Coronavirus is here, and the atmosphere is no longer the same. In some parts of the city, people are on a panic-mode. Shops are flooded by people searching for hand-sanitisers and masks, most around the streets are masked, some with even medical gloves on their palms.
People have started treating each other like strangers and this lifestyle change came after the government declared its first novel coronavirus case in Tanzania on Monday 16, of this month. Though I have seen people with mixed reactions amidst the crisis, our authorities have taken all the necessary steps, so far, in terms of awareness and communication.
But here’s my school of thought.
When we feel, ‘Oh my God, there’s a new boogeyman out there,’ it comes with extra fear. The spread of the new coronavirus is not just a public health crisis, it’s a global event pervading nearly every aspect of people’s lives, causing them to worry not only about getting sick themselves but about their loved ones too and what to do if something happens.
Here in Tanzania where the level of ignorance and misinformation is quite high, it’s obvious for the diseases to look new, unknown, we don’t know how severe it’s going to be, and we don’t know how concerned to be. The idea that we can hopefully reduce transmissions through really good hand-washing feels insufficient. It’s not anything new.
And how will you know if you’ve done it well enough? That’s why I wasn’t surprised by the news that many people are flooding the shops and pharmacies to buy face masks, disinfectants and hand sanitisers. It makes them feel they are at least doing something.
I have said this several times and I will repeat it today, it’s wise to stay alert but not anxious. People don’t want to hear this but many of you all are wearing masks where in real sense you don’t really need them. You are just driven by fear and panic. Social distancing and regular hand hygiene is by far more important than wearing a mask when you neither have symptoms, nor exposed in risk environments.
After registering three cases, the government ordered all learning institutions from kindergarten to universities across the country to remain closed with immediate effect. From the medical point of view, I strongly applaud this move. I hope the government will do the same with regards to international entries.
All these forms of closing are necessary because when we do this, we will limit how coronavirus spreads. It is important to limit this virus spread because we have to offer the community protection who can’t protect themselves like children, the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions and those who are immuno-compromised, possibly because of medical condition or the medication they may be taking.
Not to mention that our health system is not capable just in case our hospitals get over-run with patients who need respiratory support, who need fluids or even intensive care.
In order to minimise exposure to our loved ones, we should consider doing beyond basics. For example, perhaps we should spray our work clothes with disinfectant before walking into our homes or change out-of-work clothes as we leave the office. We should practice some social distancing from our elderly family members to minimise exposure and keep our children indoors to decrease the risk of transmission and asymptomatic carriers.
The author is a medical doctor based in Dar es salaam.