The best solutions to confronting the coronavirus, or Covid-19, are the simplest.
The best solutions to confronting the coronavirus, or COVID-19, are the simplest. Beyond washing or sanitising your hands as often as possible, we need to avoid crowds.
It sounds counterintuitive, to avoid other human beings so that you may meet them more in future. How do we avoid crowds when economic activities and fulfillment of our lives demands interaction?
Lockdown is the popular choice, but we need food and other basics. In a country where majority of people work in the informal sector with no job security, a lockdown would be hard to implement.
At least 83 per cent of Kenyans work in the informal sector, according to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics.
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Lots of Kenyans live one day at a time, yet our mitigation measures seem to be focused on the formal sector.
To the informal group, working from home does not arise.
They have no work to start with, they go looking for it in the morning. Noted the flood of informal workers heading to work on foot each morning on major highways?
We could try another simple idea - a 24-hour economy.
By distributing economic activities within 24 hours instead of an eight-hour working day, we shall disperse the crowds while keeping the economy humming. We need to mitigate the impact of coronavirus by keeping the economy working.
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Remember even before the coronavirus pandemic, the economy was not doing very well - we had the locusts and graft cases. Anything possible should be done to safeguard jobs in a country with such high levels of unemployment.
More joblessness could lead to social and political instability. How prepared are the security agencies for such a scenario?
If supermarkets operate 24 hours they will rarely be crowded. If churches operate 24 hours they will not be crowded.
The same applies to government offices, and even factories. Matatus, too, will be less crowded. Families will rarely be together at once. The immediate question is how we shall ensure security at night. Police have always worked 24 hours and the high number of citizens working or travelling 24 hours will provide additional security.
What is surprising is that despite the risks carried by coronavirus, the fight against it does not require a lot of money.
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Wash your hands regularly, avoid groups and simple things like handshakes.
It even has a name, social distancing. Maybe more use of video conferencing and emojis.
It is our socialisation that makes adherence to these simple standard operating procedures so hard. We are used to handshakes, hugs, visiting each other and chamas.
We like taking beer in groups, attending weddings, funerals, teams in the workplace and all other activities that make us human. Ever been labeled antisocial? The shortage of sanitisers is the easiest to resolve.
Alcohol is one of the key ingredients in sanitisers. Can brewers such as EABL, Keroche and even chang’aa dens ramp up their production of alcohol?
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Chang’aa dens could be turned into cottage industries to produce sanitisers with the ensuring quality. After all, the stay-at-home directive means less alcohol consumed.
An even easier solution is to have water taps in strategic locations. We could carry our own soaps. Water bowsers can be easily turned into washing points. There could be a ‘bright side’ to the coronavirus pandemic. Maybe it will make us appreciate more the small things about life. How many times have you failed to visit a friend, a relative or parents because you are too busy?
When did you last meet an old friend with no strings attached? How often do you take that evening with friends for granted?
When did you last take your family out for dinner? For golfers, I am sure you appreciate the 19th hole more than before.
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How often do you send money to social functions through M-Pesa because meeting people is not for you?
Do you recall failing to shake someone’s hands because it is not cool, or is beneath you? That trip abroad you have been postponing will haunt you now.
Coronavirus demands our creativity and ingenuity, and maybe some common sense like making use of 24 hours instead of eight hours. Luckily, reports from China and laboratories all over the world suggest there is some light at the end of the dark tunnel.
The pandemic will be brought under control, but it will take collective efforts, more like a war. Play your part, no matter how small, so that one day you will say with pride “I played my part in saving humanity from itself”.
- The writer is an associate professor at the University of Nairobi