MoPH directives may exacerbate COVID-19 spread

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…colonial-era measures regurgitated

The Ministry of Public Health has been empowered by a gazetted directive from caretaker President Granger to take several public health measures (PHM) to address the COVID-19 pandemic that has reached Guyana – in which 1 person has died and 5 persons were infected. However, there are concerns that several measures are not only antiquated, but can actually worsen the situation locally.

PHM, according to the Canadian Government’s response, “include non-pharmaceutical interventions that can be used to reduce and delay community transmission of the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. Implemented early, PHM seek to reduce the speed with which cases are occurring, to delay and to reduce the peak of virus activity in the community, and reduce the demand for health care services.”

President David Granger

However, it would appear that the Government merely regurgitated measures from the colonial era; more specifically, from the response that addressed the 1918 flu epidemic that killed millions worldwide and 12,000 in Guyana. As such, the directive for the Ministry to “remove, disinfect and destroy the personal effects, goods, buildings and any other article, material or things exposed or thing exposed to infection from the disease” is definitely irrelevant under the modern understanding of viral infections, which do not persist for more than a few days on surfaces on which the virus may have been deposited. In the present political climate in Guyana, it is also giving the authorities draconian powers that may be abused.

The second questionable measure was the directive to “restrain, segregate and isolate persons suffering from the disease, or who may, likely from exposure to the infection, suffer from the disease.”

While mandatory quarantine might be a response to asymptomatic high risk of exposure (e.g. close, unprotected contact) this demands that there are facilities to isolate the individuals from each other, and have the support systems in place to take care of all the needs of the quarantined individuals. At present, persons would be actually discouraged from disclosing their exposure to infected persons for fear of the substandard facilities.

In the absence of these, the authorities would merely be increasing the probability of these individuals infecting each other. At this time, self-isolation might be the best option, combined with education about hand washing, social distance, and recognition of the symptoms of the disease.

At this time, the authorities should be ready to treat infected individuals medically with pharmaceuticals