We can’t afford to panic and forget

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Temperatures are rising and COVID-19 infection and fatality statistics are falling, or at the very least stabilising.

The fear had been of a bloodbath in the Southern African winter.

The region - the epicentre of the pandemic in Africa - has more or less navigated its first real COVID-19 test and the experts anticipate the trend of declining infections and deaths to continue.

At the same time, populations are weary of being locked down and shut out.

Economies are choking at national and household level and there is increasing pressure for authorities to ease restrictions.

Across the region, and across the continent, there is a noticeable shift towards reopening of economies.

As societies try as much as possible to normalise in these decidedly far from normal times, we must guard against the “panic-and-forget” syndrome.

We have had our panic. But time has the capacity to make people forget why they panicked in the first place.

The result will be a regression to earlier states of morbidity.

Even before winter was over, it was already observable that there already was a creeping laxity in adherence to the basics that saved an unquantifiable number of lives during the initial panic.

As economies reopen, as societies try and salvage some semblance of the pre-covid order, it is imperative that we reinforce the basics.

COVID-19 is not over. Far from it.

So even as restrictions are eased we must carry on doing those things that have been proven to work as lifesavers.

Yes, these things may be painful, stressful and inconvenient but right now - and even if a vaccine is discovered and made widely and cheaply available - we need to continue on the tried and tested path of prevention and control.

The basics remain the same and demand reiteration by authoritiesad nauseam:

• Regular and thorough cleaning of hands with an alcohol-based hand rub, with soap and water;

• Maintenance of at least one metre distance between yourself and others;

• Avoidance of crowded places;

• Avoidance of touching of eyes, nose and mouth;

• Covering of mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when coughing and sneezing, and subsequent and immediate proper disposal of tissues followed by hand washing;

• Staying home and self-isolating even with minor symptoms such as cough, headache, and mild fever. If you need to leave your house, wear a mask;

• Seeking medical attention promptly in cases of fever, coughing and difficulty in breathing; and

• Keeping up to date on the latest information from trusted sources.

No one can dispute that people need to go out and make a living.

Our societies and economies are hardly digitised and remain highly informal.

This means, unlike in Europe, North America and parts of Asia and Australasia, the majority almost literally have to leave their homes daily to hunt for the next meal.

In our daily hunting, let us adhere to the preventive basics as much as possible.

In addition, authorities must not only hammer the health communications repeatedly, they must enforce regulations thoroughly.

Enforcement must by both firm and reasonable, allowing people to make a living while pursuing broader public health objectives for the commonweal.

And to be thoroughly effective, enforcement starts at the home with parents and guardians. This is particularly important where schools are reopening.

Children will take their parents’ and guardians’ health habits to school and this could either be great for COVID-19 control or a disaster in the making depending on what they have observed at home.

From the home, we enter communities. Our African social philosophy has long taught us well that it takes a village to raise a child.

So we should expect to see community enforcement of health regulations.

Older people must take an active interest in how children are interacting and behaving as they re-enter schools.

And that means the elders themselves have to be conscientiously observing health regulations.

Beyond the home and the community, inasmuch as parents, guardians and older members of society reinforce children’s good or bad habits, education authorities must ensure schools are practically equipped for reopening.

Few children in Southern Africa can afford protective personal equipment. Governments must guarantee this for our children in schools.

We have had a bad experience with COVID-19, and that experience is not yet over.

As we reopen our societies, we cannot afford to succumb to the panic and forget syndrome.

 

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