Thursday, July 2, 2020

Authorities should be more honest transparent in preparing people on eventuality of Coronavirus

It is now months since the world became aware of a deadly disease called coronavirus.

Coronavirus has during that time turned the global economy up-side-down.

Uncertainty, panic and volatility have become the order of the day.

In some instances, prejudice has itself become worse than the disease itself.

In our instance it would seem like public health authorities somehow believe Botswana will not fall under attack.

The truth though is that they know very well that as a country we remain a sitting duck – living more on prayer and hope rather than any known wall of defence.

Prepared is the best form of defence.

Almost on a daily basis the world gets on the minute information about the status of coronavirus.

This is especially so for countries that are transparent with well-developed structures of accountability that would include Italy and south Korea, among others.

Botswana government should prepare citizens of the difficult decisions that would have to be taken in the instance ed that the country falls under the spell of coronavirus.

Current adverts in the public media are not only inadequate but also potentially misleading in so far as they underplay the gravity of coronavirus.

There is really no reason why Batswana should wait for coronavirus to hit before they could learn even the basics on the disease.

It is true to say that a lot remains unknown about coronavirus.

But the basics are that it is a respiratory disease, spread by contact between infected and the uninfected people.

This brings coronavirus much closer in comparison to flu.

Europe, which has an elaborate public health infrastructure is today struggling to contain the epidemic.

It looks like the United States too is headed for a big crisis.

Economically the effect is being felt across all the mature economies of the world.

What is needed to contain coronavirus is decisive action.

This includes cutting off fake news, false alarm and being transparent.

Social distancing, what some people call quarantining is at the moment proving useful in countries hit.

China was able to quarantine whole cities.

In a democracy that might not be possible.

Very few people, including Chinese trust the government of China.

Chinese authorities say they have managed to control coronavirus.

That may well be true. But the trust deficit complicates what would otherwise be celebrated as a story of human triumph.

But it is still important to make decisions on what level of distancing the country would adopt.

Such decisions do not require the virus to land for them to be taken.

Authorities on the ground should be sufficiently trained to provide adequate and correct guidance on the ground, especially to quarantined people.

Those providing information, including the media should avoid sensationalism, creating anxiety and unnecessary panic.

Because there are so many unknowns, it is possible that conspiracies theories could be thrown about.

But if not handled properly, coronavirus just like its predecessors could bring about social, economic and political misery on its wake.

Just how ready is Botswana for a widespread pandemic?

The truth is that we shall never know while also hoping that it does not happen.

Response like behavior may themselves become contagion, if there is no proper coordination and or oversight.

More time is always helpful to get authorities to prepare and plan.

But to sit back and hope nothing happens is not a substitute for preparedness.

Botswana like most of the region will be entering winter in a short while.

If coronavirus like flu and other respiratory diseases spread faster in winter, then the overall situation might prove tricky.

If winter here arrives before the world has tackled the virus, that might be the time when Africa too, like the rest of the world reports new infections.

Coinciding with winter might prove problematic as the continent’s health services might be overrun and even be overwhelmed.

Some levels of quarantining might seem reasonable to authorities, while proving highly disruptive and thus counterproductive.

These could include cancelling churches and closing schools for long periods of time.

From past experiences, quarantining has limited benefits beyond which it makes no sense, especially when too many people get so affected that quarantining makes no social or economic sense.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.