Wednesday, July 17, 2024

Too early to lift the state of lockdown

As we approach the end of the 28 day lockdown in which most of the population has been under lock and key, the President has to make a decision whether to lift the lockdown or extend it. And that decision will be informed by whether we swim or sink in the adversity of the Coronavirus. It doesn’t require a rock scientist to tell me that it is better to swim than sink. As a consequence, I believe as a layman that the state of lockdown has not achieved much if any, of the intended objectives of fighting against the pandemic to reasonably suggest that we should be let out of our residences. If anything, we are still at the foundational stage of achieving the said intended objectives. I am therefore obediently and respectfully asking the President to extend the state of lockdown.

My point of departure in advocating for the extension of the lockdown period is this: that can one confidently say the amount of human traffic we see post the lockdown date has so far substantially reduced to facilitate the extreme social distancing intervention as was expected to suggest that the stay-at-home initiative has been heeded and complied with barring the essential staff category? As someone who cannot authoritatively distinguish between the essential and non-essential members of the society at face value, it appears the movement is still highly substantial and worrisome. The numbers of people who thronged government offices for example to seek permits for this and that has not substantially reduced the movements of people who should, presumably as per the lockdown regulations, be confined to their residences. While it is appreciated that an undertaking as huge and challenging as the lockdown is, there were bound to be hiccups here and there to enforce it. Or presumably again, it could be that false sense of thinking that we are not susceptible to contracting the virus? I don’t know. I cannot for a minute be oblivious to the fact that people, individually and collectively, are not bearing the brunt of extreme inconvenience in one form or the other. Our socio-economic preoccupations are severely and negatively impacted upon. Equally so, it was not going to be a comfortable period during lockdown. Given that the extreme inconveniences we endure far outweigh the dire consequences of the Coronavirus we are trying to deal with, I argue very strongly that we are nowhere near satisfying the requirements of extreme social distancing and consequently, this should become a solid ground of extending the state of lockdown.

While the extreme social distancing intervention is largely blamed on the general members of the public, the political leadership both at executive and legislative levels have also not covered themselves in glory with respect to be seen to be at the forefront of promoting and implementing the extreme social distancing intervention. At being advised that they had been exposed to a nurse who had tested positive to the Coronavirus, this group went ahead unashamedly and with daring contempt I should add, with their ill-advised extraordinary meeting. As if this was not enough, the Covid-19 Task Force Team made up of scientists who advice government on the Coronavirus sat, with the greatest of respect, stone-cold without ensuring that the protocols governing Coronavirus, and which protocols they are day in and day out bombarding the society with, are complied with without fear or favour. It was a serious dereliction of duty on their part given the legal power and authority they possess so we are told. Members of the community cannot be reasonably and legitimately be accused of not observing the extreme social distancing intervention while the architects of the very same openly violate it at any given opportunity.

The second point is that the Dr Kereng Masupu led Covid-19 Task Team has just started on the vigorous journey of contact tracing coupled with community testing for the Coronavirus at various localities. This I suppose, is to establish the severity and magnitude or lack thereof of the pandemic in the country so as to get a fair understanding of the spread of the virus. At the time of writing this piece, 22 people had tested positive to Coronavirus with one fatality. By the admission of Dr Masupu himself, these figures are an indication that the virus is well and truly with us and that they are increasing. It is

important to mention that the high volumes of human traffic as alluded to above will undoubtedly, not make it easy to do proper contact tracing and testing let alone without confirmed statuses of those who would have been so tested. It will therefore be suicidal if not treasonous to lift the state of lockdown at this stage.

Thirdly, it appears from various reports that there are serious challenges with respect to frontline health workers particularly the health staff. At issue are conditions of service particularly that there is a serious shortage of personal protective equipment mandatory for these frontline health workers to wear in the execution of their dealing with Coronavirus persons. It goes without saying that no one in their right mind would want to take the grave risk of contracting the virus owing to lack of proper gear. I would certainly not take the risk. It appears government is moving very slowly to address the matter hence the nurses’ court case. With this in mind, it suggests the health workers’ grievances could significantly hamper in one respect or the other, the smooth running of the overall Coronavirus project.

Fourthly, Botswana should be benefitting from the arguments raised by other scientists and experts elsewhere with respect to the dangers of early lockdown lifting. They argue that early lifting could lead to ‘a second wave of infections’ which could be more devastating than the previous infections. The ‘second wave of infections’ appears to be the greatest fear over and above other important factors. The World Health Organisation has consistently warned countries about the dangers of lifting lockdowns too quickly citing the very issue of ‘a second wave of infections.’ The example of the famous Spanish flu pandemic in Denver, Colorado in the United States in 1918 is cited. After lifting the lockdown imposed after the outbreak of the Spanish flu, a devastating resurgence of infections followed with the argument that people who died following the resurgence of the Spanish flu may have far exceeded the number that died during the First World War.

Three questions are posed by scientists and experts to ascertain whether early lockdown lifting is desirable or appropriate. Firstly they say, is whether the spread of the virus would have been reasonably suppressed or contained such that it doesn’t produce a second surge. Secondly, whether infections have been identified to prevent new infections emerging and thirdly, what would happen if a second wave occurred once the lockdown is lifted earlier than would be appropriate. These are pertinent questions Botswana should seriously deal with before lifting the lockdown.

The dangers and threats of early lockdown lifting in Botswana have been pointed out and are known to government. These are that, Botswana’s health infrastructure, like it is in the rest of the continent, is so poor that it will not only be under severe pressure to deal with any spike in Coronavirus patients should the situation come to that point but that it will simply not cope. The fact of the matter is that even before the advent of the Coronavirus, the state of the health infrastructure particularly public health facilities serving the poor of the poorest, was under tremendous pressure in terms of doctor/patient ratio; poor or malfunctioning equipment; dilapidated wards; lack of medicine, drugs and so on. And this is why our political leadership doesn’t seek medical help from public hospitals.

It is recognised that the country cannot afford to be under lockdown indefinitely for obvious, various reasons. Key among these reasons is that the wheels of economic activities have to start turning such that the burden of government having to cater for individuals who otherwise do not require her assistance under no lockdown, would start hustling for their own upkeep. But that said, conditions and circumstances on the ground suggest the current lockdown has not achieved as much as has been expected on the heavy human traffic movement we witness around; that the screening and testing has just begun and most importantly perhaps, that the severity and magnitude of the spread of the virus is not yet known.

Given the above conversation with respect to recognising the inconveniences and hardships we endure at every minute of the lockdown, I believe the prevailing, compelling conditions and circumstances dictate that it is better to err on the side of caution. Government is expected to up the ante in all manner possible to ensure that the extension of the lockdown achieves to the extent humanly possible, the very objectives of the lockdown. Society is also called upon to up the very ante on its part because we, together with government, have an obligation to fight and defeat the Coronavirus for our own sake. Its either we swim or sink. The choice is ours. I am prepared to be persuaded otherwise as always. Judge for Yourself!

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