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Coronavirus diary – Part 26

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Women sell face masks and gloves, to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, to passengers at a public minibus station in Lagos, Nigeria Friday, March 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Sunday Alamba)

Never in our history has our collective destiny and our collective health depended so completely on our behaviour. If we follow these simple rules together, we will get through this winter together—Boris Johnson.

In part twenty-five of this serial, I discussed the emergent second wave of COVID-19 and concluded that the prevailing current is a mixed wave. There are many countries, like Nigeria, still hemmed in the first wave that have not reached a plateau or witnessed substantial reduction. Nevertheless, the second wave is dominant now with the surge in Europe, India in South Asia, and Israel in the Middle East, and the United States in North America. Britain has just imposed a new sixth-month lockdown following Israel’s footstep. France and Spain are already in partial lockdown.

I now present the summary of the new restriction rules in Israel and the United Kingdom. On September 18 Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu imposed a second nationwide lockdown to halt a spiraling wave of COVID-19 for three weeks. The lockdown affects restaurants, malls, and other in-person retail outlets. Citizens are barred from venturing more than 1 kilometer from their own homes apart from for work, health reasons, or exercise. Visiting neighbors not allowed and outdoor gatherings are limited to a maximum of 20 people. Above all, schools were also closed nationwide. But there are exceptions to the rules such as allowing people to leave their homes for work, exercise, prayers, and public demonstrations. Amidst democratic bargain, PM Bibi seeks to reinforce the lockdown rules.

On September 22, the UK followed with a number of restrictions. To quote PM Boris Johnson, “So today I set out a package of tougher measures in England – early closing for pubs, bars; table service only; closing businesses that are not COVID-19 secure; expanding the use of face coverings, and new fines for those that fail to comply…And once again asking office workers to work from home if they can while enforcing the rule of six indoors and outdoors – a tougher package of national measures combined with the potential for tougher local restrictions for areas already in lockdown. I know that this approach – robust but proportionate – already carries the support of all the main parties in parliament”. For rule flouters, heavy fines of up to £10,000 are lurking behind. East- and West-enders will live up to the 10 pm curfew on the hospitality business. The PM is confident that his country can handle the surge because of the degree of readiness. As he puts, “We have the PPE, we have the beds, we have the Nightingales, we have new medicines – pioneered in this country – that can help save lives.”

Zanny Minton Beddoes, Editor-in-Chief of the Economist reinforces somewhat this optimism. She notes in her editor’s note, “Yet, amid the gloom, keep three things in mind. The statistics contain good news as well as bad. Treatments and medicines are making COVID-19 less deadly. And societies have the tools to control the disease today. It is here, in the basics of public health, where too many governments are still failing their people. COVID-19 will remain a threat for months, possibly years. They must do better”.

Truly, managing a new lockdown presents its problem. Job losses, social vices, ‘bunker mentality’, and so forth. To remain sane amidst social-cum-physical distancing, Rosa Silverman who wrote in UK Telegraph has a recipe, aptly captured in “Six reasons to be cheerful over the coming six months”. She says “Yes we are in a pandemic and, yes, the restrictions have been tightened again – but it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom”. Silverman recipe is bountiful and is presented here one after the other.

Hygge, a resort to “the Danish concept of wintry cosiness and comfort” that “spirit of indoor wellbeing. Yes, our social interactions will be limited for a while; but there’s nothing to stop you cooking a stew, getting your home winter-ready, stringing up some nice lights and hunkering down for a bit”. Small screen pleasure offerings from BBC are fun-full. Turning the lockdown into reading weeks “with myriad big-hitting books released in the run-up to Christmas” is promising and exciting. Small-scale festive celebrations such as creating a “Hogwarts-style Halloween feast for your children at home” are not a bad idea. A weird idea of the autumn leaves. Indeed, this is a time to get close to nature. The title of the Science Library Photo says it all, “There’s nothing quite like an autumnal landscape for a country walk”. For Silverman, “This isn’t lockdown (yet)” and so exploit the window of freedom as “We are still allowed to see friends, remember. We just have to be clever about it. A long walk with your best mate, or your mum, is permitted. You and your partner can still have another couple to dinner (for now, and depending on how many children you’ve got sleeping upstairs). Cafes and restaurants are still open for lunch and dinner”.

Silverman speaks to her European culture but could the recipe work for Africa? We are yet to know the nature of a second lockdown for African countries. If it ever happens, folks, try a barbecue of offal or chicken or assorted pepper soup for 3-5 and some good brandy or non-alcoholic and enact a conversation over the failure of governance, or your inability to see your loved ones in distant climes. It is a good time for lovemaking. But I must warn you don’t do so if you have no plans for population growth. Eat more of ewedu (Corchorus Olitorius) vegetable soup for its legendary richness in zinc. Also, a 30-minute walk is always invaluable.

Importantly, the plight of the workers must be left unattended. Good enough in the UK, Rishi Sunak, Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced a job support scheme, a subsidy of sorts to support employees with a top-up from the treasury. This will begin in November and last for six months. Both Australia and Germany have similar schemes. The former will endure until March 2021. The latter has a “‘short time work’ system, or kurzarbeit, under which workers whose hours have to be cut because of weak demand in a recession receive top-ups from the Government”.

A word on Nigeria’s behaviour concerning COVID-19 might be useful to my reader. The country’s attitude to the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of copy-cat. Lockdown when others did; offered palliatives and bail-out to sectors of the economy; and calibrated opening when others did. The problem with the copy-cat approach is that it is devoid of the originality and critical thinking that informed the prototype. As others have entered the path of a second response through lockdown, Nigeria is looking to follow.
Akhaine is a Professor of Political Science at the Lagos State University.

Mustafa Boss, the Chair of the Presidential task force, noted, “Specifically, the lesson for us in Nigeria is that in spite of appreciable progress recorded, we should be vigilant more than ever before, because we have relaxed a number of restrictions in opening up more sectors of the economy and schools are beginning to open in varying degrees,” due to obvious relapse to pre-pandemic life. Aware of the dodgy nature of COVID-19, I have always built into this serial a strain of caution to avoid the predictable African winter of COVID-19, with the prevailing incredulity and corresponding attitude of “Coro no dey”[there is no coronavirus] apologies to Professor Hope Eghagha, we might be headed on the paved road to hell. God forbid. It would be remiss if I neglect to mention that an alien brought COVID-19 to Nigeria. Therefore, with the second wave in motion, while our air corridor has been thrown open, survival instinct will dictate another shutdown for at least the next three months. Domestic flights may be permitted.

With the second wave enveloping everywhere, it is not yet Uhuru for Africa which needs to be vigilant. The outbreak of a deadly strain with genomic mutation is not impossible. The continent’s mode should be: it is not over, until it is over.


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