Listening to Orapeleng Phuswane-Katse, clinical physician with the Ministry of Health describe how something as seeming trivial as wearing a mask has such huge social denouement is very instructive on the extent to which COVID-19 has changed everyday life in Botswana.
“Chatting with a grocery clerk, having a warm moment with a person at a restaurant, smiling to a passer-by on the street, laughing together with someone who notices the same funny occurrence—all of these small moments of connection allow us to feel close to other people but there are people who feel that masks interfere with this. We cannot read other people’s faces anymore. Mostly what we see in masked faces are frightened eyes warning others to “stay back” because we have all become potential viral threats to one another. Despite the fact that people are wary of masks, they have become a line of defence to protect us from COVID 19. Our masks help to keep our immune-suppressed friends from catching the virus, protect strangers we meet from harm, and, importantly, protect our health care system from collapsing under a potentially crushing burden of patients. When we wear masks, we are silently communicating that we care about others’ well-being. Whether it is wearing a mask to help slow the spread of COVID or being part of a large mask-making grassroots movement, masks can strengthen the very ties we fear that we are losing in the quarantine new normal”, explains Phuswane-Katse.
As more officials urge people to cover their faces in public to protect against the spread of the coronavirus, wearing masks in public seems to be the new normal.
Batswana are all masked, this the necessary price of entry into most public places. A lot of changes have and will probably still come out of this pandemic. The polite handshake has been replaced with a contactless greeting.
In many countries, the use of masks is extremely common — in particular as a respectful courtesy to people around you when you might have a mild respiratory infection. People across the country are adapting to the ‘new normal’ amid the novel coronavirus pandemic that has swept the globe. Currently, social distancing and good hand hygiene are the most effective ways of preventing COVID-19 transmission, but wearing a face cover can limit the spread of the virus.
Wearing a mask is now a mandatory part of the Botswana workplace. Most Batswana have never had to wear a mask for their health before, let alone while they shop for groceries or go for a run. Now, tailors work tirelessly with their sewing machines, cutting and stitching, weaving together the strands of fabric that symbolise resistance to this virus. COVID-19 may be most infectious when symptoms are mildest, meaning that people may be spreading the virus before realizing they have it. Individuals are advised to wear mouth and nose face coverings – including homemade masks, scarves or bandanas when they go to a public area, such as the grocery store or a pharmacy. It seems increasingly likely that where masks provide a benefit outside a surgical setting, it is for society as a whole, not the individual wearing it. Rather than preventing the wearer picking up an infection, they may be more likely to prevent carriers of the virus from passing it on, whether through coughs, sneezing, during conversation or even while yawning.
Dr Sophie Moagi, clinical psychologist in Gaborone says “Wearing masks is mandatory in the country but adhering to these rules may feel to some like a forfeiture of their freedoms. People naturally rebel when they’re told what to do, even if the measures could protect them. To some, wearing a mask means admitting a fear they may not have consciously confronted yet. Many view the mask as a walking symbol of vulnerability that tells others you’re scared about contracting the virus. So to compensate for that fear, and as a show of strength, they may reject the masks entirely. When people are told what to do, and it’s not the conforming, usual way to behave, there’s a tendency to question that and to resist. It’s the psychological tendency to react to people telling you what to do. Wearing masks is a phenomenon many associate with some Asian countries, where wearing face masks in public is widely accepted. Other people reject masks because they feel they are uncomfortable.”