South Rupununi goes on lockdown to contain COVID-19

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The South Rupununi District Council (SRDC), the representative body of the 21 indigenous communities of the South Rupununi, has taken a collective decision to lock down all South Rupununi communities.

In a statement, the SRDC said its constituent villages made this decision to protect their communities from further spread of COVID-19, in light of test results confirming five positive cases in three of their villages.

Since the first confirmed case of the virus in Guyana in March of this year, the SRDC has assiduously worked with their villages to protect their people.

“The inadequate healthcare systems and supplies in our region leave our people extremely vulnerable to disease, particularly this novel coronavirus,” the Council noted.

It pointed out that immediately following the outbreak, they blocked several illegal crossings along the Guyana-Brazil border, followed by conducting regular border monitoring.

“We have been monitoring entry and access into our villages and roads, and we are working with local security and health personnel to put in place proper measures to protect our communities,” the Council said.

The SRDC has attended meetings with the Ministry of Health and the Region 9 COVID-19 Task Force to provide ground-information and assist “as best we can with the COVID-19 response”.

The SRDC said they have issued press releases and written formal letters to the appropriate authorities requesting that: mining activities in our region be suspended; the government provide assistance to monitor border crossings and prevent entry; and access to medical equipment and supplies in our communities be improved.

The Council lamented that to date, they have received little to no response to their concerns and pleas for assistance.

“Our greatest threat remains the vast open border the South Rupununi shares with Brazil.
Indeed, our efforts have been stymied by the Government’s continued refusal to remove mining from its list of essential services and by its interventions on behalf of miners which have allowed them to continue to traverse our territory, threatening and challenging our gatekeepers,” the SRDC said.

It added that “the Government’s prioritization of interests such as mining is compounded by the inadequacy of the public health response to this global pandemic.”

According to the Council, “we have seen cases in which it takes almost a week just for sick patients to be tested even after reporting COVID-like symptoms, in addition to taking several days to receive test results.”

“We note with concern that after the announcement of the confirmed cases in our communities, it took more than 48 hours before patients were transported to the hospital in Lethem. We also note that the inadequate supply of testing kits for Region 9 only allows for persons with severe symptoms to be tested. This failure to (1) immediately test any patients reporting COVID-like symptoms; (2) promptly return test results; and (3) expeditiously transport confirmed COVID-19 patients to the hospital, heightens the risk of increased community transmission,” the SRDC noted.

The SRDC said its leaders, despite the limited resources at their disposal, have worked diligently to protect their communities by encouraging villages to abide by measures.

However, the Council said as is the case elsewhere, there are a few selfish individuals that have greatly compromised our villages by taking advantage of the open border and using illegal border-crossings.

It is with all of this in mind that the SRDC and the 21 communities have made the collective decision to go into a lockdown.

“We have made arrangements with Village Councils to have systems in place to facilitate the delivery of food and other essential items to all of our communities and attempted to facilitate essential travel into the Marudi mines. For the South Rupununi villages, all measures including the 6 pm to 6 am curfew will remain in place until further notice.
Now more than ever, we demand that the Government and regional authorities support our decisions and measures to protect our people from the spread of this deadly virus,” the SRDC said.