I definitely believe that a lockdown was needed and could have been effected a little earlier. When signs that Zimbabwe was going to implement it soon started showing I was relieved. The actual announcement disappointed me a great deal though.
First, why is a lockdown important?
The important assumption regarding COVID 19 that leads to lockdown decisions is this: A large section of the population is going to get infected by the novel coronavirus. Unfortunately, we have no access to Zimbabwe’s epidemiological facts so we don’t know what is the expected infection rate. In the United States, estimates from their Centre for Disease Control said 40-70% of the population will get infected. That’s a big number right?
The majority of these people (80%) are expected to be just fine and not need hospitalisation at all but the rest will need it and this is still a very big number. Of those that will get hospitalised, 5-10% of them will need special equipment like ventilators. So what does all this have to do with lockdowns? There are 2 broad ways lockdowns will help:
- Reduce overwhelm of healthcare infrastructure
Remember the key assumption is that a big percentage of the population will get infected. Lockdowns are meant to slow down the virus so that all these people will not get infected at the same time and thus demand hospitals and other services all at the same time. Such a demand cannot be met.
- Buy time
The hope (a likely one) is that a vaccine is going to be developed sooner or later. Slowing down the virus is meant to buy us some time for this to happen but that’s really the long shot. We also need to buy time to adequately prepare for forthcoming months of a lot of people getting sick. The virus caught us by surprise (all of us). If we can suspend daily life as we know it for a bit as we come up with a proper plan it will be useful instead of waiting for the virus to lock us down on its own terms.
The above is what people keep referring to as ‘flattening the curve’ but I didn’t want to go into exponential graphs and all that.
Zimbabwe’s lockdown as announced
The announcement by President Mnangagwa was disappointing to me for several reasons:
Lockdown for lockdown’s sake
I didn’t get a sense that the president knew the ‘why’ of his decision. I don’t know about you but there wasn’t any concrete plan on how to make this effective besides saying that soldiers would be deployed to intimidate us into our homes.
Announcing Monday lockdown on Friday evening
There is confusion on how this will play out exactly. If someone left a computer at the office that they will need to use as they work from home, will they get a chance to go get it or will they be torn down by “the command element” as the president calls it? Businesses needed to make arrangements with staff didn’t they?
This is just a small example but there is more that we don’t understand like which people are considered critical workers that need to report to work? Clearly we needed a few working days to prepare.
Contact tracing, testing and health facilities
A lockdown is useless without effective contact tracing. In fact, an effective contact tracing programme without lockdown is better than a lockdown without contact tracing. The president did not specify how much capacity we have for testing and how is the decision on who gets tested is made. Probably testing is secondary only to rigorous contact tracing in importance.
What of health facilities? It is not clear the procedure to follow if you suspect COVID 19 in your home. How about other medical emergencies? People have been turned away from hospitals. I know a woman who was in labour who got turned away at two major hospitals in Harare yesterday. Her family took her back home and started googling what to do if the baby starts coming out. True story!
The focus seems to be the urban centres. How has information been disseminating in the rural areas. The culture there is very communal and I bet there is no social distancing at all. Viruses have no boundaries. Us the city folk have probably already spread it unknowingly to our rural relatives who will still be at funerals vachibata mawoko (practice of shaking hands with everyone at a funeral to express condolences).
Let’s assume for a bit that COVID 19 is going to be a problem limited to our urban centres. Still, we have a big problem there. There are water shortages in every city and town. People queue up and spend long hours at communal boreholes. I will want to see how the social distancing will work there. How about queues for mealie meal (a staple for every home)?
The president said government will ensure water is available. That’s just bullocks. Is he saying water is not available now because the government is just not interested in giving it to people? With everyone at home, more water will be needed but the sources will remain the same. In fact water sources are reduced now because a lot of people would source water from their places of work or other places along their commute route.
These are not the only problems of course but they are enough to show how much detail is missing from the pronouncement. I will not touch on the many people who will lose livelihoods during this lockdown. This was always going to happen and sadly some will lose such livelihoods forever.
Not all businesses will be able to resume after 21 days of Zim dollar rotting away in the bank. Not all informal traders will have capital to start again. I will not put this on the president in this specific instance because I know the country is broke but then again his government and his trips waste a lot of money that could have helped a little.
How can we make the lockdown work?
Like I said at the beginning, the lockdown is necessary. It could have been better implemented but hey we are here now. It’s now up to us to make sure the lockdown achieves positive ends.
Social distancing for real
First, let’s not just be away from work, let’s practise social distancing. Be the person who tells others at the water queue to organise in such a way they minimise contact.
Help the elderly and other at risk groups
The elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions are particularly vulnerable to COVID 19. Let’s all make sure they are isolated as much as possible even in the home. Increase the distance at which you interact with them. Let’s fetch water for them and do other errands so they don’t expose themselves to COVID 19.
If you are able to do your work from home like some of us, count it a privilege. Do more of it now than you have done previously. Let your productivity cover for lack of productivity elsewhere. If you can’t work at home, do some other work. For example help the elderly as requested above or find a way to help kids with their learning (without close contact).
Drink hot water or tea from time to time to keep mucus down. Exercise as much as you can; your brain needs exercise too: do puzzles and the like to keep your mind stimulated.
Don’t be part of the fake news problem
Yes we need to keep informed but let’s not overdo it. Don’t forward stuff that you can’t immediately verify or that’s from sources you had no prior trust in. Instead, send hope as much as you can gather. I am not saying ignore the truth either, no. If there is a real danger out there you ought to know it and warn others but please don’t be alarmist.
Isolate suspected cases
If a member of your household has flu like symptoms do the right thing, keep them isolated from the rest of the household whilst keeping an eye on their condition. If the condition deteriorates, call health authorities.
Receive this as a blessing
We spend so much time on the grind away from people we love. This is our opportunity to recover some of that lost time. Let’s be creative with how we spend the time especially with the kids. If we do it right, this could be one of their fondest memories in the making.
Yes this is a break from tech and business content but Techzim will not exist if you don’t exist so COVID 19 is very much tech news in the broad context of things.
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