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Are you working hard to cuddle the virus?

By Titilola Obilade
03 January 2022   |   3:24 am
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet’s play between two star-crossed lovers has been the subject of many movies. Romeo’s last words were, “Thus with a kiss I die.”

(AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet’s play between two star-crossed lovers has been the subject of many movies. Romeo’s last words were, “Thus with a kiss I die.” While not many people would like to go down with such words, their social actions in the face of COVID-19 makes one to wonder. Every weekend, Nigerians still flock to social gatherings. With the festive season in full swing, it’s convenient to forget that COVID-19 is still very much with us. The virus has birthed many variants and the prevention is still the same; Social distancing, wearing of face masks and frequent hand washing. Health messaging on getting vaccinated should be ramped up. We are sociable beings and do not really need an excuse to gather together. We should not cuddle or kiss the virus. While claiming to be anti COVID-19 infection compliant, we still gather together at any event where delectable menus can be found. Even when the menu is missing, as sociable beings we’re quick to gather. Religious centers are not left out and have relaxed in keeping the COVID-19 protocols.

While a cuddle can be a kiss on any part of the face or body, it could be between a loving mother and her child, between two footballers that just scored a rapturous goal or between two people in love. However, there is also a kiss between an unknown enemy and his/her unsuspecting victim. This was the case when Shakespeare’s Brutus kissed the hand of Julius Caesar. Caesar never knew Brutus sword would be one of the many knives that would stab him to death.

A cuddle or kiss on the forehead, cheeks, hands or lips from an infected person is a gateway to the virus. Of importance to the coronavirus are the areas around the eyes and nose. Even when people say they are being anti COVID-19 compliant, in a little while they seem to lose guard that the virus is still the unseen enemy that has reinforced itself by mutating into different variants now present in more than several countries. It has often presented like malaria during which time it gains momentum in replication. The omicron variant has not reduced the infectivity of the virus. Sadly, after more than a year that the virus has been with us, we still find a lot of people ignoring the preventive measures at their own peril.

Since the novel coronavirus effortlessly entered the world stage, it has turned the world on its head. The Merriam Webster dictionary was not left out. It has added new words to its treasure trove of neologisms; social distancing, index case and super spreader. The French Academy has been impacted and has concluded that the linguistic gender for COVID-19 is feminine and coronavirus is masculine.

Last year, many people postponed their weddings but in 2021, it’s difficult to believe that the virus is still with us. Those who want large weddings are symbolic of everything that used to be normal. However, it also borders on working hard to kiss the virus!

The national call to link our National Identification Number (NIN) to our phone numbers prompting unmasked, tightly packed crowds to gather at National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) Centers is another temptation to kiss the virus. If the virus was a villain portrayed in Marvel comics, or Disney cartoons, he will be rubbing his hands in glee, blaring out his jutted teeth while giving a sinister, echoing, laughter and saying, “ A few more kisses to conquer the world. Muhahaha!”

The new variants are more transmissible and appear to be one of the reasons responsible for the increase in numbers of confirmed cases in many parts of the world. Vaccines are being rolled out à la carte but are not reasons to throw caution to the wind. Vaccine hesitancy is one of the contributors to large swathes of expired vaccines that had to be thrown away. Getting vaccines is not an open season to attending social engagements. One still has to maintain the COVID-19 protocols. Vaccination does not prevent you getting infected, it gives you a much less severe form of infection, and you can still spread the infection to an unvaccinated person. When about three-quarters of the population has been vaccinated, then we can tentatively begin to live normal lives. Until then, we must remain vigilant.

First, we must survive this pandemic, then we can think of culture. Staying home on weekends is anathema to most of our culture. What! When there are engagements that need our attention. Unfortunately, these are engagements that one should not die for, literally and metaphorically speaking. In these engagements we are deluded that confidently having our masks tucked away in our pockets, just underneath our chins, barely touching the tips of our noses or hanging them around our necks serve as a charm to ward away the evil virus. Some put it on but loose every sense of caution when it’s time to dance, embrace, eat, drink or at the slightest sense of perceived discomfort. The ensuing heat in the social engagements does not encourage the masks remaining on. Some don’t even wear masks, they are among their loved ones. Right! So they don’t have to be cautious. Wrong! Nowadays, if you are wearing a mask correctly over your face and mouth, you are considered an oddball.

When visiting your aged relatives, you need to mask up. When you’re meeting up with your friends you need to be masked. When you’re with co-workers or fellow students, you need to mask up and be socially distant. What happens when you remove your mask to drink or eat? Does the virus stop moving and waits till you put back your mask? Obviously not. Would you knowingly kiss your own enemy? Would you wine and dine with the virus? Julius Caesar did not imagine that even Brutus could be among his assassins. The virus is a villain, an assassin, a chameleon that is never in a hurry to claim its target. The symptoms of the infection are now frequently mistaken for malaria.

We have been given all the secret hideouts of this virus; social gatherings of every kind. It is not in the number of people. The virus can spread with just two people so we should stop fooling ourselves that it cannot be spread in a crowd of ten people or the usual phrase of “not more than fifty people”, a fallacy that fifty is a safe number. We know its weaknesses; frequent hand washing under a running tap, sanitization with an alcohol-based rub, social distancing, assiduous mask wearing, avoidance of crowds, avoidance of social engagements, avoidance of closed spaces. We must wear effective masks because not all masks are effective. I wrote an article in The Guardian on the quality of masks titled, Masked Faces; The New Normal and COVID-19.

We have chosen to give the enemy more power when we disregard all the known weakness points of the virus and instead go on as normal because we want to have hearty social engagements. We mustn’t become fatigued with avoidance techniques against the virus because getting the virus is expensive if one survives and if not, it is already too late.

Think of lack of oxygen cylinders in hospitals, lack of hospital beds, the untold stress on your loved ones. No matter how independent you may feel. After all, you may say, “it’s my life.”

Think of this, if you get sick you will not be able to take care of yourself and the lives of all those people that love you will be thrown into disarray not to talk of the financial bankruptcy that might ensue.

When Romeo kissed the poison, he didn’t have all the facts; that Juliet was not truly dead. They became the arrow heads that brought their families together. That’s like medicine after death. We can’t administer a cure after the person has died. The time to prevent a death is now while we’re still alive. We are several steps ahead of the virus because we know its weaknesses. If we refuse to mask up or socially distance because we find it inconvenient, consider the direct and indirect costs of catching the virus.

When Julius Caesar went into the chamber, he had the letter of the senators’ intended actions in his hand but he did not even read it. Like spikes on the coronavirus, his own senators all stabbed him to death including Brutus’ sword. At the end no one knew the weapon that struck the fatal blow.

Similarly, because the virus is everywhere, going through the many activities in a social engagement, one cannot identify which of the myriad of activities gives the green light to the virus. We should move about with caution because we don’t know who may be carrying the virus. As unbelievable as it may sound, some healthy looking people may have the virus, know their true status but do not self-isolate. Such unscrupulous people take medications and continue mixing with people as if they are not infectious so we must be vigilant and not end up like a fallen Caesar who was given a letter on the danger ahead but refused to even read the letter because he believed he was with his friends. But indeed he was but those were the same friends that carried the swords that stabbed him. We must take the messages on prevention of the virus seriously. We know the weaknesses and strengths of the virus; why must we work hard to cuddle the enemy? Let’s celebrate responsibly. The original article, “Are you working hard to cuddle the virus was initially published in The Guardian on the 15th of February, 2021. This version has been edited.

Obilade, Associate Professor of Public Health at Nile University of Nigeria, Abuja.