The Sunday Mail
“AFRICA should wake up, my continent should wake up,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organisation (WHO) last week.
This comes as coronavirus cases surpassed 300 000 with nearly 13 000 deaths recorded worldwide by last night. Cases in South Africa, Africa’s most advanced economy, had surpassed 200 and Zimbabwe reported its first two cases of Covid-19 on Friday and Saturday.
Ghebreyesus’s message is simple – Africans must not be complacent lest they suffer a far worse fate than the world’s other jurisdictions that were caught unprepared.
This is because France, Iran, the United Kingdom, Italy and South Africa among a host of countries battling Covid-19, closed the barn door when the horses had long bolted.
Yet, on January 30 2020, in line with recommendations issued by the International Health Regulations (2005) Emergency Committee, all countries had been urged to prepare for containment, including active surveillance, early detection, isolation, case management, contact tracing and prevention of further human-to-human transmission of the virus.
Health experts worry about Africa’s “strained and fragile health systems” becoming quickly overwhelmed once the virus takes hold.
Locally, President Mnangagwa launched the Covid-19 national preparedness plan last Thursday, but there is still a concern that Zimbabweans are not heeding the warning by the Head of State and other important stakeholders on coronavirus.
Many are choosing to remain ignorant.
In fact, the superstitious ones actually believe that they have some form of supernatural protection. Others are still hanging on to the “it does not affect black people” narrative even though evidence has proven otherwise.
A number of people actually believe that because of the high temperatures in sub-Saharan Africa – the virus is not as active or as deadly. The level of ignorance is astounding.
Another grave concern is that people expect Government to enforce the measures that were announced by President Mnangagwa on Tuesday last week, yet citizens are duty-bound to ensure that they take measures to protect not just themselves but their loved ones too.
Our Government, like many countries around the world, is expecting people to use common sense and not deliberately put themselves and others in danger of contracting the disease.
But alas, people actually want to go ahead with their wedding parties, music shows, album launches, protests, church gatherings and other events. Yes, Government might come to the rescue of these nincompoops by dispersing these gatherings, hopefully before there is any coronavirus incident.
But surely, does everyone not realise that they have a responsibility not just to themselves but their family, neighbour, community and country?
There cannot be any room for complacency whatsoever here.
Take for instance the Global Health Security Index issued in October last year by the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security.
It assessed 195 countries on their readiness to deal with the threat of an epidemic or pandemic.
There are no prizes for guessing where Africa, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, was ranked and which countries and regions were in the top 10 led by the United States of America on pole position.
However, these places have been seriously hit by Covid-19 to a point that their policies have shifted from containment to mitigating impact of disease spread. They continue to be ravaged and Governments are currently enforcing lockdowns ranging from partial to complete.
This must be an important lesson for Africans and Zimbabweans in particular when it comes to taking issues seriously. With the coronavirus pandemic, there is no room for smugness; ask Donald Trump who moved from downplaying Covid-19 to shutting out the US’s closet allies, the European Union.
Coronavirus knows no class, no borders, no skin colour or religious affiliation – everyone is in danger and all must take the necessary steps as prescribed by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Government.
Yes, there are fewer cases in Africa right now – with Egypt and South Africa leading the pack in terms of new infections. While by last week, some countries in Africa were yet to report a single case, more still needs to be done to prepare the health systems and society in general.
With scientists revealing that there are several strains of this virus circulating, meaning no one knows for sure what it can do under different climatic conditions, there is absolutely no harm in overreacting or being over prepared.
The low detection rate of this virus has scientists scratching their heads while in some instances, children are reported to present mild symptoms or be completely asymptomatic. And in a twist that scientists are still trying to understand – Italy and France are reporting increasing numbers of young people getting seriously ill from coronavirus.
So the misinformation, assumptions and unfounded theories must not be taken as gospel truth. Covid-19 is showing an ability to not only mutate but deal differently with different people in different regions of the world.
As the upgrading of Wilkins Infectious Diseases Hospital is underway – measures must quickly be put in place to upgrade major hospitals in all towns and cities to handle coronavirus cases. This will help prevent the transportation of the virus to places outside wherever the disease might have hit. Quarantine is very important.