Corona Wahala… Washing Hands, No Food To Eat?

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By Amin Kef Sesay

One thing very admirable about the Sierra Leonean character and personality is our remarkable sense of humor even in the face of difficulty, pain, suffering, hardship and loss.

The other day, this commentator paid a visit to one of the offices where there is a veronica bucket, water and soap for washing hands – one of the coronavirus disease prevention measures prescribed worldwide. This man comes in and is told to wash his hands before entering. As he washes his hands, he remarks in Krio: “We dey wash we hands, food nor dey for eat?”

Indeed, whenever Governments in poor developing countries talk about lockdown of their countries in response to a health emergency, such as the one the entire world now faces, what comes up foremost in the minds of family heads that are unemployed or on minimal earnings, with many mouths to feed, is, what will me and my family eat during the lockdown?

We have to look at the issue fairly and squarely. Certainly, the economic indicators, vocational and basic needs, with their related challenges become exacerbated during a lockdown – given the colossal adverse impact on the economy, food and livelihoods. We weigh this against the intentions that a lockdown is supposed to achieve.

Proponents of a lockdown argue that without it, the transmission rates which showed a vertical upslope last week would exponentially increase with alarming consequences of a severe disease burden and high mortality.

Fairly, this scenario of cases spiraling upward as rapidly justifies a calibrated extended lockdown with a window to review, reconfigure and realign the future course of actions. In which regard, there are many that argue for the Government to maintain the current partial lockdown regime, which they say is bearable and manageable rather than escalate it to a full blown one.

The Government’s focus on enshrining safeguards for the vulnerable populace is praiseworthy. Fairly, people comment that it was very humane of the Government to provide for the welfare of the most vulnerable members of society during the three days lockdown.

But they call on the Government to think of what a two weeks lockdown for the entire nation implies for the welfare of a highly vulnerable population that can only survive hand-to-mouth from day to day.

 Whilst the Dental and Medical Association fully support the imposition of a 14 days lockdown, there is another school of thought within the profession that believes that the isolation of infective cases and quarantine of exposed (at risk) cases focused around hotspots should result in high intervention efficacy with a significant reduction of the Covid-19 transmission rates.

This, they argue gives the Government and its intervention partners ample space to reconfigure planning targets and strategies to address the economic downturn, supply chain impediments, unemployment and address basic needs of the poor, through course corrections, as also to prevent our healthcare systems from being overwhelmed.

Fair enough, in light of the recent rising trend, it is fair to assume that a substantial number of infected people may not have been identified, as yet.

Hence, innovative tracking mechanisms of the suspect and infected cases may have to be developed to check community spread around hotspots, slums and clusters.

The extended, though conditional extended, lockdown will succeed only if strengthened by aggressive early testing of larger numbers, enhanced tracing of contacts, quarantining of the vulnerable elderly and isolation of the infected. These measures will prevent rampant transmission from undetected infective cases, along with systemic investments in social distancing.

With the hope of the success of the multidimensional strategies put in place to minimize transmission, going by Sweden’s example, the current stratified partial lockdown (given that critically, we are entering into the planting season and the implication it has for food supply), should convince our Government, the security apparatus, health services, epidemiologists, and us citizens, that it is the most reliable mechanism; through effective community containment to save, as President Bio critically stated, lives and livelihoods.

However, the decision lies with the Government which bears the burden and is better placed to know the best way forward.

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