By Feona Morrison
The global pandemic Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is threatening lives and livelihoods in Guyana. Like large swathes of the globe, Guyana too has joined in implementing lockdown orders aimed at stemming the spread of the deadly virus. Minister of Public Security, Khemraj Ramjattan has expressed disappointment in citizens’ response to these orders provided for under the colonial era Public Health Ordinance of British Guiana which has been resurrected as a legal means to combat the threat of the disease.
The orders which came into effect on April 09, 2020 last until May 03, 2020 unless earlier terminated, extended or amended by the Minister of Public Health after an assessment of the prevailing public health conditions. Among other things, the measures state that every person shall remain in the confines of their home and its yard space, and no person shall host a private party, bar or rum shop or beauty salon.
During a recent interview on local radio programme ‘Elections/COVID-19 Watch’, Ramjattan was specifically asked if he was satisfied with the overall response of the population as it relates to compliance with the orders.
This is what he had to say, “I would not be satisfied. Not with the behaviour that I see of Guyanese notwithstanding these restrictions on social activities. We [Guyanese] are very hard ears. What I have is a huge problem with enforcement to the extent of what do the police do when you now have to go and lock up people because you can [do so] under these emergency measures. You can go and penalize them…prosecute and all of that.”
The Minister pointed out that there are still persons who insist on going to the creeks, bars and rum shops to drink liquor, beauty salons and public gatherings.
Government has already warned that persons who fail to comply with the COVID-19 precautionary measures, commit an offence under Section 152 of the Public Health Ordinance and are liable on summary conviction to the penalty provided under the aforesaid section.
Section 152(1) states — Any person who contravenes any of the provisions of this Ordinance, or fails, neglects or refuses to execute any work or to do anything which he is required to do by virtue of any of the provisions of this Ordinance, or of any order or notice served upon him by any officer of the Board or the legal sanitary authority by virtue of this Ordinance, shall be guilty of an offence and shall, unless some other penalty is provided thereof, be liable to a penalty not exceeding fifty dollars [$50], or in default of payment thereof, to imprisonment with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding two months.
Further, Section 152 (2) outlines—That where the offence is a continuing one, unless some other penalty is provided thereof, the offender shall be liable to a further penalty not exceeding ten dollars [$10] for everyday for which the offence continues, and in default of payment, to imprisonment for any period not exceeding three months.
Ramjattan, however, pointed out that difficulties lie in finding accommodation for these individuals when they are penalized or placed before the courts for breaking the orders.
He asked, “But where do you put them? You can’t go and lock them up in a police station because there is where you are going to have problems. And that is why we are taking the carrot method rather than the other method and begging people, as you see them in clusters, please stop doing that.”
According to the Pubic Security Minister, for Monday (April 20, 2020) alone, police received four reports whereby bars and rum shops were in full swing in Regions Three and Six. Ramjattan disclosed that it was concerned neighbours who alerted the police of the bars having no regards for the rules. He said that when police ranks descended on the scenes, they were told by those gathered, “Is not the rum shop open. We are having a social gathering. We are having the birthday.”
According to him, “Is like is every night the same set of fellows having birthdays.” Apart from these, he stated there have been reports of night spots “harbouring clusters of people.”
“I am not satisfied but as best as possible I am asking the police to get them to comply. We are not going to have the perfect situation but as best as possible we have to do what we can and still warn them that this is dangerous, very, very dangerous,” Ramjattan emphasized.
The Minister nevertheless admitted that there has been substantial compliance with the measures from bars and rum shops. Despite this, he said that there are some bar owners who feel that they are above the law. And to deal with these individuals accordingly, Ramjattan said he has instructed the police to take all necessary actions.
As of yesterday, Tuesday, April 21, 2020, Guyana recorded 67 positive COVID-19 cases inclusive of seven deaths. So far, health officials have conducted a total of 348 tests. There are 51 persons in institutional isolation, while another 17 are in institutional quarantine. So far, nine persons have recovered from the disease.
Globally, as of April 21, 2020, there have been 2,402,250 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 163,097 deaths, reported to World Health Organization (WHO).