It has been two years of wearing masks, sanitising, socially distancing (which I have not minded at all), and trying as much as possible to limit travel. Today, for work, I find myself in an airport in East Africa – you know the one I mean – sitting close (although not too close) to an unmasked man, a few days following the announcement by the UK Prime Minister announces that they, as a country are now “boycotting” all COVID-19 protocol, and they will be relaxing all COVID-19 measures.
In West Africa, Omicron has only recently started peaking. To date, only 52% of the population of the global South are fully vaccinated, and in few countries the booster shot has now been introduced, and people are invited to get theirs.
I find myself, somehow conflicted. On the one hand, I absolutely get it! We are, all of us as the world population, completely over COVID-19 protocols. We are so over it that in December, I spoke to a few people who indicated that they are so tired of being controlled by COVID, that if they were to test positive, they said they would not isolate. Although I certainly would, and for the prescribed period, I find myself understanding where they come from and why they feel this way. On the other hand, and knowing full well that we will have to live with COVID-19 for a long long time, I cannot imagine living through it without a mask, and without keeping a reasonable enough distance between myself and the next person. I still give people the death stare for coughing, and I myself feel ashamed if I even sneeze in public. Earlier, on the travel here, an older man coughed, and I immediately thought of Masupu’s words, that there is not such thing as flu in the summer, when we are living through a global pandemic. I suppose my soft spot for the elderly and the very young directs my bias towards an inclination that we are not taking this seriously enough, and that we should be.
World Economic Forum, noting that the control and containment of infectious diseases like COVID is really on the basis of individual decision-making. Although we are not always rational, and although we will always balance what we see as the benefits of contact with other people against what we perceive as the cost of the disease, it has been said that we will not see the “end” of COVID by limiting exposure in the ways we are. Of course, on the other end of this is the global South’s reality, which we have seen even in the West, where healthcare systems and facilities are overwhelmed with the number of COVID positive patients. So exposing everyone to the virus in this way may not be sustainable, especially in the winter.
I do think there are ways to better and more effectively respond to COVID-19. Although I do not have a specialisation in public health, I am almost certain that at this point, all of us are COVID experts, having lived through the pandemic. And although we won’t know the actual mutations of it, we understand that if we keep our masks on, and stay as far away from the next person, if we understand that this virus is here, it is real, and it won’t go away just because we want it to end, and if we just go and get vaccinated, even if it messes with our weekend plans, I think we would cover much more ground, and perhaps even faster. Behavioural insights are necessary in us winning the battle against this giant who has stood up to fights us.
As 2022 starts, there is a new resolution I invite you to add to your list. Knowing that some already have no hope for the year because of how 2020 and 2021 have gone, I will try to keep it as realistic and as pragmatic as possible.
I’m not going to suggest that we all become chefs, because we all did that 2020, and now we are all trying to manage the weight from there. I won’t ask that you try to move your body as often as possible, even if just for a short time, because as long as you are working out, the constant anxiety and depression can become somewhat manageable. No! Instead, I am going to ask you to manage your own behaviour. This is one of those times when the life of the next person possibly depends on you.
This is the time to become each other’s keeper, ensuring that we do not, even in the slightest bit, expose each other to the possibilities of COVID. We are not where UK are in terms of so many things, including resources and institutions. So we cannot act like them yet.
We much consider a more thoughtful approach, at least until we have figured it out a little bit more. This is a strange request for the New Year, ye. It has to be thought through and agreed on though. We will one day live in a COVIDmeasures free world. Until we do, we must heed the advice of those who clearly know better about this.