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COVID-19 - Guyanese urged to practise social distancing – avoid large gatherings

Monday, 23 March 2020

Guyana Chronicle, March 23, 2020

By Tamica Garnett

THOUGH social distancing is one of the primary measures in preventing the spread of the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19), many Guyanese are failing to take heed to this advisory, Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Karen Boyle, said on Sunday.

Many religious halls of worship have remained opened as well as recreational facilities such as bars, though the Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) has advised against large gatherings.
Social distancing entails persons keeping safe distances between themselves and others. It is a measure that many countries have been demanding so as to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, which has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

While acknowledging that behaviour change takes time, the DCMO said it cannot be business as usual when the virus is spreading rapidly across the world, and as such persons need to refrain from certain activities.

“Some churches are still having regular services; people are still in some instances greeting persons with handshakes and kissing. Greetings need to be as non-contact as possible and it is possible,” Boyle stated.
She noted, however, that though slow, some persons are getting the message and are being proactive. “Some persons are and some aren’t. It’s not uniformed so for instance some people have been asking what they can do and how they can do it; businesses have been asking. The word is getting out there maybe not as fast as we would like it to. But understanding human behaviour, it has a long way to go still,” Boyle said.

Notwithstanding the slow pace at which the general public has been taking the advisory, Boyle emphasized that it is still an important part of the prevention process.
“It’s very important that people take it seriously, it’s no joke. If we are able to get people to take social distancing seriously we may very well be able to contain the epidemic that has started here in Guyana and prevent local or community transmission which is what we’re aiming for. We are very lucky that so far we’ve been able to find the cases that came in and we’re hoping that there are no more,” Boyle said.

Since the outbreak of the virus was first recorded in Wuhan, China in December, 2019, the virus has since spread to 186 countries, infecting over 294,000 persons and being responsible for almost 13,000 deaths, according to WHO statistics, as of Sunday.
Thus far Guyana has only reported imported cases of the virus, with no transmission taking place locally.

Guyana recorded its first case of the virus on March 10, when a 52 year old woman tested positive after dying at the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation (GPHC).
Since then four other persons have tested positive for the virus, but all were related to the initial patient. The four remaining patients have since been quarantined at MoPH facilities, following reports that they were flouting self-quarantine guidelines.
The MoPH has since been monitoring several “suspected cases”, which entails persons who would have come into contact with the confirmed cases.

Boyle is part of a MoPH team that is travelling across the country carrying out sensitisation campaign to educate stakeholders on guidelines to guard against the virus – social distancing being one of those measures. “As we speak I’m in Mabaruma [Region One] with a team doing sensitisation with the health officers, the public and different entities all across Region One. We’re teaching them about social distancing, sanitisation and the whole gamut. The response is very good so we’re going to be doing it from region to region and we’ll also have to use mass media and social media platforms,” Boyle said.

She added that: “The first step is to get the word out there. For that we’re going to depend a lot more on TV, radio, social media to remind persons. But it will ultimately take everyone being conscientious and looking out for each other.”
She noted that several social distancing measures are being advised.
“We really have to speak up against the unnecessary gathering, parties, and sport [events]. If you’re going to have wedding reduce it to a smaller gathering, if you’re going to have wakes maybe reduce it, limit it to about 20 people so as to reduce risk of transmission,” Boyle said.

She also issued a plea to public transportation operators to be more careful and considerate of the need for precautionary measures. “We’re also advising public transporters to take one less person per row so we don’t have people sitting shoulder to shoulder,” she said. She reminded that helping to curtail the spread of the virus is not only the job of the MoPH but would take a concerted effort of all of the country, including the public and private sector as well as every individual citizen.