By: Kayode Odunaro
As a novel disease, Coronavirus otherwise tagged COVID-19, unleashed on human kind unprecedented worldwide behavioral changes across cultures. From the way we extend greetings and other socio-economic interactions among people, a “new normal” is evolving and as the world emerges from its lockdown and ease of lockdown, more changes are in the offing until a sustainable and safe solution is found to the raging pandemic. At present there is no cure, no drug and no vaccine for the viral disease that have killed over 500,000 and infected more than 10 million persons.
Since its outbreak in Wuhan in, China late last year, many concepts and terminologies sprang out to describe various aspects associated with the evolving new normal, the most pronounce being social/physical distancing. And there were new coinages like the one used in the title of this piece, COVIDIOTS to describe various idiocy associated with COVID-19 responses or non response. Certainly its use here is not original. On my part I coined COVID-19 ‘Almajiris’ as a phenomenon associated with various kinds of solicitations during COVID-19 Lockdown on the pretexts of coping with no income and therefore begging for sustenance in the form of food or cash palliatives. While some of such solicitations are merited, others are product of crass opportunism using lockdown as understandable excuse. Sure many lost incomes particularly those in the informal sector banking on daily incomes but not so for those without jobs/incomes ab initio but hiding under pandemic lockdown to solicit as of right for alleged loss of income or livelihoods. At any rate one came to the rescue of some in dire straits in the spirit of being a brother’s keeper.
With the reality dawning on government and people that we have to live with COVID-19 pending when a cure is found or a vaccine developed, it becomes apparent that safety and precautionary measures as certified by relevant international, national and state authorities must form part of our new normal for a year or two depending on the time a solution is found. These measures are mostly observable on a personal level leading to the charge of taking responsibility by all on individual basis to stop the spread of the highly infectious COVID-19 hoping for what is termed the “flattening of the curve”, a time of containment of the rampaging infectious disease. These measures, which are being built upon as more knowledge of the uncanny virus comes to fore, includes but not restricted to wearing of face masks when in public (note that this is not the same as the now fashionable face shield which is agreed cannot do the work of stopping the spread when used alone), regular washing of hands with soap and/or regular use of hand sanitizers, avoidance of large crowd and enclosed spaces like churches, mosques, clubs, gyms, event centers etc, coughing/sneezing into elbow or tissue with proper disposal and social and physical distancing as much as possible. There are specific further measures for those advanced in age usually over 50 with possible accompanying underlying ailments as they are known to be more at risk and likely to be badly affected once infected. Everyone is encouraged to stay at home if not absolutely necessary to go out and special protocols are devised for such crowd pulling events as marriages and burials to include restriction of participants to 20 persons and as we start inter-states and air travels more measures to check the spread of COVID-19 are surely to come on board.
Who then are the COVIDIOTS that we need to reign in to ensure we flatten the curve and go on with our lives as practicable as possible as we did in case of HIV/AIDS and similar infectious diseases? Well, let’s start with governmental/institutional bodies. As it is some state governors, namely Ben Ayade of Cross River and Yahaya Bello of Kogi State are presently engaged in COVID-19 idiocy as they pretend their states could somehow be an oasis without infections for a disease that have affected all countries of the world. To be counted in this idiocy is USA President Donald Trump in the way he has so far carried on in managing this pandemic that have claimed thousands of American lives ostensibly pursuant of his second term political ambition later this year. At the institutional levels are organizations not abiding by precautionary measures in their establishments for pecuniary gain with prominent example being night clubs and similar leisure centers.
But by far the more pervasive and dangerous manifestation of COVIDIOTS are to be found at individual level of all classes. The first in this group are the unbelievers who think Coronavirus is a myth of some sort in spite of the global lockdown that directly affected them. It is bewildering to have such unbelief even at the level of illiterates for even the illiterates should be able to appreciate something so phenomenal it led to the virtual shutdown of the world for months. Such unbelieve in face of daily reportage of fatalities and survivors’ testimonies amounts to acute idiocy. Then there are those who surmise that the COVID-19 is a kind of conspiracy to do with 5G technology, some demonology or end time occurrence to do with technological control of the world population via some vaccine chip. And true or false, other COVIDIOTS firmly believe that the whole COVID-19 issue is just another smokescreen for some government officials to feed fat in cornering some government funds. This frame of mind inexorably leads to behaviors inconsistent with COVID-19 safety and precautionary measures that inevitable poses danger to all with already over 500 deaths in Nigeria.
The result of all these variants of idiocy is the disregard for safety and precautionary measures with the concomitant spread of the virus from person to person and presently the community spread that is daily ballooning the COVID-19 infections figures nationally and indeed worldwide. There is also the danger of the virus mutating to a more virulent form with transmission over time.
Governments and society cannot look on and allow COVIDIOTS to endanger all including law abiding persons righteously observing safety and precautionary measures. That would amount to Government’s abdication of its fundamental duty to the citizens. Punitive sanctions have to be quickly developed via legislations and other administrative measures at state and national levels to reign in offenders. This is already being done in some forms across the world but still needs to be generalized and publicized to reign in many citizens who are now going back to a normal they were used to before a solution is found. In Dubai, United Arab Emirate penalty for breaching precautionary protocols are as high as $800! In United Kingdom, it ranges from few pounds to thousand. Here in Nigeria, some states have imposed fines for contravention of precautionary measures during burials to be as high as N1million.
But not much is being done to curb flagrant disobedience of wearing face mask in public places particularly markets. In many partially operating markets and places where people gather or conduct business, a preponderant majority goes about without face masks. Many studies have shown that wearing of face masks in public goes a long way in reducing the spread and ultimately assisting in flattening the steep rise of the curve. There are many ways of encouraging and ensuring compliance through punitive measures. Markets or other places where it is observed the face mask rules are being obeyed in breach can be shutdown/sealed for a stipulated period as punishment.
Individual offenders apprehended could be quickly tried and fined summarily as in ongoing with Mobile Court. The fines could be low but the record showing a criminal record is an incentive for many who knows the implication of a criminal record to do the right thing. In addition, such offender as part of punishment should be made to compulsorily undergo COVID-19 test much like some traffic offenders are compelled to undergo psychiatric tests to know their mental health status. It may be argue that enforcement may pose a problem with some security officers turning such into another illegal goldmine. But such should not foreclose from doing the right thing in the interim while we hope for a sustainable pharmaceutical solution.
As most knowledgeable persons are coming to realize, the COVID-19 pandemic is not about to disappear tomorrow and we have to live with it and its disruptions much like we are living with HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. But society must protect itself from the foible of some of its citizens who flagrantly disobey rules meant for the benefit of society. A herd mentality of doing the wrong things by some sections of the society against the larger society must be checked for the good of all. It is time to enforce COVID-19 safety and precautionary measures to possibly escape a deleterious second lockdown as contemplated by Boss Mustapha, Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential task Force on COVID-19.
Kayode Odunaro writes from Abuja, FCT.