Ok! Listen, we are all in a panic now! All of us! In various forms and for different reasons, we are panicking.
It’s evident from the announcement of the imminent lockdown by the President, and the presence of armed forces at quarantine centres. It’s evident from the shutting down of small businesses with no real economic plan of what happens after the 30 days! It’s evident from everybody scurrying back home from their greener pastures or paying television accounts!
It is evident from the bare shelves in most stores (except the book stores), and the insistence by the Facebookers that all inbound travellers be treated not only as if they already have COVID-19, but also like they went and got it deliberately and are trying to infect us with it, like an episode of the walking dead! It’s evident in the ways we are almost mindlessly normalising stigma under emergency situations, and resorting to airplane inflight emergency protocol -save yourself first! To be honest, our panic is possibly justifiable under the circumstances. It is perhaps an initial indication that we need to be a little bit more honest.
At the time that this piece is written, there are still no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Botswana. “Confirmed” is still topically a disclaimer of great concern, because since a week ago, a great deal has changed – both in government’s actions and in our own reactions. “Confirmed”, more than concerning, has therefore become even more suspicious. One is minded to recollect the President’s cautionary statement of March 19, that although there are no “known cases”, that is not intended to suggest that there are, as a matter of fact, no actual cases of COVID-19 in Botswana. One should, under the circumstances, and for self-preservation purposes as well as saving others assume that the cases are there. This assumption almost demands panic and a self-centred approach of coping or surviving through this uncertain time.
The city-wide panic surrounding COVID-19, as well as responses by our own government and the announcement of the 21-day lockdown in our neighbouring South Africa, has also greatly revealed how fragile many of our systems are. Most Batswana will be adversely affected by this, as they cannot afford to panic buy. To be quite fair, our reactions as a people have not been unlike those of citizens of other states who experienced COVID-19 cases, and their increase.
We’ve emptied shop shelves of sanitiser, some have stockpiled non-perishables, and many have disobeyed the first rule in all emergencies and public health crisis’, because we have, most of us activated panic mode. One might think this has to do with a lacking trust that the system will hold us or cushion us against the adverse effects of this ill. With each new incident, we are made more aware of the gaping holes in our systems.
The most recent was the Ministry of Health’s initial failure to safely compulsorily quarantine people coming into the country. On the other hand, there was little that could have been done prior. Nobody plans for an emergency, they respond to it. The influx at the borders was a response to many other factors beyond our own country. Although the government was apparently in the process of putting measures in place, the influx caught them off guard like that one person who shows up on time to a party, and finds the decorations team still setting up. All of it is a test, which the Ministry had to take while on the job. it was inevitable that mistakes - ones whose impact we don’t know as yet – would be made at such a sensitive time.
Shockingly, in all our panic, we seem to not be too concerned about those of us inside the country. It’s as if in our awareness, we have really stuck with the idea of “unconfirmed cases” as meaning COVID-19 is not present in the country at all. So we appear to have repurposed the notion of social distancing to being something cool we add as a hashtag to posts of our selfies in this period - it’s like a trend.
As a result, our government, in response takes to infantilizing us, and puts in place strict measures to attempt to limit our movement. These stringent measures lead to even more panic, as opposed to control and containment. With people making plans, of where they will spend their “Corona Days”, I worry about the extent to which possibly presently undetected infections in this moment could be spreading to the rest of the country.
I worry even more about the general population of Botswana who are made up of more than just the few urbanites. While we obsess over the absence of sanitisers, there could be a greater problem we are breeding, of unconfirmed but infected individuals who themselves may not even be aware, and as a result may be spreading it to others.
At this point, everything is a possibility. And although we realise that, we seem to have blind spots. These blind spots are unfortunately what makes all of us unsafe; and with the fragile health facilities in the smaller towns and clinics in villages, we ought to be safer, even in our panic. It has been said that this thing affects the elderly a lot more than the young.
I am fully aware that “staying at home” and “washing your hands” are luxuries that not everyone can afford. Where we can though, I think we can do our best! This virus is brutal!