Govt to toughen penalties for COVID-19 breaches – President Ali

…to focus on holding business owners accountable, stiffer fines
…mulls implementing vaccine passport

President Dr Irfaan Ali

As Government looks to ramp up enforcement of the COVID-19 guidelines and protocols in light of spiking cases and deaths, efforts are underway to review the laws with the aim of toughening the penalties for those who are caught breaching the measures.
“The fines are inadequate, and I’ve asked the Attorney General Anil Nandlall, indeed, to relook at the laws to see how we can have amendments that can speak to the seriousness of what we’re dealing with. So that is ongoing,” President Irfaan Ali told a news conference on Wednesday.
Currently, the fines for COVID-19 breaches range between $5,000 and $16,000. In recent weeks, the Guyana Police Force has charged scores of persons for these breaches.
During Wednesday’s press briefing, however, President Ali pointed out that the Government would be shifting its focus from prosecuting citizens who partake in social gatherings that breach the COVID-19 guidelines to now prosecuting the owners of those social venues.
“I’ve asked the Prime Minister [Mark Phillips, who is heading the National COVID-19 Taskforce] to discuss with the Taskforce how we now shift the focus on the owners of these facilities and the managers of these facilities. So, if the owners and managers allow these breaches at their facilities, then they’ll be charged to the full extent of the law,” the Head of State stressed.
This is in keeping with a previous commitment by Government for businesses to face the “full brunt of the law” for breaching the guidelines.
In fact, a series of enforcement exercises has already saw several managers and owners of popular bars and night spots in Georgetown being charged and fined.
As at Wednesday, Guyana has some 12,963 confirmed cases, with 1,600 of them currently active, while the country’s death toll from the pandemic is now at 293. April has been the worst month of the pandemic outbreak in the country, recording the highest number of cases and deaths thus far.
In light of this, there have been calls for the national curfew, which is now from 22:30h (10:30pm) to 04:00h (4 am) to be extended. However, President Ali has said there is no need for this.
“Based on all of the advice I’ve received, and the Taskforce would’ve debated and deliberated, there is no need for the adjustment of the curfew. We’ve made it very clear: You can lock this country down forever, every day and every night, but if people don’t adhere to the guidelines and protocols, you’re not doing anything,” he posited.

Reckless and irresponsible behaviour
On this note, the Head of State expressed his disappointment over the recklessness and irresponsibility of persons who continue to flout the COVID-19 guidelines. As such, he posited that there is greater need now for the enforcement of the measures and adherence.
“We thought good sense would prevail, but it hasn’t from the population in the way they treat the pandemic – their behaviour and actions… Guyanese [need] to understand that their lives matter, and the lives of their family members matter, and the lives of people in their communities matter; and they cannot be this reckless,” he contended.
“So yes, you will see stronger enforcement [and] enhancement of that enforcement. We’re now going to add more boots on the ground from the army and the Police to support the enforcement, and we’re going to put more resources into this. But the irresponsibility of some is costing us, because we now have to put more resources on this aspect of the pandemic when we could’ve used those resources either on the public education and information aspect or in mainstream healthcare.”
Only in February, Government rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination campaign, and the programme has aggressively picked up since. To date, over 128,000 persons have received their first dose, while 2,900 persons are now fully vaccinated.

“My Government has launched an exceptionally aggressive vaccination programme to achieve herd immunity in the shortest possible time frame. It has not been easy. As you are aware, sourcing the vaccines is a global challenge, and we have met it head-on. We have made every resource available to get us all vaccinated. To date, our comprehensive response to COVID has cost us as a nation billions of dollars,” the Head of State asserted.
Guyana has bought 200,000 doses of the Russian manufactured Sputnik V vaccine at the cost of US$4 million, of which it has received 138,000 doses. This is in addition to the 83,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab donated by the Governments of India and Barbados, another 24,000 from COVAX facility, and a donation of 20,000 doses of the Sinopharm vaccine from the Chinese Government.
But according to President Ali on Wednesday, while the Government is taking every step to have everyone vaccinated, which is not mandatory, it is the responsibility of every citizen to understand the importance of vaccination.
In order to encourage immunisation, Government has been partnering with civil society, political parties, private sector. The president emphasized the need for a national coalition approach to encourage and motivate persons to take the COVID-19 vaccine.

Vaccine passport
Moving forward, he pointed out that there are many steps being contemplated by countries around the world as they seek to get back to normalcy, including the introduction of a mass vaccination passport. In fact, some countries have already lowered entry requirements for vaccinated persons.
According to President Ali, his Government will soon have to consider these options. He reminded that Guyana operates in a global and regional community that is fast mandating vaccination.
“The vaccination passport is becoming an essential document to conduct business now. It’s a requirement if you’re travelling to some countries. Some countries are now moving towards removing the masks policy if you have both vaccinations and some countries are even contemplating a two-tier system – those who are vaccinated fully and go for public service, (they) go through the line, and those who are not vaccinated (they) have to go through some testing before (they) get to that service… We will have to contemplate all of these options at some point, because we cannot put our collective health at risk by a few who do not understand the importance of all of us getting vaccinated to get out of this together,” he posited.
Nevertheless, going forward, the Head of State noted that there will be improvements in the dissemination of information, both for educational purposes and for public consumption, on what is being done to tackle COVID-19 as well as to raise awareness on the importance of getting vaccinated.
“Regardless of whether you have been vaccinated or not, we must all follow the COVID-19 guidelines… We have to even contemplate, because we don’t know how long is the efficacy of the vaccine – that is still being tested globally and we still don’t know if this is an annual shot that you will need. So our response in terms of the guidelines and protocols is what we know for sure has some long term bearings,” Ali said. (G8)