Saturday, May 30, 2020

Hold on for one more day; a letter from Wuhan (Part I)

Here we are. We’re almost into the fourth month since the beginning of COVID-19 which has taken the world at large by a shockingly great surprise due to its gigantic pandemic scale within a limited period of time. There was a time when we felt hopeless, desperate and almost gave up on life. Prudent prevention and effective control measures against COVID-19 in an unrelenting, solid and meticulous fashion is what is needed in the curb against this virulent and venomous disease. It has been a hard and dire experience to undergo the severity of lockdown as well as a seemingly endless 14 days quarantine period.            

Imagine living a life where you are continuously careful about what you touch, who you open the door to, and constantly wearing a face mask every time you open the door to a knock. A life where your body temperature is checked constantly and conservatively every morning without fail. A life where you disinfect every surface in the house including door handles and everything you bring in with in the house, including your cellphone, car keys, eye spectacles and shoes and clothes you wore from outside. A life of movements constrained to the walls of your house for a period lasting almost four months. It may sound like fiction but this is a sad reality that my loved ones and I underwent. Regardless, this isn’t the time to do finger-pointing or accuse anybody or declare anyone guilty for the outbreak of COVID-19. Reasonably, this isn’t the time for conspiracies or blame game.

Dear compatriots, stay positive, stay safe, and stay at home. By staying at home, be encouraged to resist any form of negativity, stay steadfastly in faith; everyday claiming your victory against this pandemic. As the waves of the COVID-19 pandemic looms around the globe, it is evidently clear that Botswana as well imposed lockdown measures to curb the spread and prevent imported cases from escalating. For now it is well known that COVID- 19 initially known as 2019-nCoV is a virus believed to have emerged in a wet market in Wuhan the capital city of Hubei Province late December 2019 where it was transmitted from an animal; in this case a bat, believed to hop into a pangolin and then to a human being; as far as its origination is concerned. Due to this outbreak, China imposed extra-ordinary quarantine measures in Hubei Province which resulted in total lockdown of almost 11 million people living in Wuhan alone and an additional of other cities within Hubei Province, to curb the intensifying spread of the virus. 

Despite a genuinely frightening wave of infection rates escalating and the wave of deaths in Wuhan and other affected areas, my family and I ( Dr Matshaba) remained calm and made it mandatory to adhere to these strict measures. Totally, the lockdown was instant and no one had anticipated it. Even though I was able to move around in a spacious apartment, I felt the space wasn’t wide enough for me and my family. I suffocated, ran out of breath and went from helplessness and desperation to feelings of hopefulness and composure with time.

The panic and all other negative emotions weren’t going to rescue the situation, instead worsen it. This kind of attitude was rather going to wreck my mental health-being and bring along devastating strategies detrimental to our psychological being including relation with significant others. With careful thought, though was devastated and helpless, doing what is necessary and refusal to let negative emotions determine my reactions and direction in dealing with the situation at hand was vital. In its logical sense, isolation is simply meant for our own health benefit and those of others, which in this situation means protecting the lives of those we care about especially my family. During the initial period of the 2019 coronavirus outbreak (the name that gave it popularity) we feared for our dear and precious lives. News flooded in about how other countries are evacuating their citizens from Wuhan which was hard-hit by COVID-19. As devastating as it was and hard to swallow, myself and other compatriots experienced rigorous lockdown; where cars and all other modes of transport services such as taxis, subways, buses, and flights came to a halt. I pictured my family and me in a red danger zone, helpless and desperate and surrounded by death. We ran out of necessities such as food and water, and unable to go out for refills since the city was under lockdown.

The news made international headlines. All sorts of uncensored information were said, whether true or false; they didn’t help the situation and the fearful circumstances we were under as it alternatively worsened it. With my hopes fluctuating on a dreadful pendulum, I reached a point of losing it due to the inadequacy of masks and disinfectants in the local pharmacies; as well faced with food scarcity. Fear rushed through my mind and I landed on a flight mode. I felt that evacuation is the only ultimate and absolute solution for my family’s health security. One has to admit, we endured strict adherence of staying indoors. We felt as if every right has been taken away from us. Even though it seemed to me as the situation seemed to be worsening day by day on the outside, we at the same time kept high hopes in the win against the outbreak. What gave me enough bravery was the amount of strength and attitude healthcare workers and other essential workers unleashed against the fight of COVID-19. Valuable and informative messages reached everyone in all corners of the country detailing ways of transmission, prevention, incubation period, diagnosis and healthcare; as well as the assurance that a win against this outbreak is visible which indeed is.

Dear compatriots, as scary as it is, inciting racial discrimination and hurling insults against each other will not in any way help in lessening the spread of the virus but hampers the joint efforts by the medical health experts, the army officers, the law enforcement officers, volunteers and all those in the front-line against the fight of the COVID-19. Fellow compatriots, beware that this scourge has already claimed the lives of many. The hilarious jokes, memes and misinformation by some of our people especially on online social media platforms are misleading and help spread confusion and panic amid the pandemic. This has to stop! Rising numbers signify lost lives and those infected. And those are human lives, people. COVID-19 is a cunning virus which is wreaking havoc. While the first days of lockdown maybe calm and individuals have enough time to rest at home may sound appealing; we can’t ignore the fact that solitude and isolation can become a problem. It is essential that we all get prepared and make sure that as it surely happened, it turns out to be a pleasant break from the rest of the world- with added value of being proactive for wider society. Of course, one can admit, this isn’t the time for propaganda and any type of justifications, however, the situation needs to be handled with maturity and sensitivity.

There is need for Batswana to assimilate that the lockdown measure has proven to successfully work in breaking the spiraling of COVID-19 and an effective measure of prevention and a strategy for limiting the spread of communicable disease in order to curb the contagion especially with what we personally experienced in China. It is prevalent that our country took extraordinary measures in the face of what is an extraordinary challenge by imposing lockdown. Similarly, we need to perceive lockdown as an extraordinary control measure during a time such as this. It is the time for every citizen of the Republic of Botswana to see it feasible to protect us from those infected through isolation, wearing of masks and social distancing. Even though some might not want to hear of this, truth be told as it stands that China has experienced the decline in the rising numbers of infections only due to such strict adherence to the rules. This is indeed not a non-starter for argument as it is important to highlight that this is a period of severe inconvenience and economic injury. 

The barring of residents from leaving their houses is restrictive yet and for some it threatens their livelihoods due to limited movements to make necessary and or regular visitations to hospitals to check on their sick loved ones, check on the elderly in home villages, visit those in prison, social meetings with loved ones over a cup of tea or a glass of favorite drink or prohibition to convene for a social gathering such as a church service, funeral or wedding celebration and birth of a newborn child. Fellow compatriots, if we can take stern measures imposed on us during lockdown, we do have significant possibility for the containment or elimination of the COVID-19 in Botswana and the world at large. Even though there is still significant uncertainty, which casts a shadow as to when this mist will clear off, kindly pay attention to all the strict adherence to the rules which will yield positive outcomes.

*Kerapetse Lydia Matshaba – PhD in Counseling Psychology & Sefhako Sefhako – MIC

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.