The coronavirus (COVID-19) contagion has spread across the world, and the World Health Organisation (WHO) has officially declared the disease a pandemic. As the threat becomes more widespread, new precautions must be taken.
The virus, first and foremost a human tragedy, has affected billions of people. It is also having a growing impact on the domestic and global economies – the containment measures proposed by governments worldwide have caused far-reaching but necessary disruption generally.
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Our government has implemented various protective measures, as have counties and organisations, even as fears mount that individuals are not according the prescribed measures due seriousness. At the time of press, President Uhuru Kenyatta’s address to the nation fell short of declaring a state of emergency, opting for a nightly curfew instead.
While many watched the coronavirus spread across the globe with disinterest for months, in the past week, most of us have finally realized it will disrupt our way of life. It is now evident that anyone can contract COVID-19, although certain groups of people have a higher risk of developing serious complications from the virus and requiring hospitalization. Many people who get coronavirus will experience cold- or flu-like symptoms, and some people who get the virus will be completely asymptomatic. But no matter which group you fall into, everyone has a responsibility to limit the spread to other people, especially to those who may develop deadly complications.
How to protect yourself
Locking down and committing to social distancing is a start, but it is not enough. As it is, hospitals are overwhelmed with both Corona and other diseases. If we stick to this path, we would only be engaging in mitigation. Suppression, which is what experts elsewhere advocate, presents a much higher chance of success.
Suppression refers to a campaign to reduce the infectivity of a pandemic, what virologists refer to as R0 – i.e. less than one infections. In an article in the Atlantic, experts say that, unchecked, the R0 of COVID-19 is between 2 and 3, meaning that every infected person infects, on average, two to three others
An R0 of less than 1 indicates that each infected person results in fewer than one new infection. When this happens, the outbreak will slowly grind to a halt.
To achieve this, we must test many, many people, even those without symptoms, and not just ask people to stay at home. This is how China did it. By constantly screening and testing citizens, we can isolate the infected so they can’t infect others.
Happily, help is flowing in by way of testing kits and masks, as well as useful information from countries that are doing a great job in eliminating the contagion, or which have succeeded already.
Witness accounts from travellers last month of their ordeals in the hands of immigration officials and other government officers painted a bleak picture of government’s handling of quarantine. Many told of waiting for hours before being crammed in buses and being ferried to five star hotels that they could ill afford.
What emerged was that despite blaming Kenyans of not taking its advice seriously, Government itself had not implemented containment measures as it should have, which spoke volumes about its preparedness to handle the pandemic. In other words, despite the bravado displayed in public, its officials were as clueless as the next person.
Urgently and without exception, the authorities must implement the measures outlined by WHO on managing the pandemic, with vigilance and meticulousness. Where quarantine is called for, it must identify facilities and enforce the same with strictness and without petty qualms about cost. While enforcing directives on public transport, it must also, with speed, release the thousands of vehicles of mass transport within its departments and agencies to supplement transport within the capital and elsewhere, to both mitigate additional charges imposed by operators, as well as make decongestion as realistic as possible.
Whatever we do, we must be vigilant, and be willing to quarantine people with absolute diligence.