The coronavirus pandemic is creating havoc around the world, with increasing numbers of deaths and infections daily. Many more countries have also reported new cases this past week, and, with each passing day, the level of fear and anxiety in societies everywhere is increasing, especially since there is no known vaccine for the disease that is readily available.
The number of people infected has soared past 200,000, and worldwide fatalities have topped 10,000. More deaths have also now been recorded in Europe, the new virus epicentre, than in Asia since the outbreak first emerged in Wuhan, China last December.
Guyana has thus far registered one fatality and has confirmed its fifth case of coronavirus disease this past week. The health authorities here say they will continue to locate and quarantine other persons who came into close contact with the woman who contracted the virus and died a few days ago.
Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, recently referred to the virus as an “enemy against humanity”, as never before has the world been threatened and affected in this manner. Currently, many cities around the world are basically on lock-down, with the authorities placing tough restrictions on persons to stay indoors and maintain ‘social distancing’ so as to slow or halt the spread of the disease. Many schools, airports, shopping malls etc have been closed in order to prevent mass gatherings.
The big question on everyone’s mind is: When will this all end, and how soon will persons be able to get on with their daily lives? The reality of the situation is that no one knows for sure. Certainly, life will not return to normalcy anytime soon. Experts have pointed out that even if the infection rates start to decline in the coming months due to the present measures being taken, it is still far from the end.
The current measures being taken to shut down airports, schools, shopping malls, sports venues and other aspects of national life are not sustainable in the long term. While this is needed at this stage, the social and economic impacts of this damage would be very heavy for countries to deal with.
On the other hand, if these restrictions are lifted, there is a high possibility that the infection rates would go up, and all the gains made would be reversed. The WHO has stated that the only way to suppress and control the virus is for countries to “isolate, test, treat and trace.” If countries fail to do that, “transmission chains can continue at a low level, then resurge once physical distancing measures are lifted.”
While the situation seems very bleak at the moment, it is hoped that countries would adhere to WHO guidelines on fighting the virus. The human and financial resources needed to respond to COVID-19 are massive, but every effort must be made to ensure they are provided.
That said, COVID-19 will have a huge financial impact on many individual households and their ability to survive this difficult phase. This is in addition to the slowing down of the economy here for quite some time now due to the elections’ climate. Some businesses were forced to close their doors, while others scaled down their operations, resulting in workers being laid off or having reduced work days etc. Certainly, these affected persons would find great difficulty in paying their mortgages, rents, loans, utility bills, and buy groceries etc.
We have noticed that neither the Government nor the private sector has so far come up with any support system to provide relief to workers and their families in order to cushion the impacts. What we have noticed instead, is the unconscionable act of raising prices at a time when it is already difficult for persons to meet their basic expenses.
In some Caribbean countries, the commercial banks and other financial lending institutions have already indicated that they would provide assistance to consumers by deferring loan payments and slashing interest rates, and so on. Private companies have also offered food supplies, baby formula, toiletries and cleaning items to less fortunate households.
We have also noted the calls being made for employers to offer alternative work-from-home arrangements, and to provide the tools for workers to engage in safe practices, considering the threat of COVID-19. These calls should not be ignored.
These are indeed tough times for families who are already burdened financially, and it is expected that the Government and private sector companies would step in and do what is expected.