Coronavirus wakeup call

13 March 2020

As of the publication date of this newspaper, there are no confirmed cases of coronavirus in Namibia.  However, seven cases have been confirmed in South Africa (as of March 11, 2020).  Emotive, alarmist panic about this disease is counterproductive.  Being informed, alert and prepared is best path available.

All over the world, pockets of people are running around in a panicked frenzy bout this virus.  We understand and sympathize with these concerns but plead that Namibians must respond differently.  Listen to informed sources and act rationally from proven facts and not scary rumours.
According to credible news reports, people are indeed dying as a result of infection with this strain of the coronavirus.  International stock markets are falling, people cannot go to work, production is slowing, exports are inconsistent, and thousands of travellers are quarantined.  Many people who are in isolation or in affected areas are running out of food, water and money.  The Red Cross is offering support.  The entire country of Italy is quarantined.  
If tourists worldwide precipitously reduce leisure travelling and Namibia’s own peak tourism season gets cancellations, local job losses might follow.   If the worldwide virus fear grows, Namibia may feel the downstream pinch.  
We must never downplay the impact of this virus.  But, we must not over-react either.
The Land of the Brave is not in the driver’s seat in managing world reaction to this coronavirus, called, Covid-19.  We are the grass that the frightened, battling elephants will trample.
Namibia has over 500 students studying in China, with 27 in Wuhan, the epicentre for the disease.  There are local voices calling for all of them to be immediately repatriated.  Indeed, some communications from the students there are also calling for free transport home.  This is understandable, but ill-advised in our view…for now.  
The disease must run its course at ground zero in Wuhan, where they have medical facilities sufficient to handle the outbreak.  Bringing these students and non-essential Embassy staff back to Namibia where there is insufficient infrastructure to screen, quarantine and manage such a large number of people who have a relatively higher chance of having been exposed, presents an unnecessarily high risk at this time. 
An airlift of these students at this time is problematic.  Any staff on the airplanes and in the airports that come into contact with these students have a slight chance of being exposed. Then, the repatriated students will assuredly go to their homes in Namibia where there is limited capacity, equipment or budget for monitoring, medical tracing, training on self-quarantine procedures, and standard quarantine facilities.  We cannot even stem the spread of our home-grown, poverty-linked Hepatitis E, what will we do with an imported Coronavirus?  
As of now, thankfully, no Namibian students are infected.  However, until things clear up significantly in Wuhan and when confirmed by the World Health Organization, the safest thing (though not necessarily ideal) is for them to shelter in place at this time.
To mitigate the problem, the Namibian Embassy in China is attempting to oversee, monitor and assist the students to the best of its ability given their limitations.  This is uncharted territory and mistakes will be made.  Nevertheless, the government’s scarce resources must be directed to this humanitarian endeavour to help our people in China. 
Food and living supplies must be provided free of charge to the students who need it.  Free video links from the students to their families must be established so that people can be reassured of relative’s care.  Free data must be provided to the students for reading eBooks, streaming television channels, movies, and other distractions as they sit in isolation.  
Fear is normal, but panic must be avoided at all costs.  However, this cannot happen unless government officials involved in managing this issue avoid being dismissively patronizing when people ask questions.  Officials have a duty to answer without the usual high-handed, bureaucratic arrogance.  This is a special situation and all must rise to the challenges and be patient and tolerant.
Below is a short Q&A on a few technical issues.  Please go online and check credible, mainstream medical sources for more details.  This is no time for unfounded social media rumors, witch doctor nonsense or conman scams. 
“World Health Organization (WHO) reminds all countries and communities that the spread of this virus can be significantly slowed or even reversed through the implementation of robust containment and control activities.” – UNWHO (who.int/news-room)
What is Covid-19 – the illness that started in Wuhan?
It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals.
What are the symptoms this coronavirus causes?
The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system.  Many of those who have died were already in poor health.
Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?
China’s national health commission confirmed human-to-human transmission in January. 
How many people have been affected?
As of 9 March (this number changes daily), more than 110,000 people have been infected in more than 80 countries, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.
There have over 3,800 deaths globally. Just over 3,000 of those deaths have occurred in mainland China. 62,000 people have recovered from the coronavirus.
Why is this virus worse than normal influenza?
We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. Seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1 percent and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. SARS had a death rate of more than 10 percent.
Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves.  Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. 
Have there been other coronaviruses?
Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (MERS) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals.  In 2002, SARS spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. 
MERS appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35 percent of about 2,500 people who have been infected.  (theguardian.com)



The Windhoek Observer is an English-language weekly newspaper, published in Namibia by Paragon Investment Holding. It is the country's oldest and largest circulating weekly.

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