The first confirmed cases of the COVID-19 acute infectious respiratory disease were reported in the city of Wuhun, China, by late December 2019. From the Johns Hopkins University Corona virus website, as of 12th June 2020, the disease had spread worldwide to 188 countries, there were 7.57 million confirmed cases and 422,900 deaths. World health Organisation (WHO) officially declared the disease a global pandemic on the 11th March 2020. By the mid-April 2020, half of the world’s population was living under some form of restrictions or lockdown to control the spread of the disease and save lives.
In my country, Uganda, I have been living under strict lockdown including a curfew from 7:00pm to 6:30 am since 20th March 2020.
The Ministry of health headed by Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng has been on the frontline of this pandemic. By quickly testing suspected cases, isolating confirmed cases and treating them and then tracing their contacts and running continued educational programs for the population, they have managed to control the spread of the virus and prevented our fragile health care system from being overwhelmed by the cases.
From the www.health.go.ug website, as of the 13 the June 2020, the disease had already spread into the community: 33 of the 134 district of Uganda have reported confirmed cases.
Of the 148,960 samples tested:
685 were confirmed cases and 199 of these had recovered.
And thankfully, no death has been reported.
Among the tested health workers at the frontline of this battle, 27 have tested positive and are being managed. No death has been reported among them.
We can never thank these foot soldiers enough for their commitment, dedication and resilience to the noble calling.
The biggest challenge that the Ministry of health and the health workers face every day, is educating the population in the language they understand, by giving them the right facts and information about the disease, regularly updating it to involve them in protecting themselves and others. Having the right information empowers the communities to understand what is going on, be part of the solution and to prepare themselves for any eventuality and calms their fears. This is extremely important in this age of Social Media: delays or long lapses in updating the available information facilitates the generation and spread of false information or fake news. This causes panic and hysteria and can cost lives.
Since the beginning of June, a number of countries in Europe have started easing the lockdown restrictions. It had to be well planned and gradual to reduce the risks of the second wave of infections.
Looking back to the most deadly pandemic of the Spanish flue of January 1918 to December 1920, the lockdown restrictions were lifted fast. Having been desperate to emerge from the lockdown, the people gathered in large numbers at sports venues, churches and other public places and this precipitated a second wave of the pandemic in the Fall of 1918. The second wave killed more people than the first wave. In total, the Spanish flue infected about 500 million people worldwide and killed about 50 million of them! The fact that the First World War was going on during the influenza pandemic, played a big role in the spread of the disease.
The World Health Organisation has picked lessons from the Spanish Flue pandemic and is advising all countries to ease the restrictions gradually and in a phased manner.
Uganda started easing the restrictions on the 2nd of June 2020 but the curfew is still in place, schools and universities are still closed and no public gatherings of more than thirty people are allowed.
COVID-19 disease is still a real threat because we have no specific treatment or vaccine, we still have to follow the Ministry of health guidelines for safety and health.
The main ones include:
1.Washing your hands with soap and water or with a sanitizer as often as possible
2. Social distancing- keeping a minimum of two metres between you and the next person to avoid crowding.
3.Wearing a facial mask in all public places for anyone aged six years and above.
This will be the New Normal in all public places for some time.
The guidelines on what to do if you suspect you have the symptoms of COVID- 19 infection are freely available.
COVID- 19 disease is a new disease so there is something new to learn every day by the scientists, medical doctors and ordinary people.
The world is watching and waiting for a breakthrough for the treatment and vaccine for COVID- 19. Over time, COVID-19 may become a seasonal disease like influenza and less deadly but before this happens, your health remains your responsibility. After all, your health is your wealth: you have to be healthy to be fully productive.
There is an African proverb which says: You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.
There are many things I was taking for granted until I was forced into a 75 days COVID-19 pandemic lockdown. One of them was the freedom to wake up in the morning and find yourself with a lot of choices about what to do for the day, what to eat, what to wear and move from point a to B freely( after factoring in the tangled traffic in the city)
I felt great relief the day after the restrictions were eased because I had choices once again. I felt a sense of excitement. It reminded me of how I had felt decades ago when I found myself in my own room at university after fourteen years of protection at a missionary school and at home. I found myself with more freedom than I had ever imagined! It was never lost on me that any freedom or right that I enjoy is tagged with a responsibility.
I was cautious then not to rush and get things wrong. In the absence of massive quick testing and no specific treatment and no vaccine for the COVID-19 Corona virus, I do not feel safe enough to go far. I therefore avoided the city centre and chose to wear the mandatory facial mask and walk about four kilometres along the nearby main road. I badly needed to see the clear blue sky, breathe some fresh air and walk at my pace before the return of the deafening noise of taxis and cars ,the motor cycle taxis and the clogged city roads.
I felt the sweet warm mid-day sun on the back of my neck. Most shops were closed apart from the few supermarkets and pharmacies. Both the nearest primary school and big hotel were as silent as the grave. Few people walked past me while heading to the city. The pavements were free and few cars were travelling along the main road. I saw some new structures for the first time!
“They say that dynamites come in small packages; it has taken the tiny COVID-19 corona virus to empty the streets and stop the noisy taxis, the loud music and the young men calling for passengers.’’ I thought to myself. No wonder the sky was also a clear blue!
What was the first thing you wanted so badly to do immediately after the easing of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions?