Just as Guyana is beginning to emerge out of the Covid darkness, the Omicron variant has been first detected in South Africa but almost simultaneously discovered in other countries such as Israel, Belgium and other African countries. It reportedly has a higher degree of transmissibility than the Delta variant and, if so, may well be more resistant to the vaccine, although much of these suspicions are yet to be scientifically confirmed. Almost immediately upon confirmation the price for oil on the world market decreased by US$10 and the US stock market (Dow Jones Industrial Index) fell by 1,000 points although it recovered somewhat later the same day.

Persistent efforts in Guyana and some other countries have shown significant progress, despite resistance. Almost immediately after the production of vaccines, Guyana began to import vaccines from whichever countries or agencies made them available and to receive donations from whichever source that offered. Distribution commenced immediately, accompanied by persistent public relations programmes and outreaches. Guyana was one of the first countries that imposed mandates, first curfews, early closures of entertainment places, restricted groupings and gatherings, then followed by restrictions on entries to public buildings to only the vaccinated and later to all places to which the public had access.

There was much resistance. First there were arguments about the constitutional rights of the unvaccinated. Court cases were even launched by some trade unions. No one asked about the rights of babies, children and the vaccinated and the dangers posed by those who were unvaccinated and could be carrying the virus. These eventually fizzled out but the potential for political mischief was exploited by a challenge to the Sputnik V vaccine. When this failed, bush medicine was touted aa a potential cure and our scientists were invited to investigate. All of these efforts to block the vaccination of the Guyanese people failed and while only just over fifty percent of adults were vaccinated up to recently, the numbers are slowly increasing, while deaths are slowly decreasing. The depressing statistic, however, is that ninety percent of deaths are of persons who are unvaccinated. The Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony, recently revealed that of the 30+ pregnant women who are hospitalized for symptoms caused by the virus, 20+ are unvaccinated.

We are seeing that in many developed countries with vaccination rates at 60 to 70 percent and higher, infections are increasing, particularly now that winter conditions and holiday events enforce more indoor dwelling and travelling. Guyana, therefore, is by no means out of danger, even though we do not have the climactic conditions that enforce closed dwellings and extensive air travel. Once the unvaccinated population is still as high as it is and a potentially new and deadlier strain of the virus is lurking, Guyana is not safe.

While billions have already been spent in advances to the population to sustain minimum conditions and for advertisements, much more public relations exercises and outreaches, though expensive, ought to be launched. I am sure that the Ministry of Health is thinking of all forms of initiatives, but I have not seen or heard of mobile units in Georgetown or elsewhere. There were house to house campaigns. Some met resistance. But while I am sure that some of these continue, adequate publicity is not being given to them. A fifty percent rate of vaccinations is not adequate enough to give protection and must be substantially increased. The successes of the Ministry so far must not be allowed to create a sense of satisfaction, particularly among the public, that all is well.

The rapid dispersal of the Omicron variant to countries that are far away from each other makes it certain that it will reach Guyana in months, if not weeks. Unless the pressure is kept up this variant can spread and become the dominant covid infectious agent in Guyana. While overseas scientists are investigating and evaluation Omicron and the effect of existing vaccines on it, Guyana must make every effort to ensure that it does not get a foothold here.

We have seen the impact of the Covid pandemic in countries nearby that wasted time in not taking immediate and urgent steps in confronting the covid pandemic. Our neighbour, Trinidad and Tobago is one. Brazil is another, although political postures by the Government was a factor. One newspaper carried a report on the devastation caused by the pandemic in Manaus in Brazil. Guyana has been fortunate because of the hands-on approach by the Government. If this continues and is intensified, we can defeat the new Omicron variant.

While it now appears that we will be living for a long time with the covid virus, the rapid development of a vaccine is cause for optimism and now the development of a capsule is a hopeful signs that the world’s scientists will produce something that may be even more effective. But we must be concerned primarily about what is going on in our own backyard. We need to keep up and intensify our efforts.

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