COVID-19: Gov’t, Opp. need to work together to bring relief – Economics Lecturer

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As Guyanese adhere to restrictions to stay at home triggering a negative impact on employment and spending, Head of the Department of Economics at the University of Guyana Sydney Armstrong is calling on the Government and Opposition to work together to assist those in need.

“We have to be sensible in our approach and I think our leaders, they need to take this as very important and need to find a way to come together. If not for anything, it has to be for now.

“We are in a very very difficult position and both Government and Opposition they need to find a way to ensure the people get out of this,” Armstrong said in an interview with the News Room recently.

He pointed out that persons’ lives are being impacted, especially those who are self-employed as they still have bills to pay.

In an effort to curb the spread of the deadly Coronavirus, the Government implemented emergency measures which only allows ‘essential’ businesses to remain open but prohibits persons from leaving their homes unless absolutely necessary. There is also a curfew from 18:00hrs to 6:00hrs.

Armstrong who specialises in Development Economics said it is unfair to ask persons to stay at home without providing the resources for them to stay home.

“What about the people who depend on their day-to-day earnings, the barber, people working in the salon? Yes, I am going to stay home but you want me to stay home and starve and not pay my electricity bill and not pay my water bills.”

Further, some persons have been laid off while others had their hours of work reduced in order to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

With the country’s unemployment rate at 12.2 per cent based on the 2017 Labour Force Survey, this is expected to increase after COVID-19.

“You’ll see unemployment will be way higher than normal… entertainment services will take a hit, tourism services will take a hit all because of the social distancing component and so you find that generally across the board.

“When we talk about employment and people not getting money, it has its effect because spending will decline…aggregate expenditure drives a lot of things and so once aggregate production starts to dip, you’re going to find production starts to dip,” Amstrong said.

The National COVID-19 Task Force (NCTF) set up by the President is considering the provision of stimulus packages for affected businesses and a comprehensive plan to help those in need. The plan will include the recommencement of the hamper distribution by the Civil Defence Commission (CDC) and vouchers.

But during a virtual press conference on Monday, Chairman of the NCTF said these measures are “hamstrung” by the current political crisis.

Armstrong said too much focus is being placed on the elections as opposed to what is being put to fight COVID-19.

“The national elections continue to dominate while at the same time, people are dying from COVID and to me, it’s a sad thing when politics is trumping the health for the country,” he said.

The UG Lecturer added that “I don’t think we should have the approach that we should wait until we settle this election, if Government and Opposition can come together, there should be some way in which we can find to equip our first responders.”

Guyana has found itself in a unique position where it is battling the COVID-19 during an ongoing electoral process.

The General and Regional Election was held on March 2 but after over 50 days, the declaration of a winner hinges on a national recount of all votes cast.

The recount has not yet started and a date has not been set for the process which is expected to take another month.

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