Covid-P in Oran-Algeria: Lessons
Covid-P could have been an evidence of what ought to have been done that was left undone and still insist to be attended to so as to arrest self-inflicted human terror as weapons are deployed by humans in their internecine wars…to be a saint as well as a physician are now tested as COVID-P come calling.
To sympathise with fellow beings and act to type is imperative as even the happiest people in the remotest corner could be visited by COVID-P… La Peste of Albert Camus. When the whole town of Oran was secluded in quarantine at the time the effects of the second world were still on and Algeria seemed to be the safest place for French people, having served as General De Gaulle HQ while battling the occupation of France by Germany, France was greatly concerned about health situation there.
First, a journalist was sent to nose around about possible outbreak of plague as signals or intelligence showed – Rambert. Second, a physician, Dr Rieux, noticed dead rat where it was not supposed to be and the ordinary porter of the estate couldn’t sense danger in it. Third, people were going about their business as usual but a reverend father – Paneloux after witnessing a child dies of the plague while he was attending to people in the hospital felt sympathy and grace preaching had to be adopted to get people to know that it is not all about the strongest or the smartest or the most sinful but time for the sober mood that must ignite a renewal in livelihood that must not be the same again just like it was said that Nostradamus predicted that the twin year of 2020 would raise a queen from the east who would rage in the war to destroy a country in the west as a way of announcing new economic dawn; world economy reset if you mind.
One thing noticeable in that Camus’ plague represented here as Covid-P was the people’s belief system. The people of Oran started wearing amulets or pictures of saints as chains. Beliefs in economic power and Paneloux preaching started dwindling though they seemed to remain the utmost for the people. Paneloux continued in both hospital visitation and preaching hope to the people. Rieux continued attending to patients suffering from the plague, and the municipality provided what it takes to manage the situation. One businessman, Cottard, remained the villain but it was not the concern of those saving lives. In effect what mattered was how lives could be saved. Three symbols mattered, red hood to be placed on any announced sufferer as an emergency call to the location of the sufferer was attended to, Municipality van and empowered workers for mobility to attend to other physiological needs and military presence to observe the lockdown like it was done in Wuhan. For sure the red hood must be like the reverse of auto-da-fe of the 18th century worn by people singled out for punishment.
In this context, it ought to be made of stuff that mitigated the effect of the plague. It is a highly Scientifique provision. The executioners knew how best to administer it, unlike the current Covid-19 tester that money people want to hijack. Dr. Rieux remained at the hospital attending to red-hooded patients. Rambert remained relevant in accessing information and reporting adequately on what next or sticking mostly to the given segment of the population that seemed to be severely affected. Epidemie, pandemic or both seemed a moment of chastising humans and noticing their attitude either for sublime effect or for Mondaine effect. In the past, as reported, the Chinese would have gone to the god of plague beating drums for it to wake up and listen to their plea.
The Italians of the time of king Humbert would have invented good and bad angels to save those expected to be saved and kill those not wanted. Just like it was said that in North Korea any infected person needed to be dispensed of the same way Ukraine’s president expect people over 65 to be unattended to as concentration is on the younger ones. Close to them, South Korea had managed it well, Slovakia had done it well, also. The latter we know are people of great belief systems. Belief system is crucial in times of hopelessness hence it is also time to test leaders who preach based on any belief system like Paneloux proved by his visitation. Every church or every mosque by now in Africa ought to devote time in dispensing charity by making their vans available for visiting their members and supplying essentials to them. People are not to be queuing and disobeying social distancing seeking for relief packages like is seen in Kaduna, Ogun, etc, if churches and mosques had done the needful before now in knowing where their people live and make schedules on how to visit them. Covid-19 had shown that war could also be virtual and spiritually asymmetric as human beings go on destroying the planetary heritage they share in common with seen and unseen forces. The unseen forces are sometimes seen in what Africans claim to be totem hitherto ignored by other civilisations.
Pagolin had been fingered as carrying the virus that spread what is known as Covid-19 just like every animal habours its own brand of virus, as it has been noted that all through human existence it has been battles with diseases and viruses existing in quintillions as against weaker human population that is for now about 8 billion. For the African any provocation of animals termed totemic items, either by killing or by abuse, notwithstanding its delicacy value, could cause great havoc; and pangolin is a totem in Gabon and it seems to be abusively used. So, after COVID-19, United Nations should start re-thinking what it means to preserve peace on planet earth and to re-visit the virus contents of animals and start creating totemic normative to avoid worse situations. African myths know such normative and they should be subjected to verification for possible adoption. Nigeria as the most populous African country should push that agenda and it must also start by doing what it ought to have done that was not done and still insist to be done – demarcating very well its communities and empowering its leaders to act rightly in times of emergency.
Like it was envisaged that hunger could force people not to obey social distancing order or staying at home, which has been vindicated, as seen in people trying to congregate for the marriage ceremony, attend mosque and church and bord vehicles to market places or places of hidden businesses. These are areas the less privileged or extreme poor visit to beg for alms or partake in relatively exotic meals distinct from their ‘food scavenging’ habits or even pick-pocketing routines. And like Victor Hugo observed in 19th century Europe when hopes were dashed as the poor could not effectively manage their helplessness as the bourgeois era set in and were creating greater isolation between the poor and the rich, depriving them of menial jobs hence keeping them on human inflicted death row waiting for the execution day, so wither locked down?
Ariole is a Professor of French and Francophone Studies, University of Lagos.