The coronavirus or Covid-19, which World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a global health pandemic on 11 February 2020, rapidly spread across most countries of the world. It was first detected on 31 December 2019 in Wuhan city of China, a sprawling commercial centre in central China with 11 million people.
The pandemic spread to neighbouring countries of Thailand and Japan, and before middle of January 2020, confirmed cases were reported from countries like US, Nepal, France, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam and Taiwan, and soon the disease spread to further countries of Canada, UAE, Germany, Vietnam and many other countries in Europe and Asia.
By February, total deaths in China reached 361 and infections reached more than 17 000. Middle February, more than 2000 death cases were reported in China and infections rose to more than 72 500. Panic set in and drastic steps were taken by most countries, like closing of borders, cancelling international travels and events, and lockdown of major cities around the world. By 7 March, more than 90 countries reported infections with reported deaths of more than 3 500 and infections reaching more than 102 000. Middle March, Italy and Spain in Europe overtook China with reported cases in each country of more than 500 new coronavirus deaths and reported infections rose above 30 500.
It was around 10 March that the virus reached the shores of Africa. First African countries like Morocco, Republic of the Congo, Ivory Coast, reported infections, very low in figures, no fatalities but significant that the pandemic is finally on the continent.
Africa started to panic, being the cradle of most deadly infectious diseases like Ebola, Cholera, TB, Congo fever and HIV-Aids, amongst others. Many were baffled why this deadly disease did not start in Africa like some of those mentioned above. Others wondered what would happen if this deadly disease reached the shores of Africa, a continent lacking in health facilities, health infrastructure, and plagued by under-development and impoverishment.
By 20 March, more than 36 African countries, out of 54 on the continent were infected with the virus, with South Africa reporting the highest infection rate of around 150. Most countries responded by acting. Schools were closed, border movements were curtailed, and travel bans were put in place. By now more than 27 000 people were killed by the virus and worldwide infection reached 600 000.
Foreign policy perspectives on globalisation, interdependency and collaborative nature of countries of the world through multilateralism, is once again demonstrated by how domestic policy was shaped by a pandemic that had origin in one part of the world, yet impacted and spread like wildfire throughout the world. Importance of multilateralism therefore cannot be overemphasised, especially the role played by the WHO. In the words of Moreland (2019) in his book ‘The purpose of Multilateralism’ states that while rarely sufficient on their own, multilateral fora historically have served as tools to assist key states in de-escalating and containing spiralling crises.
Namibia responded by closing schools and educational facilities around 15 March for 31 days. Namibian President Hage Geingob declared state of emergency on 17 March 2020. Our president emphasised that the health of Namibians is the first priority. He declared that this pandemic is unprecedented. If working collaboratively, he said, we will respond effectively and minimise the spread of the virus, loss of life, and restoration of health of our people.
Our president called upon the health ministry to lead the process, and together with stakeholders to provide a comprehensive public education campaign. Namibian people should be provided with required information to prevent further spread of the disease and measures to curb it.
Most stakeholders, including private sector, religious institutions, civil society and financial sector, responded positively to the emergency declaration of the president by expressing their support and appealing to their followers and clients to follow suit, by adhering to the directives of keeping to hygienic measures, social distancing and by abstaining from crowded places.
Further restrictive measures were required for Namibia to be in a total 21-day lockdown, thereby effectively putting stringent measures in place, for drastic fight against the invisible enemy, as President Ramaphosa put it.
This is the time when firm and pragmatic leadership is required for citizens to rally around that leader. Our president rose to the occasion and gave the population the required direction and assurance. The nation complied. At last, we have a common cause, where we are in it together.
The task-team our president appointed, in a very short period of time, drafted measures and disseminated information to the general public to ally the fears and anxieties of the people.
Of course, there is panic and fear, as can be seen from how people rush to supermarkets to buy essential products and medicines for use during the 21-day lockdown period. But what is also encouraging is that our people, are responding positively and cooperatively, towards measures put in place. Little or no resistance can be seen. People readily stretch out hands for sanitisers and disinfectants to be sprayed on their hands. People do not hug one another and greet with elbow and arm-touching. People are tolerant to long queues and social distancing. Some concerns however are that some disinfectants are either very watery or very strong, making people to sneeze or may in long run activate allergies.
We do not know how the further spread will unfold itself, despite all the above precautions. Namibia has its own challenges just like all other countries. We are just coming out of protracted drought, and floods, immediately after rains came. We have many deprivations, like joblessness, poverty, diseases like cholera, hepatitis E, and other health challenges. We have social evils like gender-based violence, baby dumping, alcohol and drug abuse, illiteracy, poverty and other pandemics like HIV/Aids.
While these health and social-evil challenges make our people vulnerable and susceptible to such diseases as Covid-19, one is perplexed by how this pandemic has strike the top echelon of world first citizens. It is unheard of, very uncommon, and unprecedented as our president put it, for people with powers and health privileges to be susceptible to such pandemics like Prince Charles, British PM Boris Johnson, ACDP leader Kenneth Meshoe of South Africa, and other world elites throughout the world.
We are at a lockdown as I pen this article, and will be for another 21 days, especially in Khomas and Erongo regions, and adjacent towns like Okahandja and Rehoboth. It may spread to other regions soon as it is a national emergency, and we do not know where it will strike next. Therefore, be alert and prioritise health of self and that of family.
Stay at home. Adhere to the 21-day lockdown as published by our government. Let us cooperate with the law enforcement agents. They are there on the streets, 24-hours to fight the invisible enemy and to protect our lives. They are the unsung heroes of this struggle. Let’s fight the pandemic together. We are in it to win it, popular phrase by those wanting to succeed in competitions.