Is a total lockdown an appropriate response to Covid-19?

Many countries in the world have imposed some form of restriction of movement with the hope of slowing down the spread of Covid-19.

We have seen images of what is happening in India and in Kenya where the police ruthlessly disperse crowds in an attempt to enforce a lockdown. The actions of the police in Kenya precipitated in a public apology from President Uhuru Kenyatta.

The ease with which Covid-19 jumps from person to person is unprecedented.

Under normal social conditions, one infected person would infect approximately three others every three days.

The danger of this virus lies not its fatality rate but rather in its extraordinary ability to infect a high number of persons.

Thus with a large pool of infected persons it is feasible that global deaths could number in the millions. As a cure or vaccine is sometime from getting into circulation (although we are informed that Chloroquine can be effective) our key strategy is social and behavioural change to avert a catastrophe in number of deaths.

The truism, prevention is better than cure has never been more apt. Thus the global effort is focused on preventing person to person infection hence the imposition of draconian orders of lockdowns.

Everyone is attempting to disrupt the normal social conditions as best as they can to avoid infection and or transmission.

The lockdown of hotspots is one of the weapons used in the fight against Covid-19. It has proven to be very effective in Wuhan, China.

However, its effectiveness is only in relation to new infections, those already infected must be treated and dealt with or a second wave of infections could easily materialise. What is clear is that, in order to combat the pandemic effectively, a clear strategy and resources are needed.

Can social distancing measures work in Tanzania?

We live in very crowded conditions in most of Tanzania. The provision of electricity and piped water or any type of water supply usually creates a crowded community all looking to access these precious commodities.

Our lives are communal and our savings are none existent. For the majority of Tanzanians have to get out of their homes on a daily basis to ensure that they can feed their families.

This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with Covid-19 cannot work as the context in China, Europe, North America are very different to Sub-Saharan Africa.

Stark choices faced by policy makers

The data obtained to date on Covid-19 shows that risks of fatalities rising exponentially with age. I have yet to hear of a life claimed to victims under 10 and claims very few lives under 30.

This demographic is highest is Sub-saharan Africa. So the choice is to device health policies in line with our realities. If we our policies lead to malnutrition or even possible starvation, children and infants are most at risk. An absolute lockdown would put children and infants most at risk. If social distancing is not effectively policed and enforced, those above 65 will be most at risk. We are damned if we do, we are damned if we don’t.

Social and economic impact of Covid-19

We in Tanzania seem to be half-baked in our response to Covid-19 and discussion is based solely on the impact on health and our health infrastructure.

There is little discussion of the economic and social impact to our society as a result of the pandemic. Tourism contributes to 25 percent of our GDP, meaing it brings a significant amount of much needed forex in the country.

It has evaporated overnight. A number of hotels, restaurants have closed as a result. Realistically, it may take two to three seasons for normalcy to return. What effort is the government taking to effectively deal with this?

Has the government considered a bail-out plan? Rwanda and Kenya have looked at the socio-economic impact of the Pandemic and have come-up with a response that takes into account the conditions of their people.

Rwanda has acted swiftly and anticipated what could become imminent by providing basic foods and distributing it to their doorstep all those that are most vulnerable from the economic decision of a total lockdown.

Rwanda further obtained financing from IMF to assist them in the event the lockdown becomes longer. I am seeing my government playing the wait and see approach.

It is time for our government to exercise leadership, it is time to take a direction and it is time to act.

Abdullah Mwinyi is an experienced corporate lawyer. He was also a member of the East African Legislative Assembly for ten years.

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