Some few years ago, I wrote a piece, titled: ‘We seem to know what we don’t know’. In that article, I apologised to geographers and the entire scientific community for trespassing because I was venturing into territories that were unfamiliar to me – climate change and HIV-AIDS. But this time, I am not going to apologise to anyone.
The topic that I would like to address in this piece is coronavirus. The virus has now swept through the rest of the world causing untold destruction on its way to the unknown and there is no scientific solution in sight. There is no authority/expert on this virus. In response to this deadly virus and the absence of a proven vaccine/cure, policymakers were left with few policy options to combat the spread of the virus and minimise the economic damage that it entailed. Thus policymakers were limited to “non-pharmaceutical interventions” measures some soft ones and other harsh ones.
What are these? Lockdowns, curfews, alcohol restrictions/bans, 1-meter social distancing, wearing a mask, no hugs, sanitise, washing hands with running water. And then the trio – don’t touch your nose, eyes and mouth. This is a tall order. But are these helping to stem the spread of Covid-19? Let me start with the trio – nose, eyes and mouth. These are the frequently touched parts of the human body. So how do you possibly avoid touching them?
The wearing of mask is perhaps the easiest but we are told that there are correct ways of how to wear, touch and handle them. And here starts the trouble. Because, if you are found not wearing them, then you are inviting the wrath of the Covid-Police/Army - you would be slapped with a ticket, jailed or severely beaten up.
Sanitise is also an easy one because most establishments do sanitise people entering their premises. How about the so-called 1-meter social distancing rule? This again is problematic. Well, it is perhaps easy to social distance in places like banks, shops, offices etc. But people hardly social distance when in their homes and other places where they converge to socialise like at bars. Even worse still how do couples who go out during the day for work or other activities to different places social distance in the evening with all the hugs and kisses?
Or how does a family that does not have the luxury of owning a house that boasts of space for five cars social distance? It is not unusual to find a family of five or more living in a single shack – and is expected to social distance!
Here enters the other Covid-19 regulation – alcohol restrictions or bans altogether. The supporters of these rules proffer two main reasons. One is scientific and the other is social. It is argued that alcohol consumption tends to reduce a person immune system and thus make that individual less resistant to viruses – including this latest one. And socially, it is said that when people are drunk then they are not likely to observe the health regulations like wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands or sanitising.
The alcohol industry is really hard hit and it is perhaps only second to the tourism sector in terms of the damage done. Just a few weeks ago Heineken SA, which employ 1 000 workers has announced that it is retrenching 70 workers of its workforce and has put new investments on hold. It is reported that 165 000 workers lost their jobs in the alcohol industry since lockdowns started in SA. For our semi-literate policy-makers, thousands of workers being retrenched are nothing because this is done to prevent some unforeseen individuals from contracting the virus.
But those on the streets on hungry stomachs, because they have lost their jobs/incomes, do not count in their scientific calculations. Thus alcohol has become a crime here in Namibia and elsewhere as well. In South Africa, they have an act: Disaster Management Act, which is used to crack down on alcohol sale and consumption – rather violently as they do here in Namibia.
There is a boomerang effect on the banning/restrictions of alcohol that our ignorant policy-makers didn’t anticipate. They have led to the proliferation of unlicensed/backdoors shebeens that now reap in the big bucks. But there is another way around the alcohol bans/restrictions like closing the bars early or not selling on Sundays.
What the wealthy do, including those enacting those draconian laws and regulations, is to buy alcohol in bulk and then converge in private homes especially on weekends where they booze and dance the night away – sunrise to beat the curfew hours. Have you heard of Dial a Dop? This involves a call then your favourite Brandy, Rum, Vodka, Whiskey, is dropped at your doorstep – for the nouveau riche, that is.
Here is another stupid ‘health’ rules – the curfews. Please allow me to localize my experience of the curfew to Opuwo where I live. Opuwo’s Central Business District (CBD) is a compact, concentrated and is a rural town surrounded by villages. Thus from 07h00 to 19h00, the CBD is crowded, and you would be excused if you thought you were in Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo. Then after 19h00, Opuwo is empty. Why?
Because most people who converge into the CBD during the day are not from the town but come from adjacent villages coming not for work but for shopping, old age pay, hospital/clinics visits or just to meet friends and families in town or from other villages – sitting around in large groups eating, drinking and chatting unmasked.
Then comes 20h00, all the 37 bars, shops, street vendors and kapanas in town are closed. So, why the curfew? Where is the logic here?
And here enters the mother of all the Covid rules – lockdowns. The lockdowns can be within a country or certain regions within a country. For example, they would lockdown Kavango West and not Kavango East. What a joke? But as Alex Broadbent argues in the Mail& Guardian: “Lockdown has immediate ramifications for individuals who live on a hand-to-mouth basis, and for their networks of dependants. If people cannot eat, they will not obey a lockdown; nor is there any reason, practical or moral, for them to do so.”
Let me briefly conclude this piece with what seems to become a scientific nightmare – the vaccines. Before the vaccines started rolling out there emerged a group that was referred to as anti-vaccine. I assume the other would be pro-vaccine. Anti-vaccine is too strong a term, I would rather call them skeptics. Writing in The Namibian recently, Frederico Links says:
“And now anti-vaccine falsehoods are making things worse, as many social media users across the world have expressed opposition to Covid-19 vaccines, which could prolong the pandemic and its impact.” Now, while the battle between the skeptics and the pro-vaccine rages on; we get this headline: ‘Geingob may be too old for AstraZeneca vaccine’.
This is not a story about Geingob per se. But a story about the total confusion within the scientific/medical community as to which age group should or should not get vaccinated. Even the governments that would criminalise the skeptics are now totally confused themselves. So who is vindicated here?
There is no authority on Covid-19 until Einstein arrives on the scene.