Reflections on coronavirus

 public health official
A public health official in protective gear. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

More than anything else, the fight against coronavirus will be won by denying the deadly bug new hosts to spread across, with more countries now resorting to lockdowns.

Kenya this week took a similar approach, closing schools and banning public gatherings while urging those who can, to self-isolate by working from home. Also encouraged is the use of non-cash alternatives like mobile money and cards.

These measures, alongside personal hygiene, in general are designed to condemn the flu-like virus to a natural death. When transmissions are short-circuited early enough, it not only saves lives and resources but also allows the society to bounce back faster. It’s a sustainable way of containing infections outside healthcare as per the lessons learnt over time from past coronavirus like incidents, including the 2003 SARS and the 1918 influenza.

The takeaway up to this point is that as Covid-19 unravels, countries shouldn’t let this crisis go to waste. They should be deliberate about getting better at managing the ever-mutating transmittable viruses with each subsequent outbreak, budgeting for and investing in research and human resource.

As opposed to wishing it never strikes again, societies should be prepared for future potentially deadlier mutated strains amid rapid urbanisation threatening to throw the natural ecosystem out of whack.


Granted, the situation now is totally different with technological progress from the early days of the 1918 influenza when people didn’t know what was attacking them.

Now, while the current lockdowns may cause disruptions, it’s only for a short while to avoid possible fallout. It’s a sustainable policy action that responsible governments across the world in consultation with medical specialists have imposed based on expert opinion. In this regard, policy wonks should always consult practitioners at the earliest opportunity to make informed public decisions, which could possibly nip a looming crisis in the bud. After all, a society has to precisely know the forces it’s up against in order to pick the right ammunition for the fight.

Taiwan, for instance, is increasingly been seen as a shining example, having spotted the Covid-19 strain early enough and mobilising resources to beat it. It’s among Asian nations with the lowest infections despite close interaction with China, the epicentre of the first wave of the outbreak. Having been tipped off as soon as the first cases were reported in Wuhan in December, Taiwan officials started screening passengers at airports immediately and quarantining suspected cases.

To be clear, restricted movements and gatherings have totally upset the apple cart in a world used to be continually on the move. But this only embodies the wisdom that sometimes-short-term sacrifices are necessary for the greater good as far as sustainable goals are concerned.

Communication is yet another important plank of crisis management. And this goes beyond updates on cases reported to include measures taken to flatten the spread growth curve. Continual updates tend to reassure the public that efforts are being taken to manage the situation while leaving little room for speculation aimed at fanning fear. To this end, it helps that the Kenyan government has imposed hefty fines on social media rumourmongers to discourage peddling of unsubstantiated claims likely to stoke panic. As we have recently witnessed, communication should be coordinated in such a way that information flows from a central place, either the government spokesperson or a joint multisectoral committee or the head of State. With the government seen to display a united front, the message delivered symbolically carries gravitas to reassure the wider public. Such distressed times also demand that the State provides safety nets for poor households as well as small businesses.

More importantly, businesses and consumers have a crucial role to play in managing the pandemic. The government can shout from the rooftops but if individuals don’t practice hygienic behaviour meant to ward off the germs, the spread will catch on like wildfire.

While some customers genuinely bought multiple hand sanitisers for home use probably because of their large family size, others went on a shopping spree, emptying supermarket shelves and later reselling at exorbitant prices. Such predatory practice, while in the midst of a scourge that threatens us all, fails humanity. Hard times that push us to reflect on our mortality should bring out not the worst in us but the best by caring about the welfare of the next person. Equally, manufacturers and traders shouldn’t take advantage of the ensuing panic-buying associated with lockdowns to hoard products and inflate prices.

Employers, keen to trim fat amid bare-bones business, might be tempted to let go of some workers while some staff may play sick, both of which are unsuitable acts at such a time. We should all desist from unsustainable practices that might put our fellow citizen on the back foot for eventually this storm will surely pass and humanity shall rise once more.