Why the village has to be prepared for COVID-19

By Odhiambo Emmanuel Ochieng | Sunday, Mar 22nd 2020 at 08:55
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The blatant truth is that nobody is ready for the coronavirus. No country is ready or was ready for the pandemic. As new cases of the coronavirus spiked on the world, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that the world was not ready for it. The world has seen doctors and anesthesiologists in developed countries look helpless as people succumb to the virus. In Bergamo, Italy, they are calling it the apocalypse.

I feel apologetic to our kinsmen in the village. This is due to the measures that have been put in place to slow and flatten the curve of infection. The virus is already creating havoc even before it lands. Funeral ceremonies, dowry negotiations, and market days have been halted. For a common villager, these are what define village life. It is a pandemic that is creating sorrow and misery where it visits.

In the village, people come together during such periods to help one another through. The strangest thing about the coronavirus is that we cannot help one another through it. We can’t hold hands; we can only wash them. In fact, to help, we have been explicitly told to stay away from one another. Social distancing, quarantine, and isolation go hard against the gregarious instinct that makes the village.

Every other time that villagers face a natural disaster, they come together. This is witnessed in the number of people who attend funerals. In the village, greetings are highly regarded, especially in the physical form. Visiting each other frequently is a social norm. In fact, the village is a picturesque representation of the saying, ‘No man is an island.’ Fruits come in plenty. Most are consumed without being washed. Meals are shared ceremoniously. Are they ready to relinquish all these? With the coronavirus, they will have to.

There is little way to be of use except to disappear inside your home. Countries that have been hit the most are under total lockdown. Indeed, even the places they gather for solace are off-limits. Churches are closed in Italy and in South Korea. Even the things that take our minds off crises are closed off. Sport is known to ease feelings of pain, fear, and anger. All of this is wise, of course.

People in the village will have to understand this. For the villagers, isolation comes at a real cost. Loneliness turns out to be a huge factor in diminishing human lives. It is scientifically proven that everything we can measure, from immune response to the onset of dementia to coronary-artery disease is worsened, often dramatically, in people with fewer friends. Villagers will have to care about the physical risks other than the social cost. They should use the quiet of these suddenly uncrowded days to think a little about how to make changes to some of our archaic traditions, such as wife inheritance.

When sixty million people in Hubei province China, were put under lockdown, it was the largest quarantine in human history. Today the Chinese are celebrating the result of constraining such a large number of people. New infections in Wuhan have been eliminated. In Italy, where others are not taking the quarantine seriously, the rate of new infections is exponential.

Although people in the village will complain that the measures are incoherent and enforcement unfeasible, they have little choice but to conform for survival. The government is urging those in towns to stay away from the village. This is prudent enough.

The government is aware that even in towns where the majority are well educated, they are not taking measures seriously. After two weeks on the ground in China, WHO concluded that the draconian measures China imposed might have saved hundreds of thousands of people from infection. We have all got to look at our systems as a country. None of them work fast enough.

We, therefore, have a mandate to ensure the village is ready for COVID-19. We should be agents of information to our mates in the village and not agents of transmission. They require our guidance and not presence. Let us all do our part in stopping the spread of COVID-19.

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