It is no longer a question of if coronavirus will arrive here, but rather exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will contract severe illness.
Dr Nancy Messonnier, director of the US Center for Disease Control’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases said as much.
The words are true for any country as the Covid-19 spreads across the world. What we should be examining is our readiness to deal with the pandemic.
What has been said about coronavirus in the media is chilling. It is particularly unsettling because human beings think they have control of their destiny. After all, I can drive carefully to avoid accidents, diet, exercise, avoid risky sexual encounters and comply with medication to stay a little longer.
Then a new virulent virus arrives and you have no idea how it attacks the body. It can destroy you in days!
The sense of hopelessness is forcing many to ask many questions. Do we really know what causes it? If Bats caused it in China, then what brought it to the California victim who had no known link to China or any foreign country? Was it predestined to happen after 100 years (the 1919 pandemic decimated 50 million people)?
In this article, I will focus not on exogenous factors that still leave us perplexed but on what we should know and the perceived risk mitigation measures.
To fully comprehend how to react, let us begin with the symptoms.
Coronavirus causes pneumonia. In most cases patients are reported to suffer from coughs that may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus; fever, sweating and shaking chills; rapid, shallow breathing; shortness of breath; chest pain that worsens when you breathe deeply or cough; loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue. In very severe cases it can cause organ failure.
It is sometimes referred to as viral pneumonia, which doesn’t respond to antibiotics. No effective drug is known including all the available antivirals against flu.
Coming out of its snare is highly dependent on the strength of one’s immune system. People with other underlying disease have poor chance of survival.
Knowing that doctors too won’t help in the event you experience the symptoms, then the best cause of action is to self-isolate and avoid contact with people including your loved ones.
The next cause of action is to call a doctor and provide the information that could help determine the likelihood of the coronavirus. If they suspect that it is indeed an infection from the virus, then you can provide samples for testing.
The significance of these steps is to avoid overwhelming health systems if every patient with flu shows up in hospital for testing. Some could just be having a normal flu especially now that the rainy season is underway.
Secondly, not everybody dies from the virus. So far it is only 3 percent deaths from those who have been infected that are known to have perished. Whilst older generation is most affected, people below 40 have a greater chance of survival.
There are other means of protecting yourself from the virus. These include cutting out unnecessary travel by perhaps staying indoors and regularly washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap.
The current Science Africa Newsletter published by World Health Organization – Africa says that Although Africa has some hands-on experience and skills in fighting highly infectious haemorrhagic fever viruses like Ebola, there is still much room for rapid improvement.
Currently, only seven countries out of the 47 falling under the WHO Africa Regional Offices are classified as having adequate laboratories to test the virus and the ability to control the ongoing pandemic.
These countries include Kenya, Ethiopia, Madagascar, Tanzania, Cameroun, Ivory Coast and Algeria. Still, WHO says 17 countries have acquired ability to detect COVID-19. Another 13 have close contacts with China.
The worry is how the health facilities will react to the demand for testing. Many hospitals are known to take advantage of the situation especially the private ones to fleece people.
The Government should proactively deal with such an eventuality by initiating discussions with health providers, including pharmaceuticals operating in the country. As it is at the moment, price for sanitisers and masks are beyond reach of the poor.
Parliament should quickly criminalise those who hoard such items at the time of emergency.
The effect of this scourge on the economy could end up being bigger than the 2008 financial crisis. Economic growth will shrink in virtually every country and even collapse some economies. It is incumbent upon us to begin planning for a possible catastrophe.
Already the supply chains are constrained. If it continues to spread, the virus will impact those on wage labour who may not have any income for sick leave.
We must begin to think to buffer such shocks through tax incentives to employers. It is also time to start thinking about flexible working hours or working from home to avoid contact that may exacerbate the spread.
As Covid-19 continues to cause havoc and desperateness, we must remain calm in response to its attack, exercise self-isolation to avoid giving it a chance to spread further and practice the best possible hygiene measures to deter its progress.
Government must also act proactively to rein in those who may take advantage of a desperate situation.
The writer is a professor of entrepreneurship at University of Nairobi’s School of Business.