environment, which the judge listed as bandwidth, backup battery and an appropriate background. The Judiciary gradually implemented and incorporated various systems into its functioning such as remote hearings via Zoom and an e-filing platform on the Supreme Court’s website, to ensure that there is no delay in delivery of, and access to, justice. Housty explained that

at the Cecil Kilkenny Training College at Lusignan on the East Coast of Demerara (ECD) were retrofitted into 14 courtrooms that enabled virtual hearings of cases, in December 2020.

President of the Guyana Bar Association, Attorney-at-Law, Teni Housty

while those plans and others were already in the pipelines to be implemented in the justice sector and there was no doubt that it would have become a reality one day, the pandemic accelerated the implementation. CLICK OF A MOUSE The new norm, that is the electronic environment, has resulted in the improvement of efficiency and access to justice. For example, it has enabled lawyers to move from one court to the other with the click of a mouse. “We used to have to wait

on the Court corridor, losing time because of the judicial diary – now we sit in our offices in a zoom waiting room and you’re still in your office you can still do some work while you wait,” Housty noted. W h e r e r e m o t e h e a rings are not possible, the Courts operate under strict COVID-19 guidelines; this has allowed for the resumption of jury trials in relation to Criminal Justice. Further, to restore and increase access to hearings for prisoners, containers at the Lusignan Prison barracks

INNOVATION SHOULD CONTINUE Housty noted the improvement of the avenues of justice provided significant advantages and those who sit at the Bar are hopeful that the significant changes brought about by the pandemic which resulted in the development of the sector are not discarded after normality resumes. “It has put us on a faster information highway; we took a bypass onto the highway and we are on it and let us not take off the ramp, let us continue on the highway and let us focus on getting better, reversing should not be an option,” he said. Coming of age with the technological sector was not without its challenges, in the initial stages, the Courts were faced with minor problems pertaining to Zoom licences and bandwidth issues; however, it’s a process being sorted out as the challenges arise. With the evolving of any sector there’s always new challenges; the justice system was not spared. Housty noted that there was still room for improvement, such

Lady Justice, in Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) (Credits: Getty Images)

as the e-payment system to accompany the e-filing system, as lawyers were still mandated to pay at the courts’ registries. He also noted that, with disappearance of physical limitations, such as the Court house only being able to accommodate a certain amount of matters, through the new implementations, there is now a room for even greater development. The attorney recommended that, at this formative juncture, there is a need for more judicial personnel to be trained and introduced into the profession which will help to deal with matters on par with the improved level of efficiency. DIGITAL DIVIDE A challenge which is very much still visible is the digital divide, depending on the various factors including locality for persons access to technology varies. Housty noted while some clients were happy with the new changes, they posed a challenge to some. “Certain clients are happy, for example clients overseas log on to the zoom link, but, if you have a client in a rural area, that is going to be a bit of a challenge. The digital divide is still real; that’s why it has to be a blended system,” Housty noted. The attorney explained that clients were still adjusting and there was a collaborative effort to ensure that clients were not disadvantaged, such as, in some cases, clients will go to counsel chambers to access remote hearings when they cannot on their own. Housty explained that, in the early stages, the Guyana Bar Association was not included in many consultations where it had significant recommendations that could have played a major role in the process. He urged that there needed to be a collaborative effort and engagement with all stakeholders moving forward. In terms of access to justice, he noted, “There was never going to be a denial of justice; members of the justice system would not allow that. There were delays and there could have been more delays, but the measures that have been adopted have ensured that there are no substantial delays and the opportunity is to keep moving without delays”.



The Linden All Stars team’s substitutes and coaching staff are seen observing the COVID-19 guidelines at the Bounce Back Football Tournament in December 2020 at the Guyana National Stadium. No spectators were allowed at this event in keeping with COVID-19 guidelines (Zaheer Mohammed photo)

Local sports slowly recuperating from COVID-19 hit


HERE is no sugar coating of the anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic which has taken over two million lives worldwide. It is even more searing in the sporting fraternity, since the forced hiatus caused a considerable amount of inactivity. Locally, the pandemic has halted practically every sport in its path and has since created a cloud of doubt and uncertainty that is bewildering to athletes, coaches and spectators. Though these athletes and supporters are raring to go,

satisfying requisite national safety restriction must first be met. The drastic change in the chain of command sees these associations presenting their fully documented plan on how they intend to prevent the further spread of the virus during the staging of an event/tournament, to the National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF), Ministry of Sport and Ministry of Health. Once it is approved, then an association is free to pursue its next step. However, once that event is over, a reapplication to stage another event is required. The NCTF

has the authority to put a screeching halt to an event once it sees that the pandemic parameters have been breached, even if approval had already been granted. In the early stages of the NCTF, the associations wrote and presented the full works of their plans with the intent of trying to resume training activities. Some sports were lucky enough to pass the mark, while others, like the full-contact sports, have not gotten the opportunity to resume. This led numerous associations to try their best to get their highest

level of athletes back to regular training in the hopes of attending compulsory international events. The silver lining saw this request being granted to the majority of those that revamped their calendar of activities. Resumption in activities included Athletics, Golf, Lawn Tennis, Basketball, Football, Cricket, Swimming, Table Tennis, Cycling and Chess, but these were all at the highest level in the country. But, the restrictions meant, no fans, shortened events, regular testing and sanitising and a dramatic

shift in times for regular events. The hapless sports included Rugby, Motor Racing, Volleyball, Horse Racing, Hockey, Squash, and Karate. They have all made attempts to have regular activities resumed but nothing in the near future signalled normality. However, with commencement of administering the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, approved by the Government of Guyana, it will be interesting to see if these sports will have an opportunity to finally resume activities like before.

Tourism sector loses 42 per cent of revenue... Focus will be placed on the development of experiential travel and high-quality experiences, as the country moves to develop a resilient, diversified and sustainable tourism product to satisfy the ever-growing demand from travellers, both domestic and international. To further stimulate interest in Guyana’s tourism product, the Government will be increasing the marketing and promotional value of the nation through targetted marketing

that will inspire increased visitation and the economic value from each individual traveller. Guyana, through the GTA, will continue to narrowly focus marketing and communications on target markets and continue, through a concerted effort, to reach the target markets, market segments, and audiences most attracted by Guyana’s unique value proposition. It was reported that President, Dr Irfaan Ali, has assured the tour-

ism industry players that his Government is committed to supporting all stakeholders through the very critical recovery process. “The Guyana Tourism Authority continues with their marketing efforts to promote nature, adventure and eco-tourism both locally and internationally, and, with the support of the private sector, we have no doubt that this will allow the sector to rebound with strengthened resolve and greater results,” the

President said in a message to mark World Tourism Day 2020. He further said: “We will also implement policies to strengthen and grow the workforce in the tourism sector to cater to the influx of visitors expected as a result of the focussed marketing as well as the emergence of the oil and gas sector. This will also help to create more opportunities, which will lead to the economic empowerment of men, women and youth in rural


communities.” Already, $2.74 billion has been set aside in Budget 2021 for the Ministry of Tourism, Industry and Commerce. Of this, $185 million has been budgeted for the construction of the Hospitality Tourism Training Institute to train and improve the quality of personnel and equip thousands of young people with skills to take up jobs in the sector.

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