By Nnimmo Bassey
Coronavirus, that tiny, invisible organism, has reminded humans that there are things that are not under our control. The virus has attacked the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak. It has largely taught us what equality could mean in an age when humility is not a common commodity. We must do our best to avoid any pandemonium even as towns and large swaths of nations have been locked down and large gatherings are avoided literally like there was a plague.
At a time when it is normal for huge crowds besiege stadiums to watch football matches, suddenly empty stadia are becoming the norm. Premier League matches are being postponed. Before Coronavirus it would have been crazy just to imagine that possibility. One can only wonder what this means for the economy of the world of soccer where players are happy to be traded like pawns on a board game.
A Pandemic with No End in Sight
Projections on the possible spread of the virus are ominous. At the time this article is being published (end of April 2020), there are more than 2.9 million cases of coronavirus and more than 200,000 deaths have been recorded worldwide.
Early in the trajectory of the disease, the Chancellor of Germany said that 60-70% of the citizens of that country could end up having the coronavirus (COVID-19) encounter. Spooky. Italy became the next huge hotspot in Europe with schools closed, public events put on hold and the north and then south of Italy on virtual lockdown.
South Korea was the next hotspot, mobilizing quickly after learning much from its experience with MERS – Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – in 2015. It was followed by Western European countries like Spain, France and the UK, where the prime minister was hospitalized in the ICU for days before recovering. In some countries like Brazil the leaders refused to take the virus seriously, to the detriment of its citizens. Others like Mexico moved slowly.
Many African nations, having experienced seriously outbreaks of diseases like cholera and Ebola, worked with the World Health Organization (WHO) to mobilize early in the fight against COVID-19. While the outbreak began in China, the number of new cases in that country is on the downward slide while the rest of the world is struggling.
Schools have been shut down while schooling continues online. Employers are coming to terms with having workers work from home. Many small businesses are shuttered. Self-isolation or voluntary quarantines are now the norm and accepted by most affected. Even large religious gatherings are being curtailed with services online. With oil consumption down, oil prices hit an all-time low of negative $37 a barrel on April 21st. Low and mono-product economies like Nigeria may be in for turbulent times.
In March, I have journeyed to Asia, Europe and the United States. There was a profusion of face masks at both the airport and the cities that I visited in Asia. One could say that face masks have become routine part of dressing in some Asian nations due to reasons other than this notorious virus. Visits to Europe and the USA showed a much more lax attitude towards the possibility of coronavirus infections at that time. No face masks, no sanitizers except in some washrooms. It appeared very few expect the virus to emerge anywhere near them. [Ed., That has since changed with workers required to wear mask and gloves and some locales requiring anyone entering an establishment to wear them.]
The preparedness of Nigeria to ward off the virus was impressive, although comical in some places. Completing the proactive health-check forms before landing in the country is commendable. On arrival, we must agree that the state of the facilities in the washrooms, the quality and sanitary state of railings in the immigration hall leave much to be desired. And, arriving at a regional airport to be welcomed by a sanitizer wielding official was the height of it all. But that was better than the bucket of water they were said to have welcomed travelers with a few days earlier.
The Power to Change
The point that must be made is that humans can change. The change can be planned, or it can be forced. Coronavirus, as tiny as it is, drives that message powerfully. There certainly may be some things in your life that you have held tenaciously to. Some of those things were held on to because it was fashionable to do so, or because they accorded you some level of social standing.
Some of us may stubbornly have rejected the advice from our doctors demanding that we embark on lifestyle changes in order to enhance our health. Some persons invest more in maintaining their cars and other properties without caring a hoot about maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Coronavirus forces us all to consider staying at home as much as is possible and to avoid unnecessary travels and hanging out in large crowds. Good for families! But how do you avoid crowded places in Lagos or anywhere else in Nigeria? The markets are crowded. The buses are crowded.
And the Need for Change
The virus is also bringing out the bad side of humans. How can people justify denying a place for the infected simply because they wish to be safe? Imagine turning back a shipload of persons suspected to be infected or the banning of flights from certain nations. If this could happen at a time when the infection was not yet officially declared a pandemic, what will happen going forward?
A few more thoughts before we end this. If humans have responded to climate change the way we see responses to the virus, would the world be on a saner pathway with regard to temperature increases and the implications? How about if the natural defenses in humans are breached or lowered by the genetic engineering of species promoted for profit by corporations and then a virus attack? What if dangerous viruses engineered by humans escape confinement and there are no immediate cures, or such possible cures are held back by those who would prefer to wipe out a chunk of humanity?
Coronavirus has shown that a tiny, invisible creature can change our lives, our systems and relationships. While the world is busy contending with this blight, politicians are still jostling to entrench or elevate their dictatorial might, pushing others off their seats and even sending them into exile.
When will they learn that every physical thing is transient?
Caption: Students from boarding secondary schools in Rwanda began returning home in mid-March 2020.