Indian PM Narendra Modi has taken a lot of flak in the last month for the tsunami of COVID-19 infections and deaths that have undoubtedly overwhelmed India’s health system presently. While India’s numbers are still far below those of the much more developed USA, with its very advanced and pervasive health system, it is interesting that Modi had been heavily criticised for implementing one of the most draconian lockdowns in the early phase of the pandemic, yet he is now pilloried for not repeating the exercise.
In next door Trinidad, PM Keith Rowley was praised by many for that country’s strict lockdown policy, and the Guyana Government was – and still is – criticised for allegedly “lax” initiatives in this area. Trinidad’s lower numbers of infection and fatality had seemed to have validated Rowley’s decision – until this last week. Suddenly, just as in India, the numbers of infection and death in that country started to go off the charts. The causes for this phenomenon have still not been identified conclusively, as, for instance, in India, where a specific mutant variant of the virus has been shown to be much more contagious and deadlier that the original virus. In Trinidad, it is now alleged that while the Government might have plugged one avenue for introducing the virus at the airports, the less vigorous policing of their “Venezuelan” waters had left another open.
For us in Guyana, where we are witnessing a seemingly inexorable rise in deaths and infections, our authorities are stressing the vaccination programme that would supposedly lead to “herd immunity” when we have vaccinated 80% of our population. And “vaccination” in this usage means the two recommended shots. But, as we know, there are still some ambiguities that will pose challenges to our populace. The most significant of these will be the constantly mutating nature of the virus, of which one of the other strains might be immune to the present vaccines. For instance, we know for sure that the South African variant is not responsive to the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is one of our major weapons. Then, again, even though we have instituted a screening process at our airports, this is based of detecting symptoms such as an elevated temperature and coughing. But we know that a significant number of infected persons are non-symptomatic. And there are our porous borders with Brazil and Venezuela.
Since we cannot throw up our hands, what then can we do? Ironically, the “solution” was proposed by PM Modi as far back as in September 2020, when the world was awaiting the first COVID-19 vaccine. He called it the “social vaccine”. The theory behind the “social vaccine” is simple and is based on the irrefutable fact that the COVID-19 virus can be physically transmitted only from infected persons. And very early on, we were told that this was predominantly in the form of “aerosols” formed from our saliva when we speak or exhale in the presence of others who are less than six feet away. The wearing of close-fitting, specifically-designated masks and maintaining social distancing were recommended to prevent this form of transmission.
Initially, we were also told that when the aerosols containing viruses landed on surfaces, individuals touching those surfaces and touching their mouths, noses or eyes could become infected. We were advised to wash our hands thoroughly with soap or hand sanitizers after touching surfaces in public. We should also avoid greeting each other with handshakes. All these social precautions, if followed diligently, would prevent the transmission of the virus and bring the pandemic to a halt. And it is clear that this is possible, since China and the Far Eastern countries have halted the spread of the virus without achieving 80% vaccinations and “herd immunity”. When a COVID-19 infection is detected, meticulous “contact tracing” and isolating are necessary to nip its spread.
In Guyana, as we move towards achieving vaccination herd immunity, the authorities must vigorously implement “social vaccination” through public information programmes and sanctions for violating the social protocols.