By JOHN OKIYI KALU
THE decision to temporarily relax some elements of the lockdown in Abia State was a tough one. On one hand was the need to keep our people at home to prevent any chance of the coronavirus rapidly spreading from person to person, while on the other hand was the need to ensure that our people do not suffer serious economic hardship that will even compromise their capacity to fight the disease if ever they get infected.
The medically correct decision was to keep all the elements of the lockdown in place for longer and with even tighter enforcement procedures till there is no imminent threat to our people, or until a vaccine or cure is found and we can all safely go out from our houses without fear or doubt.
As it stands today, nobody can reasonably predict when a vaccine or cure will be found for COVID-19 though there are some recommended management drugs already available to our medics. None of the available drugs offer certainty with regard to nursing a patient back to life for now but generally, the world is in some form of agreement that a combination of chloroquine, azithromycin and zinc sulphate have produced verifiable good results in the management of COVID-19 patients. While chloroquine is believed to affect the capacity of coronavirus to bind on receptor cells in the body, the more provable effect is that for a malaria endemic area like ours, it should also help in eliminating malaria parasites caused fever, which aid in reducing the strength of our immune response to an infection.
Other drugs in the bouquet are mostly involved in managing symptoms and possibly boosting immune response to the viral antigen. In summary, the world is yet to have any definite cure that can at least guarantee that when people go down with COVID-19, medics will know straightaway what to give and save the patient. If and when we have a definite treatment, then COVID-19 will be like other common infectious illnesses like cold or flu.
On the other hand, one certainty is the expected response from a hungry people locked down for long with no expectation of an end in sight: the hunger can lead to anger, high crime rate and starvation-related illnesses. There is no amount of security deployment that can keep a hungry people locked down and if they break through security measures meant to keep them locked down, clustering will more likely lead to the rapid spread of COVID-19 from person to person.
Whether at the state or federal level of leadership, the dilemma remains same, particularly because you can’t keep people locked down forever; whichever option chosen has consequences that are not desirable. What we have therefore done in Abia State is to think things through and evolve measures that retain some essential elements of the lockdown, such as border and school closure while permitting limited relaxation that will yield minimum and manageable negative outcome.
Those measures are not cast in stone and will be continuously reviewed for necessary adjustments. Nobody dare claim that the graduated relaxation protocols that will come into full effect on Monday, May 11, 2020, are perfect in the light of the current challenges. But our people can actually help themselves to survive this phase of the pandemic and even beyond by simply taking responsibility for their safety from the virus:
1. Wear face mask to cover your nose and mouth before leaving your house and encourage those around you to do same. If you observe the rule and any one of those you meet at home when you return fail to do same you are fully at risk of infection along with others around you. Similarly, using your face mask as “chin mask” is one of the riskiest things to do at this time because it leaves you exposed even though it might help you beat enforcement agents. Ideally, you shouldn’t need enforcement agents or mobile courts to remind you to protect yourself from illness or death.
2. Avoid crowded places and maintain social distance of 2 meters when transacting with others and you should be fine. In fact, you are well advised to stay at home unless you must go out.
3. Wash your hands regularly with soap under running water and, please, don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands. The hand washing with soap and running water should be vigorous for at least 20 seconds. Alternatively, buy original hand sanitizers and rub vigorously on your hands before touching any part of your face. Wearing of eye glasses will help to reduce contact with your eyes, especially when used in combination with a face mask.
Even among those who believe COVID-19 is not real, there is a behavioral pattern I find interesting. If someone coughs repeatedly in public, all of us without an exception, will scamper to safety even without prompting. Likewise, none of the “unbelievers” have yet agreed to spend one night to nurse a confirmed COVID-19 patient in isolation, ward unprotected.
That to me speaks to the fact that we all know the dangers of getting infected with COVID-19 even when some publicly live in denial of its existence or capacity to harm us. Yet, we show different levels of disdain for simple measures that can help protect us and ensure early return to normalcy in Abia State and country.
Governments at all levels will immediately end lockdown measures if citizens voluntarily abide by protective guidelines such as compulsory wearing of face masks, maintenance of social distance and good hygiene practices. After all, the Government is also losing enormously from the ongoing lockdown and wish it will end immediately. The constraint is the need to protect our people from a disease that has invaded our land from distant places without our permission.
Finally, if we don’t take personal measures to protect ourselves, I am sorry to say that we will all pay heavily in the coming days as individuals and as a people. The current reality is that the relaxation of the lockdown will expose us to infection much more than before. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misleading you and I honestly fear for our people and our individual and collective safety if we do not abide by the laid down procedures for protecting ourselves in Abia State.
Let us do the right things, always!
Chief Kalu is the Abia State Commissioner for Information