Monday, March 30, 2020

Will Coronavirus change Botswana?

A few weeks ago, I had absolutely no qualms being squeezed between chatty strangers in a combi packed like a slave ship. Now with the Coronavirus only one passport stamp away, the thought of boarding a combi sounds like a death wish. This is not a case of misplaced hysterics. Far from it. Life as we know it has changed. At least for now.

Take for example, Botswana’s music sensation, Franco who has put in time, money and sweat to pull off a sold-out show. In another place and time, he would be feeling smug and thumping his chest that his bill has gone viral.

Instead, he was this week forced to postpone his much-anticipated show. Coronavirus has not only given the hitherto magic metaphor “going viral” a bad rep, it has also turned pulling a huge crowd into a life and death issue.

In a country where the success of any social event is measured by the size of the crowd, Botswana is going to have to undergo a cultural sea-change to fight the Coronavirus. This is what the Ministry of Health Public Health Physician Dr Orapeleng Phuswane-Katse said, though not in so many words.

In what sounded like an advice for a doomsday prep, Dr Phuswane-Katse, says, “cases are doubling anywhere from 2.5 to 8 days. The more people keep congregating, the more they will continue to spread the infection on to others who will then do the same, inevitably overwhelming the health care system with seriously ill patients. If we can start doing this now, those who still get infected and need medical care can actually still receive timely and appropriate care and have the best chance of surviving. While cancelling events and self-quarantining will definitely save lives it’s not going to be easy. It is one thing to work from home because you feel like it and you can. It’s another to be told that you cannot go spend the day with your co-workers in the office. It’s one thing to stream a movie by choice or to choose to watch a football game on TV. It’s another to be told that you should not go to a movie theatre that you can’t go to a football game and that concerts have been called off. Let’s say the virus infects you, but you don’t feel all that sick. So, you go off to work or a movie or a party at a friend’s house where you hug a few people and inadvertently infect two other people who go on to infect a few more, some of them the elderly, one with lung disease. It’s a potentially devastating outcome. It already happens all the time with the regular flu. Unfortunately, this time around it is happening much faster and much more ruthlessly with COVID-19, which can spread even when people are asymptomatic. Social distancing is not about you, individually. It’s about the collective – the society. It’s about cutting the chain of transmission. Not getting infected yourself and not infecting others.”

COVID-19 is expected to thrust the phrase “Social Distancing” into the Botswana lexicon with a force stronger than Princess Diana’s death introduced the noun “Paparazzi” into the country’s diction. And its influence on Botswana’s cognitive transformation may be far reaching.

Despite being so small they can’t be seen with the naked eye, pathogens that because human disease have greatly affected the way humans live for centuries. Many infectious diseases have been significant enough to affect how and where we live, our economies, our cultures and daily habits. And many of these effects continue long after the diseases have been eliminated.

By the time the cure for Coronavirus is found, it is likely to have changed the way Batswana celebrate, mourn and do business. For the time being at least, birthday boys and girls hosting shindigs, brides and grooms celebrating wedding parties and grieving families mourning their loved ones are going to have to buck the traditional trend of trying to pull huge crowds and keep their gatherings small and manageable.

The Sunday Standard was this week putting together a COVID-19 business continuity strategy. 

“We are working on putting in place an infrastructure that will enable out key staff members to work from home and ensure that we continue to service our readers and advertisers in case the coronavirus epidemic spreads to Botswana” said newspaper Editor Outsa Mokone.

“We believe in social distancing as a public-health protection measure to reduce and slow transmission of COVID-19. It is one of the best — and the only — pre-emptive, non-pharmaceutical measure available on a larger population level. Social distancing plays a big role before the medical community can create vaccines and appropriate treatments. By avoiding other, potentially sick people, we reduce our own risk for contracting and spreading illness. Social distancing works best when done preventatively, before things get really bad”, he said.

Although Mokone says the plan is meant to mitigate the effects of the epidemic, he admits that if it proves to be cost effective and business friendly, they may consider continuing with it even after coronavirus.

A number of local companies are also believed to be mooting models that would help their business weather the coronavirus storm. While these are conceived as short-term strategies, they may change the way Botswana does business even after COVID-19.

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