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It takes following stipulated rules to combat Covid-19

Covid-19 and lockdown regulations required to contain the disease have taken a back-seat among many Zimbabweans as we think about the empty beds in hospital wards and the fact that our friends seem free of infection.

We have low rates of infection and just half a dozen deaths because we acted early and swiftly. However, unless we maintain vigilance, we could easily be in serious trouble, with everyone knowing someone who is very ill or dead, and the economy closing down again, just when we are starting to get back on track.

Other countries have, as we have done, relaxed their lockdown rules as the threat receded and have thought that most people were sensible and would take the elementary precautions that would lower risks of infection 10-fold or better, by a whole order of magnitude.

And they have seen spikes.

They have found that it takes only a modest minority to assume everything is back to normal and that is then followed by dramatic spikes in infections.

Zimbabwe is not invulnerable.

We are neighbours to South Africa, which has now confirmed 125 000 cases with more than 2 300 deaths.

Fortunately, we closed our borders to human traffic early enough, with the enthusiastic support of the South African Government, which has acted very responsibly in helping its neighbours protect themselves from the serious epicentre of the Southern African outbreak. We just need to think what could have happened if we had a sloppy or irresponsible neighbour.

There was a fair amount of criticism in the beginning when the Government introduced mandatory quarantine for returning citizens and residents.

Some thought this was a gross overreaction. Yet around 90 percent of our confirmed infections have been found among these people coming home.

For most of those returning, the quarantine is just a minor nuisance they have to endure as they cross the border.

They have the consolation of knowing that if found to be infected they can get treatment quickly, reducing their risks of dying, and the satisfaction of knowing that they are not going to infect their families or the friends waiting to greet them as they come back home.

The problems of the quarantine, particularly the need for more test kits so that returnees can be processed more quickly and allowed to complete their quarantine period at home, are being addressed, partly by giving this group a high priority when it comes to using our limited supplies of test kits.

The rest of us need to remember that the Government was able to exempt wide swathes of the economy because it expected us all to follow exceptionally simple rules, including wearing face masks in public and maintaining social distancing.

These two rules work well to slash the risks of infection, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), but only when everyone follows them.

One rule follower in a crowd of ignorers is not helpful.

The simple masks most people wear do not offer much protection. But they offer a lot to the people the wearer comes into contact with.

Masking works when everyone near us is wearing one, so almost all the contaminated globules that can spread infection are blocked by those masks worn by the potentially infected. It is a sort of social contract.

Social distancing has a double benefit. If we obey the rules, we can avoid being infected by the person next to us in the queue, or next to us at work. At the same time we need to respect other people’s right to safety and keep away from them, not crowding them.

Decent personal hygiene should be automatic. We all learnt this as children and simply imagining your grandmother watching your every move should keep you clean.

There are places and areas where social distancing is difficult.

Public transport is one such area. Queues at bus stops and terminuses see people crowding as the bus arrives, simply because otherwise the selfish jump the line. All seats in buses are now occupied, and that means that conductors need to insist that everyone wears their mask.

Police enforcement of lockdown rules has tended to be a little simplistic, checking people on their way to city centres. It might well be better to assume most people going to city centres have a legitimate reason and instead deploy more patrols to ensure public health rules, those pesky masks and the social distancing, are enforced more strongly.

Zimbabwe is almost certain to have some spikes in infection at some stage. Here the authorities should look at local action, rather than national action, to combat these spikes. Germany, for example, has hit its spikes by immediately tightening lockdowns, but in the towns or areas hit by a spike. This does require tight control of intercity movement as well, but it does centre on the problem areas rather than the whole country.

Researchers are starting to warn that the world might have to live with Covid-19 for years.

This will make the “new normal” being pressed by President Mnangagwa among others the permanent normal.

There will be new cultural norms and a different looking society. In the end, complacency and selfishness will kill us, not Covid-19, which will be just the effect of complacency and selfishness. We all need to act as we want others to act.


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